A.S. Roma secured their place in next seasons Champions League with a 3-2 victory in Francesco Totti’s final appearance for the club. The away-side did their best to spoil the occasion, and deserve credit for their efforts. Thankfully, the giallorossi were determined and clever enough to ensure Il Capitano’s career ended on a high note.
Roma: 4-2-3-1 Szczesny//Rudiger, Manolas, Fazio, Emerson (Rui 17)//Strootman, De Rossi//Salah, Nainggolan, El Shaarawy//Džeko//
Genoa: 3-4-3 Lamanna//Biraschi, Munoz, Gentiletti//Lazović, Cofie, Veloso, Laxalt// Pellegri, Palladino, Hiljemark//
Opening 15 minutes:
The first significant moment of the match saw the giallorossi continue to struggle against the counterattack. Ivan Jurić deployed a 4-4-2 mid-block to neutralize Luciano Spalletti’s 3-4-3/2-4-1-3 attacking system. In doing so the Croatian enabled his side to defend effectively while Lazović, Palladino, Hiljemark, and Pellegri offered outlets for rapid transitions emanating from either flank. Genoa’s strategy yielded immediate results. Roma maintained their attacking shape while Lamanna rolled the ball out to Lazović who noticed Palladino had moved into Roma’s half, thus creating a 3-v-3 in the attacking third. With Hiljemark and Palladino drawing the attention of Fazio and Rudiger, the Serbian winger played Pellegri in for his first ever Serie A goal:
Genoa continued to use their defensive shape to good effect prior to Džeko’s equalizer. By simultaneously achieving vertical and horizontal compactness, Genoa provided very space between the lines (1) and could cope with overloads on the wings via their full-backs, wingers, and central midfielders (2 & 3):
The Rossoblu’s defensive solidity was compromised by the offensive component of Jurić’s strategy in the buildup to Džeko’s goal. Genoa’s ‘plan a’ consisted of attacks and counterattacks in which interplay between Laxalt and Palladino on the left-wing pulled Antonio Rudiger toward the touchline while Roma’s remaining defenders had to contend with crosses into the path of Lazović, Hiljemark, or Pellegri. This meant Genoa sometimes formed the 3-4-4 defensive shape Roma exploited in the 10th minute:
After restoring parody, Roma were more attentive to the defensive aspects of the game. Genoa heavily relied upon wing play to initiate transitions. Recognizing this, Spalletti setup his men in 4-1-4-1 with a high defensive line transforming into a 4-2-3-1 mid-block, then a 4-4-2 mid/low-block as the away-side got deeper into Roma’s half. Although the players could not always follow the manger’s instructions to the letter, they successfully forced Genoa to use central areas often enough to disrupt their attack. However, defensive stability came at a price. Džeko functioned as a counter target, but Roma’s other attackers were usually unable to join him quickly enough to produce cohesive attacking play. As a result, Genoa were able to retreat into their defensive shape which typically gave Roma the same problems I highlighted in the previous section. The giallorossi proceeded to adopt a more patient approach in possession. Džeko now operated as a false nine with the support of his teammates. Nevertheless, Genoa’s emphasis on compactness ultimately enabled them to have numerical superiority in their defensive third and snuff out play between the lines:
Roma: 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 Szczesny//Rudiger, Manolas, Fazio, Rui//Strootman, De Rossi//Salah (Totti 53), Nainggolan, El Shaarawy (Perotti 68)// Džeko//
Genoa: 3-4-3/3-5-2 Lamanna//Biraschi, Munoz, Gentiletti// Lazović, Cofie, Veloso, Laxalt// Pellegri (68 Ntcham), Palladino (Ninković 49), Hiljemark (56 Cataldi)//
Spalletti’s offensive approach in the beginning of the second half deviated slightly from that of the first insofar as he instructed his players to utilize ball side counter-pressing once they committed turnovers in the attacking third. Even though Roma pinned the gialloblu in their own half, Spalletti’s squad were unable to take the lead prior to Francesco Totti’s inclusion due to Genoa’s impenetrable 3-5-2 mid-block/5-3-2 low-block.
Il Capitano’s swan song got off to a rocky start. Knowing Totti would probably take on a free role, Jurić had Cofie man-mark him when he choose to participate in the buildup phase. Roma’s favorite son thus lacked the time and space required to kick-start the attack. Consequently, Roma’s attacks were disjointed without someone consistently acting as a central attacking midfielder:
Totti stopped dropping back by this point, however, Roma now had to try to breakdown a 6-3-1 low-block. As illustrated below, Genoa exposed themselves to 1-v-1’s out wide, but the channels on the flanks were rather narrow in that the touchline functioned as a second defender (1 & 2). Furthermore, Genoa’s vertical compactness made it such that Roma found it extremely difficult to create chances when in possession between the lines, since their central midfielders could drop into the back line whenever a center-back stepped out to make a tackle (3):
Roma’s most effective attacks arose through long balls into Genoa’s 18-yard box, culminating in Daniele De Rossi’s go-ahead goal in the 73rd minute. Since neither Laxalt nor Ninković are defenders by trade, Spalletti had his best aerial threats match up with them (e.g. Rudiger-v-Ninković during El Shaarawy’s header in the 67th minute). This subtle move played a vital role in Roma’s second goal, given that Laxalt was marking Džeko:
Going a goal up prompted Roma to employ a 4-4-2 mid-block in order to quash Genoa’s mechanistic offense. Yet, uninspired team-defending as well as Fazio’s poor positional awareness allowed Genoa to claw their way back into the match via a Lazović header at the far post:
Desperate for a winner, Spalletti added Fazio to the attack hoping to exploit the non-natural defenders apart of Genoa’s backline once again. Jurić and co. were wise to this trick at this point, making sure their center-backs shadowed Roma’s most convenient targets:
Key Moment: Diego Perotti’s 90th minute winner
Roma’s season defining goal resulted from another shrewd adjustment by Spalletti as well as immaculate execution on behalf of his players. Roma were aware Genoa’s center-backs would hesitate to follow Fazio into the gap in front of them. As such, Totti and De Rossi served as decoys as Fazio nodded Radja Nainggolan’s perfectly-struck free-kick into the path of Džeko (1). The Argentine did well to direct his header across Munoz’s body so that Džeko could beat Genoa’s shortest center-back (Gentiletti) to the ball. De Rossi’s run into the box preoccupied the recovering Biraschi, providing just enough space for Perotti to slot home his most important goal in a Roma shirt:
Francesco Totti’s Contribution:
The captain’s initial over involvement suggested he felt compelled to produce one last magic moment for the Roma faithful to remember him by. That said, his subsequent contributions were a microcosm of his career; casting his individual goals and desires aside for the betterment of the club. Totti did his best to give Roma’s transition play a much-needed boost, completing 10-of-12 passes as well as winning the ball back on four occasions. Totti was able to showcase his class in the attacking third too. Despite having to maneuver in highly congested areas, Totti’s guile, quick feet, and vision allowed him to make 9-out-of-13 passes, two of which led to goal-scoring opportunities.