On the 11th June 2019, Roma appointed former Porto boss, Paulo Fonseca as manager of the football club. In the 2019/20 Serie A season, Fonseca’s first season, Roma finished in a respectable fifth place, with seventy points. The Portuguese manager was brought in to bring a more attractive style of football to the Giallorossi.
It seems that this was a success, despite missing out on a champions league spot, in a highly competitive league this season, Roma’s playing style is far easier on the eye and relies on attacking fluidity and high pressing rather than rigid, defensive structure.
This tactical analysis article will be a season preview of Roma for the upcoming 2020/2021 season. It will be in the form of a team scout report and an analysis of their strengths, weaknesses, team tactics, and style of play from this past season, etc, focusing on how Paulo Fonseca will be likely to set his side up to play in the forthcoming campaign.
Formation and line-ups:
Roma predominantly used a 4-2-3-1 this season under Fonseca, deploying it a total of 27 times in the league. Their shape was typically very narrow, so the wingers were more wide playmakers in the 4-2-3-1. This is generally how they lined up this season in their fluid 4-2-3-1;
New summer signing, Pau Lopez, in net, played a total of 42 times for them this season. He was quite reliable in goal for them throughout the season. The back four was consistent also. This consisted of Aleksandar Kolarov, Manchester United-loanee, Chris Smalling, Atalanta-loanee Gianluca Mancini, as well as Alessandro Florenzi/Bruno Peres.
Amadou Diawara and Jordan Veretout are very compatible as the midfield double-pivot in this formation. Both men complement each other massively, Diawara with his defensive abilities and Veretout with his progressive passing abilities. Ahead of them was typically Lorenzo Pellegrini, however, Pellegrini is capable of playing in a variety of positions. At times he has played in the double-pivot, but he has even been used as a right-sided player also.
Up front was ex-Manchester City and very experienced forward, Edin Dzeko, who managed 19 goals and 8 assists this season. Either side of the ‘number 10’ was usually rotated. Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Justin Kluivert, Cengiz Under, Carles Perez, Nicolo Zaniolo, and Diego Perotti were all deployed as the wide playmakers in the 4-2-3-1. All of these players are excellent at creating goalscoring opportunities. Since the wingers worked as a wide-playmakers, the system suited them.
However, this was not the only formation used by Fonseca’s Roma. Towards the end of the season in particular, Roma deployed a 3-4-2-1. This formation also suited the type of players that they had in their squad, which can be seen here;
Kolarov was instead used as a third centre-back. This was to allow Peres and Leonardo Spinazzola to be utilised as wingbacks. Florenzi moved on loan to Valencia at the end of January, and Peres and Spinazzola are poor defensive wingbacks but excellent going forward. The obvious choice was to play a back five. This meant that the wingbacks didn’t have to worry about defending all the time. Mancini and Kolarov, who have experience as fullbacks, were able to cover for them by defending in the wide areas.
Due to Roma’s excellent form using the 3-4-2-1, this might be their preferred formation going into the 2020/21 season. Regardless, they are very flexible tactically and can use both systems at will due to their strength in each formation.
Roma’s build-up play:
Roma under Fonseca are a side that likes to build their way through the thirds with their possession-based style. Roughly per match, Roma only play 33.5 long passes per game, considering they average 464.4 passes per game. The average number of long passes does depend on the quality of their opposition. The better the opposition, the more likely they are to play more long balls.
Here, we will be analysing the two set-ups Roma have used in the 4-2-3-1 formation and also the 3-4-2-1 formation. This is in relation to their build-up play in both systems, as these two systems will be most likely used in the 2020/21 season.
The emphasis on playing out from the back has been very apparent under their Portuguese coach, far more than in previous seasons. Typically, including the goalkeeper, they use 7 players in the build-up. The other six players are their back four, with the double-pivot sitting behind the opposition’s first line of press.
In this image, we can see Roma’s typical build-up play in the 4-2-3-1 formation. They like to use Pau Lopez in the build-up so that they can have three central players in front of the opposing forward line to circulate the ball with. Pau Lopez was quite comfortable on the ball, boasting a 76.4 percent pass success rate.
The fullbacks would stay back to help them circulate the ball and find gaps to progress the ball forward. The aim of their build-up was to be patient and eventually break the opponent’s press to play to their double-pivot. Diawara and Veretout are excellent at progressing the ball up the field.
One of their three playmakers in the 4-2-3-1 also drops during the build-up play. This is to act as a passing option behind the opposing midfield line, in which Roma can play into in order to progress up the pitch.
Their build-up phase set-up, in the 3-4-2-1 formation, is vastly different;
The goalkeeper remains involved. However, instead of building up with a back four, covering the width of the pitch, their three centre-backs maintain the width of the pitch, moving the ball around in front of the opposition’s first line of press in order to find a gap to play through.
The double-pivot is far more flexible than in the 4-2-3-1. In the footage above, the double-pivot is still Diawara and Veretout. However, rather than Veretout maintaining his position next to Diawara behind the opposition’s forward line, he likes to also drift out to the left flank to pick up the ball in the space. The space is there for him to drop into because in the 3-4-2-1, Roma push their wingbacks very high as wingers.
He likes to drift in and out of the central and wide areas looking for a pass depending on the ball-side. Veretout also interchanges positions with the left centre-back in the build-up phase, usually Kolarov. Kolarov moves up the left flank as an auxiliary left-back when this happens, which is his natural position.
Playing in the opponent’s half:
As I stated before, under Fonseca, Roma are a possession-based side. They like to play with a very high line and in the opponent’s half of the field. Once inside the opponent’s half, their creative outlets become of paramount importance to them. They also overload the central areas, going across the pitch, typically with nine players including the goalkeeper.
This is generally how Roma’s offensive structure looks whilst in the opponent’s half of the pitch. The shape resembles a 4-3-3 or a 2-3-5 depending on the fullbacks positioning. Rather than staying alongside Diawara in the double-pivot, Veretout moves further up the pitch to get involved in the play and create triangles. Diawara remains as the backline’s protector and single-pivot.
Fonseca wants his side to set-up like this because his teams generally tend to play centrally and try and create chances through the central spaces. The two fullbacks provide their only width and are of the highest importance to stretch the opponent’s defensive block. They are given freedom on the flanks due to the positioning of Roma’s wingers, who move into the halfspaces. This is because they are wide playmakers, and it is easier for them to create centrally than out wide.
Roma have no conventional creative ‘number 10’, and much like Borussia Dortmund, their creative outlets are their wide players. Amongst their forwards in the last five games of the 2019/20 season, Roma’s playmakers provided 13 key passes in total. They also provided 16 shot assists. In these five games, Roma scored a total of 14 goals.
This is what their in-possession shape looks like in a 4-2-3-1 in an actual match;
The overloading of the central areas of the pitch is very obvious here.
However, it is not only the 4-2-3-1 that Fonseca likes his Roma team to overload the central areas with. They also do the same with the 3-4-2-1. However, there is one slight difference numerically with their central overload;
In the 3-4-2-1 shape, the number of players overloading the central corridors depends on the positioning of the wide centre-backs. In this image, we can see that the right centre-back has moved up into the flank, to support the wingback. This leaves the centre-backs short in the middle. At times, the left centre-back moves over to support the left wingback. This creates a 2-7-2 going vertically across the pitch. It also means that Roma only have seven players centrally as opposed to nine with the 4-2-3-1.
Their wingers are still the focal creative outlet for the team. However, their wingbacks become more involved as they now have support on the flanks.
Edin Dzeko also likes to link up with the play quite a lot too. Despite having a physical target-man-archetype, he plays with his back to goal, looking to be used to spring passes off of in order to play to a more difficult area of the pitch.
This image is merely one example of Dzeko dropping short from his marker. This invites the centre-back to close him down, which in turn leaves space in behind the opposing defence. In this footage, two Roma players are already anticipating Dzeko holding off the on-coming defender and slipping them in. Dzeko averaged 62 key passes, and 8 assists in all competitions this season, in 43 games.
Pressing and counterpressing:
In both the 4-2-3-1, and the 3-4-2-1, this season, Roma have used a man-oriented pressing system. This has worked quite well for them under Fonseca. He will likely continue to deploy it again next season as Roma have excellent pressing players on the team.
In their 4-2-3-1 formation, the pressing structure looks more like a 4-1-3-2;
The ‘number 10’ player, mostly Pellegrini, moves up next to Dzeko to press the centre-backs. Both of their wingers are tasked with marking and pressing the opposition’s fullbacks. One of the defensive midfield players pushes up also to mark the opposition’s pivot player. This is to prevent the ball supply into the pivot, as the pivot is arguably the most important player for teams who are playing out of the press.
The other defensive midfielder, usually Diawara, drops deeper and sits behind his defensive line. His role is to screen from side to side, picking up any of the opposition’s advanced players who drop to receive a pass. His deeper role is also very important as he sits back to try and win the second ball in front of his defence, in the case that the opposing team opt to play long to bypass their press.
With regards to the 3-4-2-1 pressing system, to best explain, I took an example from their most recent competitive game against Sevilla;
Once again, Roma’s man-oriented pressing system is used here. The defensive structure looks like a 5-2-1-2/3-4-1-2. One of the wingers drop behind Dzeko to pick up the single-pivot, whilst the other helps him press the centre-backs. Diawara again drops to the space in front of the backline in the case that the opponent plays long.
During their defensive transition, however, Roma are not as much of a counterpressing side as they may seem. They rank below the league average in many areas of the field for ball possession recoveries;
The main reason for this is because they tend not to counterpress. As soon as Roma lose the ball, they are instructed to drop back into their defensive shape as quickly as possible to prevent a counter-attack. The nearest player to the ball-carrier counterpresses him in order to either regain possession, force a pass, or else delay the counter-attack whilst his teammates regain their defensive shape around him;
Players to improve Roma:
Already in the transfer market, Roma have made the signings of Veretout, Mancini, Perez, and Mkhitaryan, permanent transfers. They have also brought in ex-Barcelona winger Pedro on a free transfer. These are all fantastic acquisitions. However, they still need to sign a centre-back as, apart from Mancini, their centre-back options are very lacklustre. They have been trying to permanently sign Smalling, but both Manchester United and Roma are failing to agree on a fee for the player.
Roma still also need to find a replacement for Dzeko up front. During his time in Rome, he has scored 111 goals in 234 games, which is nearly a goal every two matches for the Giallorossi. He has been vital for them, so the hierarchy will surely be looking for a replacement for the Bosnian. Arkadiusz Milik would be the most suitable candidate to replace Dzeko and is eight years younger. His style of play and physical build would suit Roma’s side. He boasts similar stats also to Dzeko, scoring 14 goals this season, as well as having a key pass ratio of 0.7 per game.
Finally, Roma need new fullbacks. Florenzi was loaned to Valencia in January due to Fonseca’s lack of faith in him. Kolarov is also 34 years old, whilst Peres and Spinazzola are too attack-minded. Both men struggle defensively. Serge Aurier from Tottenham has been a name thrown around to replace Florenzi.
It is a very exciting season ahead for Roma fans. Portuguese head coach, Paulo Fonseca, has designed and implemented a style of play well suited to the players at his disposal in his first season. Alongside a few new players here and there, as well as a level of consistency in terms of the team’s performances, Roma will be closer in the race for the top four next season.
They have bought better than most teams who are in-or-around the top four, which shows clear intentions of where the club wants to be next season. They will be hoping to make their vision a reality by the end of the 2020/21 campaign. Roma are by far one of the best sides to watch in the Serie A, which will be no different next season, and hopefully for them this will continue.