AS Roma sit fifth in the Serie A table ahead of the league’s restart and is having a quite good season as they still have good chances to qualify for the Europa League or even the Champions League. Roma scored the second-most goals (51) in Serie A and therefore they scored more than Juventus (50). Only Atalanta with their offensive playing philosophy scored more goals (70). But one key factor in Roma´s success this season is their threat from set-pieces, where they are arguably the best in the league in this regard.
Before looking at how Roma are able to perform as well as they do from set-pieces, we will first look at the league data which justifies the statement of them being one of the best teams in the league from set-piece situations. We will take a look at the basic data of goals scored and goals conceded.
We can see below a chart for goals conceded this season. If you take a closer look on the goals conceded after set-pieces you will recognise that Roma have conceded the joint third least goals from set-pieces with four, tied with teams like Milan and Atalanta and only two behind Inter as Conte’s team is claimed as one of the best defending teams in the whole world. We can see the worst teams in the league in this regard are Torino and Brescia with both placed at the bottom of the league.
If we look at goals scored, we see Roma are up at the top with the most goals from these situations (nine). These are 18% of all goals which means that nearly every 5th Roma goal is scored after a set piece. Here again, Atalanta has good stats as well with eight scored goals after set pieces. Napoli, Juventus and Inter are also performing well in this regard, keeping up in both stats, while Brescia emerge in this as a good set piece team also. When we look at less basic statistics, we can see a better picture of which side is performing well.
Definitely, Roma have some great penalty takers in their own ranks. Especially experienced left-back Alexander Kolarov and holding midfielder Jordan Veretout are Roma´s reliable set piece takers from both the right and the left side.
Most of Roma´s corners (56) are played to the near post. Nevertheless, the xG of their 40 corners played to the far post (0,95 xG) is higher. Corners played directly into the goalkeeper zone have an incredible xG of 1.67.
The key to such a high xG for Roma is their offensive movement from corners, and they use a variety of intelligent runs and movements in order to get the chance to shoot. A common method they use is the use of the goalkeeper area directly in front of the goal.
In the map below, you can recognise that the corners from the right-hand side are mostly played into the goalkeeper area and to the back post whereas the corners from the left-hand side are mostly played to the near post or into wider areas.
In the image below, you can see Roma’s typically positioning. Three players are within the goalkeeper area before the corner is taken. Three more players are within the penalty box with the option to start into an even more advanced position. Two players who have not such a good heading ability but an even better shooting ability are positioned approximately 20 meters in front of the goal.
For the set-piece taker, it is important to know if his teammates are ready. That is why the player in front of the near post starts a run ahead of the corner. This is always the first action that is made if Roma has got a corner kick. In the following example, the player starting this important run is Henrikh Mkhitaryan as he is not big and might have no chance to head the ball into the back of the net. Nevertheless, he attracts one opponent who follows him.
That is why Mkhitaryan opens up a big pocket of space at the near post which is marked yellow in the image below.
This pocket of space will be covered by one Roma player. The three players in the penalty area are always the target men for Roma´s corners as they are the players with the most dangerous headers. One of them is running to the near post. In this situation, Federico Fazio will do this run. The other one, in this situation Chris Smalling, runs into the goalkeeper area.
As a result, there are three or four Roma players and three or four opponents in the orange-coloured area at the near post when the corner is taken. This positioning makes it very difficult for the goalkeeper to assess or even to see the ball.
However, in this situation, the target man is Gonzalo Villar who previously started a run into the area at the far post. Even if the corner is played into the five-meters box in front of the goal, the goalkeeper stays on the line as he can not assess the ball correctly because of the lack of view.
In the situation above, Villar can head the ball directly into the goal. In the following situation, Villar has the eye for his teammates and heads the ball into a big, free pocket of space in the penalty area. Then, one of the players positioned at the edge of the box has the opportunity to smash the ball into the back of the net.
But as mentioned earlier, Roma do not always play their corners to the far post. They are also comfortable to play it to the near post. In these situations, the positioning and movements are the same as above. Only the set-piece taker changes one thing: the range of his cross. As one of the players with a good heading ability runs into the opened space vacated by Mkhitaryan at the near post, Roma is able to score goals by using this variation as well.
By using the penalty area as the target zone directly, Roma change their movement within the penalty box. But first of all, one player at the near post makes a starting run to give the set-piece taker a signal once again. You can see that in the image below.
However, one player from the near post gets rid of his marker by starting a run back into the penalty area. In this situation also Smalling starts to run in this area providing a second option to receive the ball within the free space.
Roma use a structure from corners which many top teams use, and it certainly seems to be one of the most effective structures. Therefore, Roma use a mix of zonal and man-marking, with the man markers responsible mainly for slowing down the runs of opposition players. The structure has seven zonal markers, who position themselves on the edge or just outside of the five-meter box, as we can see below. Zonal marking is all about coverage, and so these zonal players look to cover every area around the five-meter box, where a high-quality chance may take place.
We can see the structure outlined below, with the roles clearly designated. Two players cover the near post region, with one player slightly higher than the other, in order to cover delivery in front. The nearest player’s role is to prevent a flick on and to protect the near post touchline area, so the ball doesn’t go all the way through.
Four players then cover the central area, again we see good staggering with the players at different heights, which helps to maximise coverage of each area. If the ball goes behind this highest player, you would expect the goalkeeper to claim it. Likewise, if the ball goes ahead of the deeper of the four central players, you would expect the near post markers close to him to cover it.
There is then a back post zonal marker who covers the whole back post region. It is vital the spacing between each player remains optimal and that each zone remains covered, otherwise opposition players can occupy and win headers in these zones.
One or two players cover the area for a possible short-taken corner. Two players mark their opponents directly in the penalty area.
In most cases, the four central players and the two players from the penalty area lead to a numerical superiority as you can see in the 5-vs.-3 situation down below. That is why the opponents have no real chance to score a goal by delivering the corner into the penalty area.
But as in every defensive tactic, there are not just advantages but also a disadvantage. In this case, it is a corner played to the near post. So, let us take a look at how to beat Roma’s positioning during a corner kick.
Again, Roma use seven players at the edge of the 5-meter box to cover that area and two players are in the penalty area to mark their opponents. Since Atalanta feint to play a short corner, Roma uses two players instead of one to cover the area around the corner. Nevertheless, that does not change anything regarding Roma´s positioning and numerical superiority inside the box.
The corner is played to the first post. Space was opened up by striker Duván Zapata. Atalanta´s centre-back Berat Djimsiti recognises that space and fills it. As Roma’s central players are busy with their opponents and the two players from the penalty area are out of the game they cannot create numerical superiority in the dangerous zone.
Djimsiti can head that ball and extends it into the back post area. There, José Luis Palomino can get rid of his marker and scores a goal. As already mentioned, Atalanta definitely know how to score from set-pieces. This paid off in this particular match.
In my opinion, this method of playing to the near post and extending the ball to the back post area is the only way that can work regularly. Only in this way, it is possible to get rid of the markers and to cause confusion within Roma’s defensive shape. However, also by using that method, it is extremely hard to score a goal from a set-piece against Roma as shown by the numbers.
This tactical analysis has focused solely on the corners of Roma, as the main data of the piece only covers this area. Nevertheless, it is clear to see from this analysis that Roma are an effective team from corners, and this is certainly something Paulo Fonseca has worked in during his time at the club so far. It will be interesting to see how big a role set-pieces play for Roma when the Serie A returns imminently.