After a bad start to the season, with just eight points out from six games, Roma absolutely needed of a good result in the Derby della Capitale against Lazio. Despite all the turmoil surrounding sporting director Monchi and head coach Eusebio Di Francesco, the Giallorossi were still able to produce a three points performance against Simone Inzaghi’s side.
It was a tactical battle between a 4-2-3-1 and 3-5-2, which means two triangles were facing each other in the middle of the field with Daniele De Rossi and Steven N’Zonzi facing Sergej Milinković-Savić and Marco Parolo, whilst Lucas Leiva – Lazio’s holding midfielder – was tracking Roma’s no.10, former PSG‘s player Javier Pastore.
Lazio started well, moving the ball forward. Its passing was good enough to get the ball through Roma’s defensive shape. The Giallorossi’s structure without the ball wasn’t so resilient and Inzaghi’s side was able to overcome it through some nice combinations up front.
It was also able to link the midfield with the attack. Thus, Lazio was able to create favourable situations to score. Unfortunately for the Biancocelesti, it wasn’t enough to open up the score.
Without the ball, Lazio didn’t sit back with a five-man backline, as it usually does. Instead, its defensive plan relied upon the wing-backs, Adam Marusic and Senad Lulic, who either pushed up to face Roma’s full-backs or dropped back in order to form a four-man defence. Playing that way, the whole midfield focused on covering the space between the defence and midfield, denying spaces to Pastore. When in possession, Lazio looked dangerous in wide areas, especially on the left flanks – where Ciro Immobile roams at times – as Santon didn’t receive help from Alessandro Florenzi, deployed at right-winger by Di Francesco.
On the other hand, Roma was in trouble both offensively and defensively for the start. Roma’s tactical approach relied on an efficient defensive structure comprised of two holding midfielders, able to deny the middle of the field and the half-spaces to Lazio’s counter-attacks. When in possession, the Giallorossi tried to engage in a high-tempo offense through the flanks as wider areas are pivotal to Di Francesco’s offensive strategy when it comes to attacking in the final third; however Roma’s attempts failed as its offensive structure looked too static and the passing was too slow to penetrate Lazio’s defensive line. As the game went on, Roma adjusted both its defensive and offensive structure. From a defensive point of view, Di Francesco’s side closed all the channels. The manager’s idea behind it was to tighten the spaces in which Parolo and Milinkovic-Savić thrive.
That said, the change of pace to the game not only has to be attributed to Roma’s improvements, but also to the sub Di Francesco was forced to make when the injured Pastore fell to the ground around the 37th-minute mark.
In fact, against all odds, Roma’s head coach picked Lorenzo Pellegrini rather than the apparently more logical picks in Nicolò Zaniolo or Bryan Cristante. Truth to be told, the Italian international already played as an attacking midfielder at Sassuolo under Di Francesco when Roma’s manager switched his standard 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Pellegrini’s entrance, along with an improved performance by the rest of the team, allowed Roma to slowly gain control in midfield. The reversed triangle re-shaped, with N’Zonzi and De Rossi serving as shields in front of the backline and with Pellegrini acting as a no.10 just behind Edin Dzeko, dismantled Lazio’s defensive structure with Lucas Leiva unable to track the newcomer.
It wasn’t a case that the first goal was scored by Pellegrini. Although this goal came from a backheel shot – this is the third time Roma have scored a backheel goal this season – it’s interesting to take a look at the way the goal happened. In fact, to overcome the problems they faced to bypass through their opponents’ lines – due to a slow build-up – the Giallorossi started to utilise long-balls to link defence and midfield with Dzeko up top.
That’s exactly how the goal came, with a long ball played from the back that was deflected by Dzeko, allowing Pellegrini to exploit a lack of communication between Lazio’s keeper Thomas Strakosha and his defenders.
The second half
In the second half, Lazio tried to tie the game. In order to do so, Inzaghi brought on Milan Badelj and Carlos Correa, switching from his initial 3-5-2- to a more compact 4-4-2 with Fiorentina’s former deep-lying midfielder acting beside Lucas Leiva; the 24-years old Argentinian was lined up as a winger. In the meantime, Milinković-Savić was moved up front in somewhat of an attacking-midfielder/forward role to support Immobile, who had been left isolated until then.
This tactical adjustment paid off when Immobile took advantage of an erratic play made by Fazio. By the way, the draw didn’t last much as Roma went ahead once again just a few minutes later, thanks to a Kolarov free-kick.
Inzaghi thus substituted another forward in (Caicedo), but Di Francesco quickly responded by sending Juan Jesus on the field to make another tactical switch to a five-man back line. In the end, Roma’s defensive shape looked efficient and impenetrable for Lazio’s ineffective attacks.
If it weren’t for Fazio’s terrible mistake, Lazio wouldn’t have scored. The Biancocelesti weren’t particularly dangerous in the final third as they weren’t unable to form a decent offensive structure. Instead, they still showed troubles at the back as the nine goals conceded in Serie A prove. It was the case last season too when Inzaghi’s side was just the tenth best Serie A defence with as many as 49 allowed goals. It looks as they still have problems without the ball whilst they are not a scoring machine like last campaign when Lazio overcame defensive deficiencies by scoring a lot (they were Serie A’s 2017/18 best offense with 89 goals scored).
When it comes to Roma, The Giallorossi only suffered the first part of the first half. Di Francesco’s side is far from a finished product and they are still miles away from the team that knocked Barcelona out from last Champions League. Roma must be more fluid when in possession and must also fix the individual mistakes that plagued them so far this season.
That said, this win in such an emotional game like the Derby della Capitale should be able to inject a little more life into this team. The 4-2-3-1 system it used also seems more suited to the players at Di Francesco’s disposal so it could be the path to follow by its coach.