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Anatomy of an Error: Fazio & Mertens

A moment by moment breakdown of Federico Fazio’s ill fated attempted interception.

AS Roma v SSC Napoli - Serie A Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

We have all quite rightly marveled at the rebirth of Federico Fazio this season. After bouncing between Spurs and Sevilla prior to moving to Roma, the accepted wisdom was that Fazio was just another in a long name of players long on talent and short on results. Based on his statuesque figure and technique, Fazio profiled as the ideal, albeit it a bit slow, centerback; one who could be the foundation upon which your backline was built.

For a variety of reasons, it took Fazio several years and several more changes of sceneries to put it altogether. Fortunately for us, Roma has been the beneficiary of that latent development, as Fazio has been, without a doubt, one of the best defenders in Serie A this season, so please do not take what follows as an overarching critique of Fazio’s abilities nor a harbinger of bad things to come. He simply goofed up, as well all do, and it’s been such a long time since we’ve dissected an individual play, I thought it might be interesting to analyze exactly what went wrong.

First up, the goal in total

As we discussed yesterday, this goal was partially a product of Fazio’s error mistiming Marek Hamsik’s final pass, but as with most things, that only tells a portion of the story. First, Roma had to turn the ball over, then they failed to dispossess Napoli in the middle third, and lastly, and I would argue most egregiously, they gave Hamsik WAY TOO MUCH space to make that pass. It was simply a sequence of poor decisions and poor execution.

However, with all that in mind, the most visible error here was Fazio’s ill-timed and somewhat unnecessary attempt to intercept that pass and/or cut off the passing lane, so let’s take a look at that sequence.

Fazio’s mistimed interception

The thing I’d like you to take notice of, besides Mertens breezing past the last link in Roma’s defense, is just how soon Fazio jumped on this pass. Notice how he breaks towards, and really past, Mertens before Hamsik even receives the ball. And yes, had he picked off the pass we’d be hailing his aggressiveness and timing, I get that, but in this instance, with no one behind him or directly on Mertens’ hip, Fazio’s speculative attempt at stealing the ball was haphazard and completely ill advised.

Here it is in freeze frame:

Fazio commits before Hamsik even has the ball

At this point, Daniele De Rossi is close enough to Mertens to corral or at least obscure his path a bit, while also allowing Juan Jesus to close the gap on the left, making Fazio’s jump all the more hasty. Granted the angle of this photo may be misleading, but the point was simply this: Fazio’s gamble was completely unnecessary, had he simply held his ground and even allowed the pass to make it to Mertens, Fazio would still have been in position to make a tackle or at least commit a necessary and justified foul, and, as we mentioned, DDR and Rruan weren’t so far away they couldn’t have closed Mertens down had Fazio held his ground

As it stood, Fazio’s gamble was ill-advised and poorly executed, he made a decision when he didn’t have to—his choice to try and jump that passing channel ceded control to Mertens. If he held his ground, Mertens would have had to make the decision, not Fazio, and as we mentioned, with De Rossi and Juan nearby, had Fazio held firm, Mertens’ path to goal would have been virtually non-existent....but check this out:

That’s how agonizingly close Wojciech Szczesny was to actually saving this; a few centimeters and a couple fractions of a second. Football is nothing if not a game of inches.

Ultimately, this was a team error. From the poor play out of their back, to their inability to stop Napoli’s counter, down to Kostas Manolas keeping Mertens on side, this was a prime example of how a series of seemingly innocuous decisions or indecisions can doom you during a 90+ minute match.

So while Fazio’s error was the most glaring, he was by no means the lone culprit. And the mere fact that we can be so pedantic about his performance shows just how far he has come this season. However, as we so often warn, with the margins for error razor thin, moments like these can be devastating and quite costly.

Also, apologies for the poor quality of some of those stills and gifs, I had trouble finding decent clips.