Adem Ljajic's heroics aside--and conversely, Morgan De Sanctis antiheroics, I suppose--there was another bright spot in Roma's come from behind draw on Saturday, the impressive play of Alessandro Florenzi. While Ale playing well isn't really news in and of itself, the fact that he had such a commanding and influential performance playing as a fullback will surely give credence to those seeking to make this experiment borne out of necessity a permanent career switch. We danced around the fringes of this debate back in the fall, focusing on what one needs to be a successful fullback and how Ale stacked up, but now that we have some actual data and anecdotal evidence, is that proposal moving closer to a reality?
Florenzi has been every bit the man of mystery this season, confounding fans, pundits and experts alike with his shape shifting ways. Through 18 appearances in all competitions, Florenzi has manned his usual wide spot, only this time sprinkled on both flanks, while making spot appearances in midfield and, of course, his two-start cameo at right back, first versus CSKA Moscow and over the weekend against Sassuolo.
Since immediacy rules the modern age, let's use Florenzi's most recent and most successful turn as a right back as a barometer for what might be. Call it a best case scenario.
When we examined the feasibility of Florenzi the fullback several months ago, we focused much of what it takes to be an effective attacking full back on one's ability to provide service from the wings, both in the quantity and quality of crossing. And, wouldn't you know it, Florenzi availed himself quite well in that regard yesterday.
As we can see, Florenzi was quite busy yesterday, serving up a match high 10 crosses from the right flank, completing three of those ten, also a match high. To put that in perspective (granted, with an extremely different sample size), Florenzi's three accurate crosses yesterday more than doubles Francesco Totti's club leading 1.2 accurate crosses per match. So, even if he were to cut that in half, Saturday's version of Florenzi would be Roma's most prolific crosser, and while 33% completion is an unsustainable number, if he could register in the neighborhood of 18%-23%, we're talking about a legitimate threat from the flanks.
But a cross is only as "accurate" as the man attempting to receive it, so when we look at the graphic, notice how his service was concentrated and aimed towards the most dangerous areas of the six yard box, and generally were attempts at leading his teammates towards the most minute of space, rather than just randomly spraying balls towards the center of the park.
For another subtle example of Florenzi's brilliance from yesterday, look no further than his game saving assist. The best part about this play is not the cross itself, but rather the cross Florenzi decided not to play. Rather than playing it narrower to Destro, who was closer to the goal, Florenzi wisely cut it more diagonally back to Ljajic, who had acres of space to score the crucial goal. While this is admittedly a small and hard to quantify characteristic, Florenzi chose the right pass to make and executed it under pressure, saving Roma face, not to mention a point, in the process.
Beyond simple crossing, Florenzi worked the flanks like a master yesterday, hitting on seven of eleven long balls. I'll spare you the graphics for the moment, but take a look at the match reports, and you'll see that Florenzi was springing the forwards from the deepest reaches of the right flank, while also switching play in a, dare I say it, near Totti-esque fashion.
All told, Florenzi was perhaps Roma's most effective offensive force yesterday, Ljajic's goals notwithstanding. Ale, as we're now well aware, completed 33% of his crosses 64% of his long balls and 83% of his passes overall, while taking two shots on goal and creating three scoring chances. Really, the only blemish on his offensive game yesterday was his in ability to beat anyone off the dribble, but when we look at how involved he was in the passing game, it didn't really decrease his impact on the match. Defensively speaking, Florenzi was no less impressive, completing 100% of his tackles, picking off four passes and clearing two balls.
While this was certainly a befuddling match in many respects, Florenzi's performance was anything but ambiguous; he was stellar. If this Florenzi can show up every week, the tale of Florenzi the fullback may not seem so tall.