clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Day After... Roma vs. Sassuolo

AS Roma v US Sassuolo - Serie A Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

The Di Francesco-templated side of Sassuolo played right into EDF’s hands. Roma’s expected goals count (xG 3.21) at the end of yesterday evening’s game was the highest threat Roma had posed on goal since the home game against Sampdoria before the last international break.

We start with Sassuolo then move from Roma’s backline up the pitch in this post.

Sassuolo’s Bitter Idealism

The Neroverdi were not only above Roma in the table headed into this match, but could reasonably gamble on their morale being higher than the Giallorossi.

While De Zerbi did rest regulars Lirola and Rogerio (plus went without Boateng and Duncan through suspension and injury, respectively), the Sassuolo coach refused to compromise on the high-line defence and positional play that Sassuolo has been known for since their Serie A stay.

And why would he? You can’t train your team to play against their identity in the middle of a fixture-packed week. If Sassuolo had played this game conservatively and still lost, that’s a hell of a way to plant seeds of doubt in your squad’s belief before yet another home game for Sassuolo this coming weekend. Sassuolo have bigger concerns for their own season and EDF counted on that being the case.

“We trained for the long ball ahead of the game,” EDF told the media in the post-match conference, “knowing they play a high line and that they’d come here to try and play football.”

And that both Sassuolo and Roma did.

Steven Nzonzi and Bryan Cristante had their minds made up before kick-off; both could sit deep in front of the Roma backline, looking for that searching long ball behind Sassuolo’s defence. Nzonzi’s average position over 90 minutes has gotten progressively deeper (at least in home games at the Olimpico) as he adapts to playing alongside Cristante. By the time Sassuolo scored their goal at the death, Roma could have been at least 6-0 up if not more.

AS Roma v US Sassuolo - Serie A Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

The neutral was happy to watch an open game, while Sassuolo’s Alfred Duncan took to ranting from home on Twitter over the Patrik Schick own-goal-that-was-not. But Roma can say Sassuolo had some lucky refereeing go their way earlier in the game.

Kolarov put Schick through on goal in the 15th minute of the game and it was a nice chance; Schick was free to hit one on his left foot inside the Sassuolo box had he not immediately (and incorrectly) been called offside before he could hit it.

That was an unusual decision against Roma in the VAR-era, where officials usually let the play run out before lifting any flag.

Roma’s Collective Lapse in Defence (But Really Manolas)

Let’s start from the beginning with Sassuolo’s goal.

There would have been a Zaniolo-sized shadow (2 tackles, 1 interception over 63 minutes) to close Magnagnelli down on the ball in the 90th minute, only Zaniolo was off the pitch with cramp. In the young Italian’s place, Javier Pastore strolls 15 yards away from Magnagnelli. Pastore’s body language shows his mind is elsewhere.

Magnagnelli is free to thread a ball between both Cristante and Nzonzi onto Locatelli, who’d been calling for it to feet. At that point, Manolas’ arrogant decision tells the biggest part of the story. All Locatelli has to do is turn towards Roma’s goal and the ball is open. Everyone in Roma’s backline recognises the palla scoperta and runs back to goal; only Manolas chooses to go it on his own.


Not only does Manolas find out that he can’t close down a 10 yard gap in 1 second, but makes Locatelli’s life easier by gifting him the space to play a ball behind Fazio. The nail in the coffin then comes from Robin Olsen.

The big Swede is again suspect in his positioning when it comes to one-on-one last man situations. Olsen makes Babacar’s mind up for him, allowing the Sassuolo striker to take an early shot and avoid any chance of Fazio recovering to brush Babacar off balance.

Fazio’s culpability in this whole sequence is being Fazio: he’s slow and cannot get to Babacar in time. Because of this, it’s said Fazio should be replaced to make Manolas’ life easier.

But my questions here are

  • Does Manolas make this same decision if Juan Jesus is playing alongside him?
  • Does he make the same decision if his partner is Kalidou Koulibaly?
  • How about if he’s playing alongside De Ligt?

My bet is yes, to all three questions. He’s done the same alongside defensive partners like Yanga-Mbiwa, Astori and Rudiger before now. By 27, you’d expect him to take a page out of Fazio’s book in terms of learning how to achieve more with less. Instead, the Manolas Myth contrives to achieves less with more.

There’s a difference between looking like you’re giving it your all and actually giving it your all. The main improvement Manolas has been asked to make in his time in Rome is to stay disciplined, concentrated and stay in position rather than try to be the hero. Do that and how much less likely is it that Sassuolo score that goal yesterday?

That’s the story of Manolas’ career in Rome and, unfortunately, he’s not the only one we can say that about over the years. More than a criticism of Manolas, it’s a criticism of Roma as a club itself; young talent gets fueled with all the wrong stuff when it comes to ego, and turns into underachievement.

AS Roma v US Sassuolo - Serie A Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

In Manolas’ defence yesterday evening - he came up big on the attacking end.

In actual fact, Manolas played far more verticals than Fazio from a deeper position on the pitch than the Argentine - owing to Roma’s general long-ball game. Manolas tried 9 long balls (successful with 6) of them compared to Fazio’s 3 long balls. Of Manolas’ 30 passes in the game yesterday, a remarkable 63% were forward passes - including 6 passes made in the opposition half.

That begs another question over the influence of Perotti on that left-hand side. Does Fazio turn into another recycler of the ball when Perotti drops deep between the lines? It’d take more than one game to find out.

But against Sassuolo, it was certainly Manolas who held up his end of the attack from deep with his vertical play on the ball despite yet another lapse in defending.

Zaniolo Finding Time

Every flaw Zaniolo has mentioned about himself before he began his Roma career has been evident, especially the need to improve his passing. But his apprehension at having less time and space on the ball at senior level is gradually melting away. More and more he’s finding composure as matches go on.

For example, compare this moment in the first half, when he was put clean through on goal by Schick, to Zaniolo’s wondrous goal later in the game:

The Unlikely Lads (Patrik Schick and Eusebio Di Francesco)

If EDF has a knack for surprises, the most consistent one must be the way he reaches understanding with his strikers. Consider how EDF has man-managed Schick in the last three games.

EDF dropped Schick to the bench for Zaniolo at false nine against Genoa, and I thought Schick’s career in Rome was done. Instead - and this is credit to the Czech player himself - Schick has since shown a desire to do things EDF’s way.

In the pre-match conference before Juventus, EDF claimed the staff were working on getting it into the attackers’ heads that being more aggressive in defending the ball leads to more confidence on it. Di Francesco cited El Shaarawy’s goal against Sampdoria as an example of SES’ transformation - both as a defender and psychologically - to keep his head up and chase a “lost cause” to turn it into a goal.

Schick responded in similar kind, in the Juventus game, in everything except the goalscoring. And now that’s come about as a result of yesterday’s game.

AS Roma v US Sassuolo - Serie A Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

While the Czech’s touch was still sloppy and clearly lacking in confidence against Sassuolo, Schick’s substitution in the second half was greeted with applause for the player himself. Just the previous game at the Olimpico, he’d been subbed on against Genoa to a chorus of whistles. The transformation comes from Schick defending not just from the front but even at the back on set pieces.

The Czech forward recovered from his near-own goal to make a headed clearance inside Roma’s box just seconds after that incident. He also took high-fives from teammates for winning the penalty leading to Roma’s first goal of the night, and he was one of the players to jump over the barriers and congratulate Perotti on the Argentine’s comeback goal.

After Schick’s clearance inside Roma’s box, the forward popped up to try a rovesciata inside Sassuolo’s area. Then came a backheel flick on goal. And then came Schick’s goal itself, rounding the Sassuolo keeper to finish off Schick’s second-best chance of the night.

The less said about Schick’s miss on his actual best chance of the night - a xG 0.51 free header on goal in the second half directed straight at the keeper - the better. But overall, this is what you want to see from Schick.

For the Czech striker, it’s proof he’s not the arrogant kid ready to drop his head and throw toys out the pram. For Di Francesco, it’s proof that he sticks by what he said he was going to do and man-managed a player to the results Di Francesco said he was going to get from that very player.

Only one joking comment from Edin Dzeko on the touchline to EDF himself (“Good thing I told you I’m not fit enough to start this game, since Patrik scored!”) highlights EDF’s dilemma going forward: Does he keep playing Schick or does he turn to legendary striker Dzeko to start games now?

AS Roma v US Sassuolo - Serie A Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

Better yet, does EDF come up with a formation to play them both?

Roma’s next game is this coming Saturday 29th December away to Parma, and old friend Gervinho. If Inter Milan are still feeling generous in giving away youth players next summer, keep an eye out for Italian defender Alessandro Bastoni on loan at Parma this Saturday.

The 19-year old Bastoni was incredibly unlucky to get injured before last summer’s EURO U-19 tournament, missing out on the chance to join Zaniolo at those finals. His left foot passing game from the backline would do nicely in Roma’s future plans.