Di Francesco’s Roma fell 2-1 to Plzen in the final game of the group stages of the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday. Having already qualified in second place behind a dominant Real Madrid Champions League team, Roma fell short on the night whilst dealing with injuries to key men; Dzeko, De Rossi and El Shaarawy.
“I don’t know if it’s a general difficulty, but it’s true to say we didn’t defend collectively.”
Di Francesco’s comments above are certainly shown in the average positions taken by his back four (above), and particularly by center backs Marcano (15) and Manolas (44). This was clearly an issue as Plzen deployed a direct game model with 56% of aerial duels won off 55 long balls. This style can be analyzed in two ways, Plzen’s short passing attempts with only 271 compared to Roma’s 496, as well as their average positions taken in their 1-4-3-3 formation.
The illustration above shows how compact Plzen were through Chory (18), Cermak (25) and Hrosovsky (17). Chory clearly takes up a false 9 position, which possibly relates to the poor positions taken up by Roma’s Marcano and Manolas, and the compactness of their two holding midfielders Nzonzi (42) and Christiante (4). The following heat map might also explain the challenges Roma faced when coming up against a direct Plzen team.
Much of Plzen’s work comes in their own half of the field, with moments of attack coming in wide areas of the field. Kovarik’s goal was scored in transition, from a deep defending moment, with Plzen connect two passes resulting in a low cross from the right channel for Kovarik to slide in at the far post. Chory scored ten minutes later to double the scoreline, again with Plzen’s build upcoming in the right channel.
The image above shows the collective defending which Di Francesco refers to in his comments. This image shows 71stminute substitute Petrzela on the right flank with Chory running in behind Roma’s struggling central defenders, drawing both players out of central areas, giving Kovarik a free run into a dangerous central position of the field before Chory, if somewhat fortunate finishes off the direct style goal to win the game.
Di Francesco will be happy with Under’s goal, a flowing move which saw Nzonzi pick up the ball in the middle of field as Santon made an aggressive overlapping run in to the final third of the field, Nzonzi bent the ball in to Santon’s run perfectly before picking out Under at the top of the box for a cool left-footed finish in to the bottom corner.
Despite the quality shown for their equalizing goal, Di Francesco and his staff will be concerned with Roma’s inability to defend against an aggressive, high energy counter-attacking team like Plzen. The average distance between their back four caused major problems whilst denying a direct route to goal, unable to cover the distance required to get any kind of pressure on the ball and protect central areas of the field proved too much.