L’Ultimo Uomo (Dario Saltari) When the game kicked off yesterday, there were a number of similarities between Genoa and Roma that would have been almost unthinkable at the start of the season. Both teams lined up with a 3-man defence: Genoa with Izzo, Burdisso and Muñoz; Roma with Juan Jesus, Fazio and Rudiger. Both teams lined up with a heavy emphasis on using their left wing: Genoa lined up with a 3-5-2 formation, although Ocampos was essentially operating as a wide forward; Roma were in a 3-4-2-1 that was weighted towards Perotti, shifting to a 4-2-3-1 when Bruno Peres ventured forward into the final third. Both teams aimed to make the most of their physicality and intensity.
At the end of August, not many people would have thought that there would be so many similarities between Genoa and Roma at the start of January. For many reasons.
The fact that both teams played with a similar level of intensity was surprising. Although it’s well known that Genoa have one of the highest levels of intensity in the league this season, Roma struggled throughout the first half of the season when faced with a high tempo, gegenpressing and recovering second balls. These weaknesses have resulted in a number of calamitous losses, such as against Atalanta when Roma were torn apart by Gasperini’s men in the second half.
This is why some feared that they would struggle against the intensity of this Genoa side under Juric, who is a student of Gasperini’s game. However, after coming out with a very combative attitude right from the start (“cazzutissimo“, in Spalletti’s words), Roma surprisingly won the physical duels practically all across the pitch, both individually and as a team.
Simeone couldn’t live with his 1-on-2 duel against Juan Jesus and Fazio (22 clearances and 4 aerial duels won – yet another excellent performance), Peres and Emerson dominated Laxalt and Lazovic, Cofie was nullified by Nainggolan, and Dzeko was able to find space between Muñoz and Burdisso without too much difficulty. It was in midfield where the balance really tipped in Roma’s favour: Strootman was his old self again (5 tackles won, only Cofie and Muñoz made more) while the Rossoblu really struggled without Rincon, allowing Spalletti’s side to win the physical battle on the pitch.
Genoa had to live on scraps: Izzo’s aggression completely nullified Perotti, and Ocampos’ explosiveness repeatedly gave Rudiger problems in a 1-on-1 situation.
Breaking up a match into a series of individual duels is the modus operandi for Juric’s Genoa, who typically man mark players all across the pitch. However, the differences in the 2 teams’ game plans start to appear through their ways of marking players.
Genoa employ a man marking system all across the pitch but, against teams who play with just 1 striker, they ensure the opposition forward is outnumbered by putting 2 centre backs on him: in this case, Dzeko was up against both Burdisso and Muñoz. While this allows them to contain the opposition’s forward more easily, it also has a number of knock-on effects.
First of all, having numerical superiority over the opposition forward automatically means that their own forward is outnumbered against the opposition defence if they are also lining up with a 3-man backline. In this case, it meant that one of Fazio and Juan Jesus never had a man to mark, giving them the freedom to bring the ball forward into the opposition half unchallenged.
With 1 centre back advancing into the final third, Genoa had a difficult choice to make: either let him keep going towards the penalty area or temporarily abandon their man marking setup to stop him. This, however, had the knock-on effect of potentially allowing another Roma player to find space in an attacking position.
This dilemma resulted in a few odd occasions where Fazio or Juan Jesus had the chance to have a shot from the edge of the box, having picked up the ball back in their own defensive third.
It was Juan Jesus who was constantly free to play a pass into the final third, rewarding the movement of Dzeko and Perotti who were constantly looking to get into the free space.
The other drawback with man marking is that it requires extreme levels of concentration to maintain it. Ninkovic and Rigoni constantly found themselves on the wrong side of Strootman and Nainggolan, and even Izzo sullied his excellent game when he allowed Perotti to get in behind him in the area, although the opportunity was wasted.
Yesterday Roma’s fluidity frequently caused issues for Genoa’s players, as they didn’t have fixed points of reference in order to contain them effectively. For instance, De Rossi and Strootman took turns in the regista position, with the other taking up a position between the lines; Bruno Peres and Nainggolan alternated on the right hand side, and a chasm opened up between Genoa’s defence and midfield as Cofie was dragged out wide to try to cover (Dzeko’s header off the post came from a cross from Nainggolan from the right hand side).
Out of possession, Roma adopted a more complex approach as they combined man marking with zonal marking. This allowed them to press Genoa as soon as they won possession, despite zonal numerical inferiority. If the ball came to Muñoz, for example, Nainggolan would leave his man Cofie to press him, with De Rossi (or, occasionally, Strootman) taking his place to mark Cofie.
At the same time, if Ninkovic or Rigoni were able to win the ball in behind the Giallorossi midfield then Juan Jesus would come out to press him; the 2-on-1 on Simeone would be maintained by Rudiger coming in to support Fazio, and Bruno Peres dropped back to the full back position to form a 4-man defence.
Building the play
The differences in the teams’ approaches without the ball also affected how they played when they were in possession. Genoa really struggled with Roma’s high pressing and frequently found themselves playing long balls from defence aimed at Simeone, who couldn’t cope with Fazio’s aerial dominance, or playing for territory and trying to regain possession inside the final third. Ninkovic’s lazy attitude also had an effect; he almost never provided an easy option in the final third when the ball came out onto his wing.
On the rare occasions when Spalletti’s team didn’t isolate Cofie, Genoa were able to bring the ball more easily into Roma’s half. The rest of the time, they had to be content with deep crosses or crosses from the left hand side, where Ocampos and Laxalt’s overlapping runs gave Rudiger and Bruno Peres a number of problems (but it was a thankless task against a team who are so dominant in the air).
Roma, who themselves often played long balls towards Dzeko, were able to manage possession much more easily, which was partly down to the fact that one of their centre backs – as we have seen – was often free to come forward with the ball with the ball at his feet.
Despite this, Spalletti’s team still lack the technical capacity to play the ball quickly and cleanly at a high tempo. Yesterday simple, basic errors often spoiled an otherwise well-built move in the opposition final third, preventing them from creating chances more easily; their passing accuracy was 10% lower than their average for the season (73% compared to 83%).
In the end, the difference was the complexity of the two coaches’ game management. In the first half of the season, Spalletti has created a fluid Roma side, capable of adapting themselves both to different opponents and within games. In the last 15 minutes, for instance, he decided to allow Genoa to have more of the ball, adopting instead a deeper defensive line when he brought on Manolas for Bruno Peres. Then, when he brought Paredes on for Nainggolan, it was in order to use possession exclusively for defensive purposes.
Despite seeing how the game was evolving, Juric didn’t make a tactical substitution until the 78th minute when he replaced Lazovic with Pinilla, adopting a desperate 4-2-4 formation. The change didn’t produce any noticeable effects, as Genoa continued to attack the opposition penalty area with crosses, which were effectively cut out by Roma’s powerful defensive line. Only a moment of individual brilliance from Ocampos in the final minute allowed Genoa a chance of rescuing a 1-1 draw.
Yesterday’s defeat was Genoa’s fourth in a row. If Juric isn’t able to get to grips with the complexities of Serie A and with the president’s constant tinkering with his squad, then it will become increasingly difficult for him to remain on the Rossoblu bench.
Meanwhile Spalletti is very aware that, in this strange journey that is Roma’s league season, he has changed his side so much that it is virtually unrecognisable from the one he started the season with.