Last week's mixture of emotions, both before, during, and after Roma's narrow victory over Empoli, was unlike anything we've ever ever seen during our tenure covering the club. So much changed so rapidly that we barely had a chance to process it all. Was EDF fired or did he resign? Did Monchi follow suit out of loyalty or was he looking for an easy out prior to (we assume) signing on with Arsenal? And, most importantly, how would the players on the pitch react?
Speaking of players, Claudio Ranieri was a few wolves short of a pack during Monday's match against Empoli. With the squad decimated by injuries and/or suspension, Ranieri opted for continuity, keeping in tact EDF's 4-2-3-1. Although, thanks to those absences, the back line was as jury-rigged as we've seen in ages, with Juan Jesus and Ivan Marcano starting centrally. Ranieri's tinkering in attack, however, was delectable, with Patrik Schick supported by Stephan El Shaarawy, Nicolo Zaniolo and Justin Kluivert.
SPAL 2013 vs. Roma: March 16th. 18:00 CET/1:00 EDT. Stadio Paolo Mazza, Ferrara.
Ironically, the outcome was nearly opposite of the expectations, as the defense held Empoli the lowest xG total Roma has conceded all season, while the attack took longer than expected to reach a boil. But, thanks to goals from SES and Schick's headband, Roma walked away winners...wait a minute, Juan Jesus’ gaff of an own goal nearly blew the match...I...I have nothing; it was among the most absurd and surreal Roma experiences I've ever had; nothing made sense but it somehow seemed better?
All of which brings us to Saturday's match against SPAL 2013, a club that inexplicably blanked Roma 2-0 back in the fall...
October 20, 2018: Roma 0, SPAL 2
The tagline on that video "Wasteful Roma Fall At Home to SPAL" sort of says it all, doesn't it? In a few dozen characters, YouTube managed to sum up the entirety of Di Francesco's tenure as Roma manager, where the outcome at times struggled to match the ideas.
Tinkering With Tactics
Yesterday we discussed the myriad ways in which Claudio Ranieri will organize his Roma team. Given the short turnaround, down to 11 matches now, and the enormous financial stakes, don't be shocked if Claudio keeps the same basic formation as EDF, though as you'll see momentarily, the actual operation of that formation was drastically different against Empoli.
Last week against Empoli, Ranieri's 4-2-3-1 wasn't too dissimilar in shape from the one used by EDF as recently as February 23rd against Frosinone, but the finer distinctions, namely the relatively positions of the "2” in that formation and the staggered positions of the fullbacks, seemed to make a difference.
My first impression upon looking at that was "Dear God, where is the balance!?” but the real beauty here is the synchronicity between Alessandro Florenzi, Bryan Cristante and Justin Kluivert; I mean, talk about a triangle! While Florenzi was obviously the hub here, the distance between he and Kluivert—not too far, not too close—not only facilitated the passing network but provided Cristante with room to push forward.
In the most recent EDF variety of the 4-2-3-1 the "2s” were located right in between the two fullbacks, with Daniele De Rossi and Steven Nzonzi lined up vertically, but you'll notice how Claudio pushed Cristante WAY up the pitch while keeping Nzonzi pretty much at home. Without Cristante as an outlet next to him, Florenzi had no choice but to push the ball up the pitch or back to Rruan, who then shuttled it over to Ivan Marcano, who in turn started a new network with Davide Santon and Nzonzi—so there was balance, but it required a bit of patience and back channeling.
Meanwhile, the proximity between Cristante, Zaniolo and El Shaarawy, who was right on Schick's hip, provided Roma with a central push that, at times, fell by the wayside earlier this season. The Canuck, The Kid, The Pharaoh and The Headband accounted for 70% of Roma's shots on Monday, the vast majority of which came through the central channel—the area in between the posts.
On the surface, Ranieri's first tactical turn as Roma headman appeared identical to EDF's final matches, but as we just saw, and as El Shaarawy said after the match, it was a "system they have never used over the last two years."
Now, we've gotten this far and we haven't even discussed tomorrow's actual opponent, SPAL 2013. The Estensi, currently sitting in 16th just two points above the drop zone, are in the midst of a horrific skid at the moment. Not only have they gone winless over their past six matches, but when you dial it back a few weeks their form looks epic...ly bad.
Since defeating Roma in October, SPAL have managed only one victory in 18 matches, half of which they also lost. To which I say, how the hell did Roma not only drop points to these bums but lose two-nil?
Unlike Ranieri's first opponent, Empoli, who were still scoring at a decent clip during their recent skid, SPAL's offense has been virtually non-existent. Over their past six matches, SPAL has struggled mightily, tallying only four goals.
With the crowd behind him and the Olimpico bursting with anticipation, fate seemed to be on Ranieri's side last week. However, now that the honeymoon period is over (remember, he's only got 11 weeks) it's time to get down to brass tacks. And with several fresh legs returning for Roma, Ranieri should have no problem drawing up a plan to pin back lowly SPAL.