It’s still early days in the race for the Seria A title, however the implications of this particular match may prove influential down the line for both clubs. Roma entered this season looking to build upon their standing as a perennial challenger, with Fiorentina looking to turn their playing style into a winning formula that will bring back a top four finish.
Paulo Sousa set Fiorentina up in a 3-4-1-2 formation which was extremely fluid and adaptable based on the position of the ball. With the recent departure of Marcos Alonso to Chelsea, this gave Hrvoje Milić the chance to establish himself as a new permanent fixture on the left side.
Luciano Spalletti fielded what was billed as a 4-3-3, however the positioning of Radja Nainggolan altered slightly into an advanced central position, which gave us more of a 4-2-3-1 shape. Kevin Strootman and the ever present Daniele De Rossi would protect the back line, with the talismanic forward Edin Džeko the team’s sole striker.
Fiorentina’s attacking shape
Fiorentina’s attacking positioning saw them shift to a 3-4-2-1, with the two in this particular shape coming from the central position in two advanced playmakers. La Viola’s back line favoured the right-hand side, with Tomović playing within a traditional right-back position at times, moving forward to support Cristian Tello on the right wing. This, therefore, left Rodríguez and Astori to patrol the back line on their own, however they were joined by Sánchez and Badelj who sat below play to add another layer to the defensive screen.
Tello and Milić flanked Fiorentina’s attack, with Iličić dropping back into an advanced midfield role beside Borja Valero. While Kalinić was the lone striker, his ability to drop and rotate with Ilicic was also evident during attacks. Ultimately, this positioning gave Fiorentina width, depth and penetration opportunities, and while they didn’t have any natural players between the lines, it did give them positional superiority against a Roma side that would be forced to defend man-for-man centrally or be available to pick up runners.
Fiorentina used this to great effect by dragging their opponents out of their preferred defensive shape by using third man runs and rotational movements; the space then afforded gave them the areas in which to target dribbles or passes into.
Roma’s defensive shape
Roma’s defensive shape positioned itself in a 4-4-1-1 of sorts. Perotti worked back to defend alongside Peres on the left flank, mainly to create a 2v1 against Fiorentina’s winger Tello, but also to prevent any advances forward from Tomović. Salah at times offered himself back to defend against Milić, however as the main point of offensive transition for Roma, he quite often stayed forward in the wide right area outside of Astori.
Florenzi moved quickly to press Milić when he advanced forward, which saw him leave the back line, therefore there was a greater emphasis on the connectivity between the back four and the screen midfielders. Centrally, Strootman and De Rossi offered protection of the back line and worked together to pick up the penetrating movements of Ilicic or Borja Valero, should they advance into spaces behind the full-back. This protection allowed Fazio and Manolas to zonally mark Kalinić in the central area and maintain their shape in the middle at all times.
Fiorentina’s defensive shape
When Roma advanced forward via a goal kick, Fiorentina’s shape shifted into a 4-4-2 defensive set up. Milić pulled back into a traditional left-back slot, which then required Borja Valero to move into the wide left position. Iličić and Kalinić worked to level out centrally and drop back to connect with Badelj and Sánchez. In essence, Fiorentina were dropping back to nullify the threat coming from Roma’s right side.
Firstly, Milić moved back to mark Salah, with Borja Valero supporting this by moving wide to pick up Roma’s offensive right-back, Florenzi, should he move forward. Iličić and Kalinić dropped to screen entry passes into De Rossi and Strootman, which essentially forced Roma to play wide to the full-backs or back to the goalkeeper.
The Fiorentina collective defensive shape dropped back into a tight defensive unit in transitions within the Roma half, only moving to press the ball should it advance to within 10 yards of the halfway line. Should play drop back to the ‘keeper or move from a full-back to a center-back, this was the trigger for Fiorentina to press forward in a 4-3-1-2 set up, with the weak side winger moving inside to mark Roma’s deepest central midfielder.
Roma’s attacking shape
Roma’s attacking shape flirted between a 4-4-1-1 and a 4-2-3-1 depending on the height of the wide players. Salah was given licence to take up higher positions within the outside channel, whereas Perotti operated in a deeper wide role and moved inside more often to link with the central midfielders. Nainggolan played underneath Džeko for the game’s entirety, however offered very little penetration or movement and played more as an advanced pivot which Džeko used to link back the play and then find passes to the wingers.
Fiorentina’s building pattern from goal-kicks was an integral part of their play and something coach Paulo Sousa was cleared animated about on the touchline. Regardless of the amount of pressure that was being applied by the Roma front line, Sousa was adamant his team were going to break the first line of press and use their positioning to find the spare man in the middle of the field. Central defenders Rodríguez and Astori flanked the edges of the six-yard box with Badelj and Sánchez dropping to the top of the 18-yard box. Tomović and Milić positioned themselves on the wings on either side of the defensive half, with Borja and Tello at the tip of the half in central positions. Iličić and Kalinić moved to the highest positions they could in the middle of the field, creating a box of sorts in front of Tello and Borja.
Central defenders Rodríguez and Astori flanked the edges of the six-yard box, with Badelj and Sanchez dropping to the top of the 18-yard box. Tomović and Milić positioned themselves on the wings on either side of the defensive half, with Borja and Tello at the tip of the half in central positions. Iličić and Kalinić moved to the highest positions they could in the middle of the field, creating a box of sorts in front of Tello and Borja.
The target areas Fiorentina were looking to exploit were both the deep and advanced central midfield areas. Typically, Salah and Džeko would press the central defenders on the outside of the box, leaving Nainggolan in a 1v2 situation centrally. When this was the case, a quick pass to either Badelj or Sánchez saw them turn and advance forward into the space before releasing a pass wide. In the instances where this wasn’t available, Tello or Borja would drop centrally and look to play a link pass wide to the Fiorentina winger who was left vacant on the weak side. This was typically Milić on the left due to Salah’s advanced positioning.
Roma’s build-up play mirrored much of their defensive positioning, with Salah, Džeko, Nainggolan and Perotti moving forward onto the highest line leaving the back four and two screen midfielders to build from the back. Roma’s back four stood in a flat line as did Strootman and De Rossi in front of them, which gave Roma six players in which they could use to build forward through quick one touch passes until a central player was free to direct a long ball forward into the space behind Astori or Milić for Salah to run onto. This also triggered the movement of Florenzi, who moved forward to assist Salah, both underneath in wide areas and in the middle via an underlap.
When attacking the final phase to create a scoring opportunity, Fiorentina showed a variance in their play depending on which side of the field they were on. On the left side, Milić would typically advance forward on the dribble in a much deeper position, triggering the press of Florenzi from Roma’s right back spot.
Borja used this movement to make a penetrating run behind the defensive line and occupy a central defender or recovering defensive central midfielder. This movement quite often was used to open space for a cross from Milić into Kalinić at the back post, or Iličić who shifted to a central position at the top of the box looking for a cut-back.
On the right side, Iličić was involved in the initial build centrally, giving himself an opportunity to receive a pass behind the Roma forward press and break lines. Given time to turn and advance, Iličić provided lots of penetrative passes into Kalinić and Borja, however Strootman was soon instructed to mark him tightly and move forward when he dropped. This caused a chain reaction in the Roma defensive set up as De Rossi had to mark Borja, leaving no coverage of the back line should others move into the vacated space. One individual who utilised this space was Tello who moved centrally to penetrate the gap between Fazio and Peres, picking up balls over the top & exploiting the lack of natural coverage.
This caused a chain reaction in the Roma defensive set-up as De Rossi had to mark Borja, leaving no coverage of the back line should others move into the vacated space. One individual who utilised this space was Tello, who moved centrally to penetrate the gap between Fazio and Peres, picking up balls over the top and exploiting the lack of natural coverage.
Roma’s build-up play when creating forward movement felt overly rigid in the attacking third, primarily as Džeko rarely moved off the shoulder of the weak side centre-back and Nainggolan didn’t make runs to break the back line.
When moving through the thirds both De Rossi and Strootman would pull wide into an almost full-back-like position, triggering the ball side full-back to advance forward and his corresponding winger to drop back into a central inside channel. While this gave Roma possession opportunities, very rarely did this ever present Fiorentina with a problem as their defensive compactness on the ball side didn’t allow the wide players to turn and dribble centrally.
The only phase of play which caused Fiorentina real problems occurred on the right side when Salah stretched play on the wing. Florenzi moved forward in the inside channel in a diagonal position of Sánchez, when play was cut back to him, Sánchez was unable to press quickly enough and a cross to the back post found Džeko who almost scored with a header. This appeared to be their most effective form of attack, however they weren’t able to consistently use this to create scoring opportunities.
Fiorentina: Borja Valero
Borja’s movement in the attacking phases of the game caused Roma serious headaches, both in terms of when to press him while on the ball and when to track his runs off it. He is a technically gifted footballer who has a terrific range of passing, showcased during periods of close build-up and when he had to stretch play with long diagonals.
Roma: Alessandro Florenzi
Florenzi dealt with almost everything that was thrown at him in this game, which was impressive such was the amount of time the ball spent on his side of the field. Not only was he an integral part of the defensive stability of the team and in charge of nullifying Fiorentina’s primary route to goal, he also showcased his terrific work ethic to burst forward and support Salah during Roma’s primary offensive transition.
By Alistair Bain. Follow @allybain