Luciano Spalletti continued his tinkering ways today when Roma welcomed Frosinone to the Olimpico. With a laundry list of players out injured, Spalletti was forced to include two brand new signings, Stephan El Shaarawy and Ervin Zukanovic, into his starting lineup today. It seems as though Spalletti has made more tactical and lineup changes in three weeks than Rudi Garcia did the past three months, though Walter Sabatini's player selections and acquisitions were certainly culpable in both instances.
Nevertheless, the new look Roma hoped to catch Frosinone off guard, starting the match with a formation that can best be described as malleable, shifting from a 4-3-3 to a 3-4-3 or 3-5-2 with ease, even showing sprinkles of a 4-5-1 on the surface.
Point being, no one, least of all Frosinone, had any idea what to expect from a Giallorossi lineup still adjusting to their new coach while simultaneously integrating two new players into crucial roles.
So, how did it all go down?
Antonio Rudiger and El Shaarawy nearly teamed up to give Roma second minute lead, as the German bombed down the right flank before finding El Shaarawy on the opposite side. SES flashed his playmaking abilities several minutes later, threading a ball across the box from the left flank.
Despite threatening very early, through the first 15 minutes or so, they very much had the look of a club adjusting to new roles, new tactics and new faces. Hidden beneath that uncertainty were glimmers of Spalletti's synchronous attack--players overlapping, interchanging and attacking through middle--it may not happen overnight, but you can already tell the players are in the process of unzipping and installing the spalletti.exe file.
While it wasn't a quintessential Spalletti goal, Radja Nainggolan opened the scorer's ledger in the 18th minute with a shot from the seat of his pants.
Radja Nainggolan: 18th minute
Rather than me recounting that goal, check out the tactical diagram:
Look at that, a nine or ten pass move, none of which were backwards, and it resulted in a direct goal. Imagine that.
Of course, it didn't take much imagination to conjure up what happened next, a defensive breakdown leading to a Frosinone goal. Spalletti, Garcia or Zeman, it's just the Roman way.
Daniel Ciofani gets @Frosinone1928 back in the game. 1-1. #SerieA https://t.co/Zg0nLAoG7h— beIN SPORTS USA (@beINSPORTSUSA) January 30, 2016
Just horrible positioning there; look at how the Roma defense is compacted in the middle as Frosinone advances, leaving their left flank completely exposed.
Nevertheless, Roma pressed on, with Nainggolan, El Shaarawy and even Edin Dzeko threatening the Frosinone goal, though they ultimately went for naught. Despite the late let down, there were many positive signs in the first half--El Shaarawy's early acclimation, Rudiger's surprising offensive forays and Nainggolan's all-around hustle--but they were done in once more by their defensive shortcomings, as Frosinone was able to exploit them in transition.
Roma came out full bore in the second half and wasted virtually no time in putting the visitors on their back heels. Words won't do this goal justice, but suffice it to say, El Shaarawy made quite an impression on his new home crowd.
Stephan El Shaarway: 48th Minute
Credit: the r/soccer highlights bot
Just sit back and enjoy that goal. El Shaarawy channeled his inner Zlatan on this one, attempting an outrageous and ostentatious back heel from the penalty spot--you don't attempt something like that unless you have supreme confidence in yourself. Like we said, this move was a gamble in every sense of the word, but struggling for form and fitness with Milan and Monaco hasn't blunted El Shaarawy's confidence.
This move looks even more spectacular when you consider that El Shaarawy and Zukanovic have known each other for about four hours. Quite a debut indeed.
El Shaarawy's individual brilliance notwithstanding, minute by minute, the cohesive, confusion-inducing monster we grew to love a decade ago begins to rear its beautiful, bald head. Never was this clearer than when Poobah brought on his greatest disciple, Francesco Totti. Suddenly Roma had a proper #10, two forwards, quick, athletic centerbacks and a do-it-all Perrotta style midfielder in Nainggolan. It may take a few months for it to properly congeal, but the pieces are in place for a full-on Roman resurrection.
The remainder of the second half ebbed and flowed, but Roma settled down and began to truly control the match,finally subbing off Mohamed Salah for William Vainqueur to ice the match. But just when you began to fear another last minute let down, Totti himself buried Frosinone once and for all, setting up Pjanic with a beautiful through ball.
Miralem Pjanic: 84th Minute
GOAL Pjanic!! Roma 3-1 Frosinone pic.twitter.com/7ILbvZxtSg— Serie A News (@TransfersCalcio) January 30, 2016
Don't you just love the highlights where someone is recording their TV via mobile? But I digress, watch as Totti simultaneously settles, turns and springs Pjanic all in one fell swoopâsimply breathtaking. We've said it a million times, even at 39-years-old, there is no replacement for Totti. If that's Juan Iturbe or Gervinho, they probably put their head down and try and outrun the last man, ignoring a wide open Pjanic.
It certainly wasn't perfect, but this was the first true sign of things to come for Luciano Spalletti's Roma. With a patchwork squad, Roma showed glimpses of the Spalletti ingenuity we grew to love during the early 2000s. Given time, health and some of his own signings, displays like this should become Roma's low water mark.
You have to be particularly impressed with El Shaarway's debut, who showed no hesitation to get involved in Roma's attack and certainly wasn't lacking for confidence when the ball came his way. Ditto for Rudiger, who looked reborn in a more attacking role, where his size, strength and surprisingly nimble feet should make him quite an asset for Spalletti.
If you found yourself jumping for joy at this one, you won't have to wait long for another fix. Roma jumps right back into league action Tuesday when they take on Sassuolo on the road.