Part of what has made Francesco Totti's career so spectacular has been its malleable nature. Totti isn't like that Lilliputian autocrat running the show in Catalan, he has, time and time again, subverted his justifiably massive ego for the greater cause; dropping deep, moving out wide, playing up top, and practically creating the false nine role when Roma's front line was beleaguered during Luciano Spalletti's days in Rome; it was never his way or the highway, even though he long ago earned the right to play prima donna. Totti has been the creator and the finisher, working from all angles and in every conceivable role during his two decades in the Eternal City, right up to this very day, with nary a word of complaint.
For the past few weeks, it seems as though we've done nothing but talk about what was wrong with Roma, much of which centered on Rudi Garcia's tactics, substitutions and utilization of several key players, Totti foremost among them. In the wake of yesterday's stirring comeback, our discussion shifted to Garcia's second half changes, removing the rarely ineffective Radja Nainggolan and Alessandro Florenzi in favor of Kevin Strootman and Adem Ljajic, respectively.
They are not, however, the focus of today's discussion, at least not directly. In the comments after yesterday's match, Dhaw correctly noted that Garcia's second half utilization of Totti was akin to the manner in which Spalletti utilized Totti, not so much in terms of his nominal position/title, but in the location and nature of Totti's touches; i.e. closer to the box.
So I decided to take a look, and wouldn't you know it, he was right, dig this, Totti's first half touches and passes:
Totti's 1st Half Touches
Totti's 1st Half Passes
As you can see, almost 44% of Totti's touches came on either side of midfield, well removed from the 18-yard-box. Also notice how little he was involved in the passing game, with the vast majority of his passes heading backwards. Totti wasn't bad, per se, he just didn't have many chances to be effective, at least not in any threatening area.
Fast forward 45 minutes and it was a different story, take alook
Totti's 2nd Half Touches
Totti's 2nd Half Passes
From nearly 44% of his touches stymied in the midfield to just a touch over 26%, it's pretty clear that Garcia made a concerted effort to move Totti's effective positioning further up the pitch, with nearly 36% of his touches occurring within 36 yards of Lazio's goal, which I like to assume was intentional.
You'll also notice the changes in his passes. Not only was he involved to a greater degree, but his passes were generally more inward and/or diagonal than backwards, with a particular concentration on the right flank where he teamed up with Ljajic to great success. Although we didn't pull the charts, we can safely assume that Strootman was complicit in this pattern, working with Ljajic and Iturbe to spring Totti into attacking space behind Lazio's defense, as he did during Totti's 48th minute goal.
Of course, the most immediate question is what, if anything, changed once Mattia Destro came on for Juan Iturbe in the 81st minute. With nine minutes of action and only two touches, the answers aren't exactly apparent, as neither is enough to draw any conclusions about what Garcia may or may not do with his substitutions or offensive spacing going forward, particularly as Destro's minutes and role are concered. There will be no ambiguity, however, when it comes to the Mattia Destro transfer rumors, expect those to come fast and furious this week.
So, as much as we credit Totti with yesterday's come from behind draw (deservedly so, of course), show Rudi some love for making timely substitutions and altering his tactics during the second half when virtually all of Roma's attackers were further up the pitch. With Ljajic's ability to mimic Totti's role (to the extent a mere mortal can), Strootmans ability to coalesce everything and with Iturbe's pace and willingness to drop back, it's not beyond the realm of possibility to envision Totti serving as more of a traditional striker going forward; whether this is the best for his long term sustainability, we can't say, but the option does exist, it is valid and it is effective.
And while these weren't necessarily paradigm shifting changes, the marked effect that had on yesterday's match makes them a viable option. That doesn't mean, however, that we can make any sweeping claims about a revolution in Garcia's tactics, but it just goes to show that as Totti goes, so Roma goes, and let's just be thankful (again) that Totti is so selfless and so willing to adapt minute-to-minute, match-to-match and year-to-year.
Now if Garcia can just figure out this Destro quagmire, we'd be all set.
graphics via squawka.com