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Weekend Recap: Takeaways from Milan vs. Roma

The international break arrives for an out-of-sorts Roma side.

AC Milan v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

Ah yes, you know it’s a Roma loss when the club sends out Fazio to field the post-match questions. The Argentine center-half is often the only one willing to face the music at doom-and-gloom times like this, sometimes angering reporters with his ‘ignorance is bliss’ approach to analysing games.

“Bad first half? I didn’t see it that way,” was Fazio’s classic rebuke to one journalist in the mixed zone. Then came another “Fazio is taking us all for a ride with his comments!” on Roma Radio this morning.

Il Comandante emphasised not being too negative about the situation, looking at where Roma need to improve fast and not simply fall into the lazy temptation of beating themselves up. Last week the media were mentioning Roma’s undefeated streak. This week a now-beaten Giallorossi side wake up to headlines about the club’s worst start to a season since 2012/13.

Roma, You Had One Job... Pressing

The major question mark of Gattuso’s Milan was how easily the Rossoneri can crumble under pressure, during his tenure so far. So Milan must have been delighted to find a Roma side struggling to put together any sort of coordinated pressing on the pitch. It was the reprieve that Gattuso’s side were looking for.

From a Roma point of view: the coordinated team defence under EDF has simply disappeared from last season.

There’s no better example of this than nearly 7 Roma players standing in a straight line alongside one another for Milan’s winning goal. It was also the case at moments much earlier in the evening.

When was the last time we really saw a short, compact Roma pressuring opponents into their own half of the pitch? At the beginning of last season, that was the one facet of EDF’s philosophy that was working all-too-well, so much so that it made Roma’s lack of creativity in midfield glaringly obvious.

It was also the major reason behind signing Pastore - a player who could deliver that killer pass in tight spaces. But, without that team solidarity, this Roma side kicks off a new season looking far too stretched all over the pitch and Pastore’s signing looks like a liability when it shouldn’t be.

EDF’s Misplaced Caution Over Karsdorp

EDF’s reasoning for changing to a 3-man backline against Milan was to “give the defensive line more sense of security”. While that all sounds grand, later on he let it slip to Sky that his concern was really just Rick Karsdorp.

The coach wanted Karsdorp to have less to worry about defensively on the Dutchman’s long-awaited return to first team action. But as a wing back last night, Karsdorp was fatally looking for the ball to do more of the attacking work for him than his legs were willing to do themselves.

Karsdorp’s roots as a midfielder were fairly obvious to see. The Dutchman often saw the openings for early passes up the wing to the front line - the kind of passes that left the Roma attack outnumbered and stranded, because the Dutchman was passing into the spaces he was meant to be running into.

Ultimately a 3-man backline where the wide men offer no width is always going to be fatal. Kolarov, for his part, tried but still looked out of form and fitness.

The formation change also did nothing for Ivan Marcano, himself looking like unneeded spare parts on his professional Roma debut before being yanked off at half-time.

This one is firmly on EDF before anyone else mentioned above. He fielded a starting eleven that he must have known would not have the legs to get through 90 minutes, and left himself with too many changes to cover during the game. There was simply no real advantage in going so defensive. And wouldn’t you know it? Rick Karsdorp actually looked better in a 4-man backline in the second half.

Who Needs Grinta? Gattuso’s Squad Depth Controls The Ball

Speaking of making subs and game management, here was one side who did to Roma what Roma had done to the smaller teams in matchweeks 1 and 2. Gennaro Gattuso saw the tide turning towards Roma in the second half, then saw fit to wrestle control of the game back with his own substitutions. Only he did it in a way that wasn’t fitting of Gattuso the player, even if by now what we’ve come to expect of Gattuso the coach.

While Milan’s team is generally considered to be lacking in muscle and determination - ironically qualities Gattuso was lauded for in a Milan shirt - the Rossoneri didn’t need grinta for the win last night, ultimately beating Roma with a greater show of controlling possession. Subs like Laxalt and Castillejo proved pivotal in countering Roma’s comeback.

At one point, Roma were eating into Milan’s possession from a dominant 70% at halftime all the way down to 59% by midway in the second half. We knew Roma weren’t going to be playing sparkling football at the very beginning of the season in the hunt for results, and they were one disallowed Steven Nzonzi goal from being able to say sparking football wasn’t needed. But Gattuso showed different.

Could this be an early glance into the qualities shaping the race for the top 4 places?

Roma fielded a physically dominant side with giants all over the pitch - EDF even claimed that was the reason behind playing Dzeko and Schick together last night - but without the fluency on the ball to actually deliver to the front men, then Roma aren’t putting opposing teams under the kind of pressure where the physical advantage can actually influence the outcome of a game. This problem becomes more obvious when wrestling for the upper hand in games against other top 4 contenders.

Conte Looms Over Everyone

This weekend you will see Roma fans call for the club to make a change and hire Antonio Conte. You’ll see Inter fans do the same with regards to Spalletti. Yesterday evening, the Milan fans were calling for Gattuso’s head and Conte to step in his place. And that was even after Milan won the game!

It’s the same everywhere around Italy.

Antonio Conte is free for his next job and everyone knows it. Until Conte is off the market, fans around Serie A’s top clubs will be restless and dreaming of greener grass under his pasture (this probably goes double for Juventus fans who’ve never taken to Allegri).

Roma Mentally Off The Pace

The words “lacking lucidity” were uttered so often by EDF last night that I’ll save you the pain of repeating them any further this morning. Right now the team looks so behind the pace in decision-making all over the pitch, it’s painful to watch.

Take Milan’s first goal as an example. Fazio was forced to cover for Karsdorp and no one anticipated the big defender would get done so easily by Rodriguez on the ball. Manolas, Marcano and the rest of the backline took up their “red nuclear button” defensive line at goal while they somehow thought they had enough time to stand and point out Milan strikers for the Roma midfield to drop back and man-mark for them. But anyone watching the game from the outside could see the threat to Roma’s goal was much more imminent. Fractions of a second later, an unmarked Kessie scored at the far post.

It’s a prime example of how Roma side’s heads are not switched on right now. That isn’t to even touch on the lack of coordination in the attacking half of the pitch either, where Dzeko was seen snorting and throwing his arms up in the air at teammates - the Bosnian striker may not be around Trigoria for the international break but he had a few choice words for teammates at how isolated he was left in the game.

It’ll be up to the other leaders in the dressing room who aren’t on international duty - here’s looking at you DDR - to break in some new working relationships and deeper understanding within the team, during the international break.