In the wake of last week’s resounding 3-0 victory over Verona, we hailed the performance of Lorenzo Pellegrini, who, simply by playing a more advanced and central role, turned Roma’s attack on its head. By helping to shift the point of attack from the wings to the middle of the park, Roma presented a more direct threat against the Verona defense, one that, even when it failed to produce a goal or clear cut chance, still managed to place the ball in higher percentage scoring areas.
Well, in yesterday’s 3-1 win over Udinese the story was much the same, but instead of Pellegrini player the role of progenitor, it was the trio of Diego Perotti, Edin Dzeko and Stephan El Shaarawy. Through their positioning and passing, this trio established a persistent presence in front of the goal, giving the Udinese defense nary a chance to breathe.
Look how central Perotti and Elshaarawy were in their average position pic.twitter.com/LDgntKLFH5— DeRossi's Tattoo (@RomaThings) September 23, 2017
As you can see the point of Roma’s attack was so closely connected, Perotti and El Shaarawy’s names literally overlap; they were the two-pronged spear of Eusebio Di Francesco’s attack yesterday. But if you peer closely at that diagram, you’ll notice something interesting, Dzeko’s withdrawn position, he’s practically level with Kevin Strootman.
Here is the same concept in a more user friendly format:
Once again, you can see Dzeko is practically level with not only Kevin Strootman but Radja Nainggolan, a man to whom he was practically tethered last year. Don’t mistake that positioning as Dzeko merely serving as a simple decoy, though. By dropping back so often, Dzeko kept the Udinese defense guessing. They knew eventually play would spread out wide, but by pinging it back to Daniele De Rossi nearly as much as he spread play himself, he shifted the locus of Roma’s passing network, making it practically impossible for the Zebras to key in on any one player. However, unlike the season’s first couple of matches where Dzeko felt he was too isolated and too far removed, he was still able to pull off five shots within the 18 yard box, four of which were on target, one of which he obviously scored.
In many ways, this was Roma’s first true Di Francesco match. Look back at that passing map and you’ll notice the series of tight triangles, particularly among and between Federico Fazio and/or Kostas Manolas and Roma’s fullbacks. Indeed some combination of Manolas, Fazio, Aleksandar Kolarov and Alessandro Florenzi were the three most utilized and successful passing connections. It was the first true manifestation of everything EDF achieved with Sassuolo and has been preaching since returning to Roma; move the ball quickly from back to front, using your ball-playing defenders as the primary piston in the attacking engine, driving these triangles forward. (Does that make sense? I don’t know much about cars)
But it was so much more than building from the back. Once the ball pushed past the midfield, the triangular approach kept working, with De Rossi staying central to create networks on either side of the wing, with a particular focus on the left hand side, where he teamed up with Strootman and Kolarov to feed El Shaaraway, whose five shots led the way; it wasn’t exactly an intentional overload, but at this point, EDF knows where his bread is buttered, through Kolarov.
But the creativity and tidy passing didn’t stop there either, as El Shaarawy and Perotti each had three chances created, working on the edges of the 18 to create for each other. Point being, from back to front, EDFs players were passing and moving, overlapping and exchanging, leaving the Udinese defense scrambling and powerless to stop them .
None of this is earth shattering of course, it’s simply how your basic 4-3-3 works—triangles, overlapping, overloading, seven men in attack etc.—but this was the fullest extent to which EDFs tactics have been embraced and, let’s be frank, worked thus far.
However, we must caution that the true test of these tactics, and the player's belief in them, will come once Roma enters October’s fixture gauntlet, when they face, among others, Napoli, AC Milan and Chelsea.
If EDF can carry this form over to that brutal stretch, he may convert even the most staunch of non-believers.