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Across the Romaverse Podcast, #42: The Theatre of Dreams Turns Into Roma’s House of Horrors

Were tactics the problem or not? We take a deep dive into Roma’s 6-2 drubbing in Manchester.

Manchester United v AS Roma - UEFA Europa League Semi Final: Leg One Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

If you’ve been a Roma supporter as long as we have, you’ve seen Roma get drubbed in Europe before, including a famous 7-1 at Old Trafford. Yet, this match was different than the rest in some ways. Some say it was down to tactics, which got Sean real fired up, so we decided to revisit this match with clearer minds after 48 hours to see what really went wrong.

In this episode, we took a deep dive into the tactics of the match—the deepest we’ve ever gone tactically, so be sure to check out the accompanying graphics below. In the process, we tried to decipher if tactics, roster quality, or Roma’s in-match injuries were most to blame. In addition, we discussed the following:

  • Why does this happen to Roma so often?
  • Does Italian football have an identity crisis?
  • How was this match different than the other drubbings?
  • Does Fonseca finish the season?
  • Who’s the next manager?
  • How do we shape the roster next season?
  • And so much more, including listener questions, so get yours in for the next episode.

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For those who want to read while they listen, here are detailed graphics and analysis for some of the game's key moments.

We looked at the build-up to several goals, for either Manchester United or Roma last night, to point the finger at either individual mistakes or the coach’s decision to send the team out into the second half with aggressive tactics. Here are the moments we want to put the spotlight on:

Leonardo Spinazzola vs. Luke Shaw

There are plenty of positives to say about Spinazzola’s time in Rome, not least of all his willingness to take on the responsibility of carrying the ball upfield for Roma. That’s most useful in moments when Roma needs that pressure valve, maybe even when they’re ahead on the scoreline.

But deadlocked at 0-0 or 1-1? Different story.

Here are two identical situations that left wing-back's Leonardo Spinazzola (€29.5 million signing) and Luke Shaw (€31 million signing) find themselves in for their respective sides. Roma’s wing-back turns a 4 vs. 5 situation into United getting 9 defenders behind the ball, giving no edge to his team until Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Lorenzo Pellegrini win back the onus to create Roma’s lead going into half-time.

The build-up to Roma taking the lead at Old Trafford yesterday.

Spinazzola’s pace and drive, as big as an impression as those can make on the team, are utterly ineffective to Roma’s attack when the scoreline is level. Spinazzola is already 28 years old, so needs to find that consistent final-third play in his game soon, before the pace starts to drop. Compare that to Luke Shaw:

Shaw finds his team outnumbered 4 vs. 5 carrying the ball across the halfway line. A very similar scenario. The difference? Shaw’s perfectly-timed looping ball to find Rashford on the far side, giving United the 2 vs. 1 edge to outnumber a lone Bryan Cristante at the back.

United’s Equalizer and Roma’s Budget Gegenpressing

This is definitely a goal where you could talk about different tactical approaches all day. Serie A purists feel Italian teams have no business doing anything other than man-marking on the European stage, especially when you come out for the second half of a European semi-final at Old Trafford leading 2-1.

Roma’s aggressive pressing of the ball leaves plenty of room for questioning whether Gonzalo Villar, Amadou Diawara, and Bryan Cristante couldn’t have been put into a better position by being given more conservative instructions, focusing more on marking opponents rather than pressing ball-carrier Paul Pogba. You decide. But keep in mind the real issue here is pressing, and not the high line (which is made a non-issue by Cavani’s play with his back to Roma’s goal).

Despite that, take nothing away from Fred’s quick thinking and play to start off United’s counter.

Individual Errors Galore Give United Back the Lead

If tactics-talk could take the lion’s share of the story for 2-2, that certainly isn’t the case for United re-taking the lead. With the exception of whether you should tell the team to press the ball here (which Cristante decides to do very late in the day), it’s a series of individual mistakes from Cristante, Smalling, and Mirante that tell the story of this goal.

However, this passage of play does raise questions about Fonseca’s team selection in general.

United’s Corner Routine for 5-2

We also talk about an impressive United corner routine for their fifth goal. Did they know Roma would completely miss the opportunity to put a man outside the box to cover Bruno Fernandes? Or was it just on-the-spot opportunism?

Either way, Smalling’s anticipation of the Fernandes ball into Pogba is disappointing and goes beyond tactics.

Cavani’s World Class Pass Pushes Lead to 6-2

Finally, here’s a goal to show how much tactics talk goes out the window in the face of world-class individual play. Cavani’s execution below takes every single Roma defender out of the game and would take them out of the game in any situation, any formation, and under any matchday conditions.

The only thing you could tactically reproach Roma for here is leaving space, between their backline and keeper, for Cavani to pass it into, but a regular player would use that space to put in a simple through-ball. What Cavani did what something else entirely.