A.S. Roma kept the title race alive and remained in the driver’s seat for the much coveted ‘Pseudo Scudetto’ by grinding out a 3-1 victory over Juventus. Luciano Spalletti proved his worth by outwitting Max Allegri. That said, the managers excellent decision-making could have been undermined if not for Leandro Paredes and Daniele De Rossi, whose herculean efforts provided offensive versatility as well as defensive stability.
Roma: 4-2-3-1 Szczesny//Rudiger, Manolas, Fazio, Emerson//Paredes, De Rossi//Salah, Nainggolan, El Shaarawy//Perotti
Juventus: 4-3-3 Buffon//Lichtsteiner, Bonucci, Benatia, Asamoah//Lemina, Pjanic, Sturaro//Cuadrado, Higuaín, Mandzukic
Given Max Allegri’s pragmatic mentality coupled with the fact Juventus only needed a draw to clinch the Scudetto, it was hardly surprising to see Juventus cede possession to Roma for much of the opening fifteen minutes. The bianconeri defended in a 4-3-2-1 mid-block turning into a 4-1-3-2 with a high(er) defensive line. Higuaín would pressure Kostas Manolas when Roma began the buildup phase while Lemina would step out of midfield to close down Federico Fazio whenever the Argentine received the ball from Manolas. With Lemina also applying cover shadow on Daniele De Rossi, Emerson became the most common link between the backline and midfield. Immediate pressure on behalf of Cuadrado meant Emerson could either play the ball back to Fazio or send it up the line to Stephan El Shaarawy who would receive the ball with his back to the opponent’s goal, and the perpetually tenacious Lichtsteiner nipping at his heels:
Roma’s struggles on the ball were compounded by Juventus retreating into a 4-5-1 mid/low-block when the giallorossi’s buildup phase started at the center circle. Lemina, Sturaro, Cuadrado, Pjanic, and Mandzukic clogged the middle of the pitch, provoking Roma to use the wings. Roma fell right into Allegri’s trap, finding themselves outnumbered on the flanks more often than not:
From a defensive standpoint Luciano Spalletti’s initial plan was better suited to trouble a back three. Roma’s front line were encouraged to press every time the ball was played across Juventus’s back line. Although a fine idea in theory, in practice Mohamed Salah, Radja Nainggolan, and Diego Perotti tended to form a straight line as they advanced toward the ball. Consequently, Pjanic moved closer to his defenders, receiving passes in the sizeable gap between the front three and midfield. Pjanic then had the time and space required to hasten the transition phase via direct play to Cuadrado and Mandzukic:
Spalletti remedied his error before Juventus could exploit it. Nainggolan was now responsible for marking Pjanic while Salah and El Shaarawy attended to Lichtsteiner and Asamoah respectively. Lemina and Sturaro had to offer outlets in their own half as a result. Therefore, Spalletti’s adjustment prevented quick transitions and achieved numerical superiority (4-v-3) in the defensive third:
Rewards gained from defending well high up the pitch can be cruelly undone when individuals make mistakes defending in their own half, as illustrated by Lemina’s icebreaker in the 20th minute. Leandro Paredes and Manolas were both partially at fault for the goal. As Sturaro cut inside Manolas unnecessarily followed Mandzukic’s movement away from goal, and thus the Greek international was unable to get back into position in time to track Lemina. Paredes failed to recognize what had transpired behind him. Instead of rushing back to central defense to aid Fazio (after making no effort to challenge Sturaro) he took on the role of bystander as Juventus took the lead:
De Rossi’s equalizer in the 25th minute preceded a frustrating period for Roma players and fans alike. The boys tried to cut through Juventus’s narrow Christmas tree by targeting their right side. Once again, central areas were too congested and Juventus’ compactness and positional discipline rendered obtaining numerical advantages out wide impossible:
Roma: 4-2-3-1 Szczesny//Rudiger, Manolas, Fazio, Emerson//De Rossi, Paredes//Salah (Totti 92), Nainggolan (J. Jesus 77), El Shaarawy//Perotti (Grenier 69)
Juventus: 4-3-3 Buffon//Lichtsteiner (Alves 64) Bonucci, Benatia, Asamoah//Lemina, Pjanic, Sturaro (Dybala 69)//Cuadrado (Marchisio 77), Higuaín, Mandzukic
Neither side made major changes during the half-time break, however, a small adjustment by Spalletti played a decisive role in Roma’s go-ahead goal in the 59th minute. His players were instructed to evade Juventus’ defensive block by hurriedly playing passes to central areas up field upon winning the ball in their own half. With men committed forward, the away side left themselves open to natural overloads as well as 1-v-1’s in the defensive third. As demonstrated below, El Shaarawy’s 1-v-1 with Lichtsteiner was largely a result of the shift in mentality imposed by Spalletti:
After Nainggolan’s wonderfully worked goal put Roma 3-1 up, Juventus reverted to their tried and tested 4-2-3-1. Spalletti retaliated by replacing Perotti with Clément Grenier, committing to a 4-3-3 in anticipation of Allegri’s altered approach:
With their hopes of securing the Scudetto now in jeopardy, every Juventus player joined the attack. Nevertheless, adding a third central midfielder allowed Roma to sit in a 4-1-4-1 mid/low block in order to absorb the pressure. Dybala’s runs across Roma’s penalty area did befuddle the players initially, but they adapted quickly enough to contain the ever dangerous Argentine. Numerical equality in the midfield forced Juventus to play in narrow channels near the touchline (1), simultaneously discouraging balls over the top to Higuaín and Mandzukic (2 &3). As such, Juventus often recycled possession via their center backs who proceeded play long balls which were more hopeful than threatening:
The 77th minute marked another masterstroke by Spalletti. Juan Jesus’ inclusion saw Roma turn to a 5-3-2 to close out the game. In the defensive phase the giallorossi dropped into a 5-4-1 low- block, initiating transitions in the middle of the park to exploit Salah’s pace when Juventus committed turnovers. From a defensive perspective Roma’s new formation culminated in the same results achieved by the 4-3-3 earlier in the half. Alves, Lemina, and Dybala were deprived of the space necessary to produce scoring chances, and Higuaín found himself outnumbered in and around the penalty box. Juventus then resorted to aimlessly lofting passes to one another when they were not force-feeding Higuaín:
Key Moments: Spalletti’s Substitutions in the 2nd half
As Roma fans we are accustomed to seeing our boys fall apart when it matters most. Thankfully The Bald One’s ability to counteract Allegri’s every move made Roma’s victory look surprisingly easy. Going into this match I was still undecided as to whether Spalletti should retain his position at the club, however, this performance has led me to believe Roma may reap long-term benefits by keeping him on.
Man of the Match: Tie between Leandro Paredes & Daniele De Rossi
Since bren has given Paredes his just due, I will focus on De Rossi’s contribution. Goal aside, Capitan Futuro’s intelligence, composure, and passing range made him an indispensable component of Roma’s attack. Completing 52-out-of-55 passes, his efforts were integral to sustaining possession and threatening Juventus’ goal through counterattacks. Even though his defensive stats are not nearly as glamorous as Paredes’, by keeping his head on a swivel and constantly barking out orders to teammates he ensured Roma maintained their defensive shape while depriving Juventus of gaps to exploit.