Roma 0-0 Milan – a lack of invention, or quality defending?

March 6, 2010

A frustrating game, this one. Not merely because it finished 0-0, but because it was a game where a draw was the least exciting outcome as far as the title race is concerned. Second versus third, and the big winners at the the end of the game were the leaders, Inter.

In truth, neither side deserved to win the game. Milan probably created the better opportunities, but their midfield failed to function as effectively as it generally does. Matthieu Flamini played the right-sided central midfield role, which meant there was an onus on him to go forward, but looked uncomfortable high up the pitch, and he neither provided the driving runs of Clarence Seedorf nor the crisp passing of David Beckham. The Ambrosini-Pirlo-Flamini trio seems a little too functional rather than creative, and it certainly wasn’t creative enough when Milan went into the final third tonight. To add to this problem, Milan opted to replace the injured Pato with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, a striker effectively playing out of position. That meant there was a massive responsibility on Ronaldinho to create chances, and he didn’t have a good game. Milan’s best chances tended to be when they got in behind the Roma full-backs in wide areas, but first Borriello and then Ronaldinho wasted the resulting opportunities.

A particular cause of concern for Milan would be the fact that Borriello and Huntelaar don’t seem to play particularly well together. The afforementioned Borriello miss would surely have been a goal had he squared it to the Dutchman, and more than once they made similar runs and got in each others’ way.

Milan also continue to suffer from a lack of inspiration at full-back. Daniele Bonera was a good choice to play at right-back considering Vucinic tends to drift to the left, but Luca Antonini didn’t get forward enough – which was a shame, as he’s generally quite effective in the final third.

But perhaps the focus should be on Roma, because they were the home side. In a way, their problem was that both Mirko Vucinic and Julio Baptista tend to move to the left of the attack, and that meant they were up against Alessandro Nesta, who was in superb form, and Bonera, who is a sold defender. The other side of the defence, with Thiago Silva and Luca Antonini, got away with relatively little work, with Rodrigo Taddei on the right playing much deeper than the left-winger.

Roma’s nature simply isn’t suited to playing against Milan. The most noticeable thing about Milan is that they only ever defend with seven outfield players. The two wide men, Ronaldinho and Huntelaar, are given license to remain in forward positions, and don’t track back at all. That means that Milan’s central midfielders can be overwhelmed if the opposition seeks to pass the ball around them. But Roma don’t really play this way – ever since they started using their 4-6-0 system, their natural instinct is to break directly and flood forward numbers quickly. It felt like they needed a calmer, more methodical approach to unlock Milan’s defence; they needed to attempt death by a thousand cuts rather than by one dramatic slash.

Roma also struggled because they love getting their full-backs forward, particularly John Arne Riise on the left, but against Milan’s very offensive-minded tridente they weren’t confident enough to venture into the final third. On a couple of occasions, Rise instinctively attempted a burst down the flank, only to think better of it and retreat back into position.

Overall, not a fascinating game for either the goal-loving neutral or the considered tactician. The best players on the pitch were probably Nesta and Juan, which helps to explain the scoreline.

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