On Monday during Claudio Ranieri’s debut match, Roma rolled out in a formation that we’ve grown accustomed to seeing this season under EDF: the 4-2-3-1. While there’s a possibility that Roma could still use this formation in the remaining eleven matches, odds are that this time around it was more of a forced decision for Ranieri based on the limited personnel he had available. In fact, based on Ranieri’s track record, which earned him the nickname ‘The Tinkerman’ in the British press, we could see multiple formations and personnel groupings during the Serie A stretch run.
Throughout his career Ranieri has adjusted formations regularly, sometimes on a weekly basis. In fact, in his last five matches in charge of Fulham, before his dismissal at the end of February, Ranieri used five different formations. Sometimes, desperate times call for desperate measures, so this is an extreme case, even for Ranieri.
The way the team responds to a certain formation and tactics, who is available, and the strength of an opponent could all affect Ranieri’s choice on any given week. While we can’t predict just how many different formations we’ll see as Roma’s fight for the top four continues, it could be one or it could be many. I thought it’d be fun to look at some possibilities. Below are the three formations that Ranieri has employed most often while at Roma, Leicester City, and other stops over the last decade.
Roma were without eight first team players for Ranieri’s debut due to a perfect storm of injuries and suspensions. With the personnel available Ranieri turned to the 4-2-3-1, which also happened to be EDF’s most used formation this season. While this may have been conditioned by the aforementioned shortage, it wouldn’t be a complete shock to see Rainieri stick with it.
In fact, during Ranieri’s first season in the Capital, this was his preferred formation from about midway through the season, especially once Luca Toni arrived from Bayern. With the way Roma’s roster is currently constructed, the personnel groupings seem to fit well. There are plenty of central midfield options for the double pivot, wide attacking, and trequartista positions. The only drawback would be the one striker after Ranieri stated the desire to play Schick and Dzeko together.
With little time to impart his ideas over the last eleven matches of a vital stretch run, it may be best for Ranieri to stick with a formation that his team is familiar with. At the same time, Ranieri could make the 4-2-3-1 his own by changing some of the tactics. We already saw this on Monday when there were some key differences from EDF’s 4-2-3-1. Some of these changes were shifting to a 4-4-2 when in possession without high pressing, a lower defensive line in possession with fullbacks who sat back rather than make overlapping runs, less balls played back to the keeper, and more balls over the top.
The classic 4-4-2 has often been one of Ranieri’s preferred formations, if not his favorite. After his comments during his first press conference, regarding Edin Dzeko and Patrik Schick, there could be a good chance we see this look sooner rather than later. This is something we rarely saw under EDF and when we did Schick was usually miscast out wide. A 4-4-2 would allow this to happen with Schick playing off Dzeko as more of a second striker, something that may suit him well.
Where this formations leaves some questions is the wide midfield positions. When Ranieri came to Roma the first time and employed this formation early in his tenure, he had true wide midfielders in the form of Simone Perotti and Rodrigo Taddei. When you look at the way Roma’s current roster is constructed, Roma’s wide men are attacking wingers like Cengiz Ünder, Justin Kluivert, Diego Perotti, and Stephan El Shaarawy, (also an option to play as a second striker). If two of these players were employed wide in the midfield four, the formation morphs into more of a 4-2-4. Can Roma really afford to be that offensive when it’s bled goals so regularly?
Meanwhile, Roma currently has a glut of center midfielders that could be restricted to just two positions: De Rossi, N’Zonzi, Pellegrini, Zaniolo, and Cristante. Are there enough minutes to go around? A possible solution could be to use Pellegrini and Zaniolo at the wide midfield positions to get more of these midfield players involved. But would that get the best out of them?
During Ranieri’s second season in charge, Roma used a lot of a different two striker formation: the 4-3-1-2. The benefit of this formation would, of course, be to play Dzeko and Schick together. It would also create plenty of space to get many of the aforementioned midfielders involved in a midfield set up they are accustomed to. It would even have the benefit of getting Pellegrini and Zaniolo time in an advanced trequartista position where they both have played well this season.
However, this formation like the 4-4-2 has some drawbacks. For one, where to do all of Roma’s wingers fit into this set-up? In addition, this is a very narrow formation both in midfield and up front. With that in mind, more would be expected of the fullbacks to push up to provide width. The problem with this is that Ranieri would prefer to keep his fullbacks sitting back more to help cut out the odd man rushes that have killed Roma defensively this season.
I’m no tactical expert, but I personally think that the 4-2-3-1 could be the best fit for Roma going forward over the last eleven matches of the season. I know it doesn’t allow Dzeko and Schick to play together, but I think the two striker formations have more drawbacks with the current personnel group. Remember, this roster was constructed with EDF’s 4-3-3 in mind. What do you think? Which formation do you see Ranieri going with the rest of the season and who would be your XI in that formation if everyone is healthy?