Lazio 0-2 Roma: two penalties settle tight game

November 8, 2010

LAZIO: 86 Muslera; 2 Lichsteiner, 13 Stendardo, 3 Dias, 26 Radu; 6 Mauri, 24 Ledesma, 32 Brocchi; 8 Hernanes, 22 Floccari, 9 Rocchi. ROMA: 27 Julio Sergio; 77 Cassetti, 5 Mexes, 29 Burdisso, 17 Riise; 30 Simplicio, 16 de Rossi, 20 Perrotta; 94 Menez; 9 Vucinic, 22 Borriello. Usual diagrams back ASAP.

Two similar systems and little creativity in open play.

Top of the table Lazio set up with a 4-3-1-2 formation, a shape they’ve used in roughly half of games so far, the other option being a 4-2-3-1. Tomasso Rocchi started his first game since mid-September upfront alongside Sergio Floccari, whilst Guglielmo Stendardo started in place of the suspended Giuseppe Biava at the back.

Claudio Ranieri went with a shape that was also something like 4-3-1-2, albeit slightly more fluid than Lazio’s. Jeremy Menez played behind the front two, whilst Daniele de Rossi played deep in the centre of midfield.

It’s quite rare to see two 4-3-1-2s up against each other in modern day European football – indeed, of all the games featured on this site, this is the first time that a 4-3-1-2 has faced a 4-3-1-2.

4-3-1-2 v 4-3-1-2 theory

There is a general feeling that a game featuring two of the same systems results in the two sides cancelling each other out. This is often true – it means neither side have a particular advantage over the other in a specific area of the pitch, and there will often be two similar playing styles. (That’s not to say two sides playing the same formation will automatically play the same brand of football, but there is some level of correlation – a side playing 4-3-1-2 will attack in a very different way to a side playing 4-3-3, for example.)

When a 4-3-1-2 plays a 4-3-1-2, you have possibly the worst example of this. Although it means that neither side have a spare man at the back (also quite rare in modern football) it also creates a very frustrating situation in the centre of midfield.

The problem with 4-3-1-2 in itself is that the side overwhelmingly depends on its central playmaker (the ‘1′, in this case Hernanes for Lazio and Menez for Roma) for creativity, part of the reason why that player suffered a decline in popularity a few years ago. If that player is not playing well, the whole side doesn’t play well.

The situation becomes particularly alarming with two 4-3-1-2s, because you have one playmaker trying to get the better of three defensive-minded midfielders. There is also a slight battle between the carrileros either side of the midfield against each other, which is more of a factor when the two sides are true diamonds rather than 4-3-1-2s. The difference between 4-3-1-2s and diamonds is minimal – it’s entirely natural for the central of the three to be more defensive than the other two, which creates somewhat of a diamond even in the most pure 4-3-1-2s. There is also, of course, more of a need for that central player to remain defensive-minded when they are up against a classic playmaker, as was the case here. In a sense, this situation is a vicious circle.

The reality

That’s the the theory behind it all, and it pretty much played out in the first half here. Very little happened, the game was played at a slow tempo with no width, no pace and very little creativity. Menez was fairly anonymous until he was removed through injury just before half-time, whilst Hernanes was starved of space by De Rossi, and increasingly came deep for the ball, meaning Lazio ended up with four central midfielders.

The one players who do like this situation are full-backs, since they have no direct opponent and can get forward at will – with the downside being that, with no spare man at the back, they have slightly more responsibility to act as cover for in centre of the defence. John Arne Riise and Stephen Lichsteiner got forward to some extent – Riise’s ball in found Fabio Simplicio in one of the better first-half chances.

Second half

At the start of the second half Eddy Reja made a change – Rocchi off and Mauro Zarate on. A forward for a forward, it could have been a straight swap, but Lazio seemed to revert to their 4-2-3-1 shape at the start of the second half, with Zarate playing out wide on one side, and Stefano Mauri moving across to the other flank. This meant they had more width and more pace, but also meant a numerical disadvantage in the centre of midfield, 3 v 4.

The main way the game changed was the simple fact that it was more open, and we had far more goalscoring opportunities. There was no great tactical cause of Roma’s opener – Marco Cassetti won the ball near the corner flag, and Simplicio’s strike hit Leichsteiner’s arm. A penalty was awarded and Borriello just about squeezed it past Fernando Muslera.

Lazio could have equalised when Hernanes went one-on-one with Julio Sergio but he hit a shot straight at the keeper – it was the first time he’d tried to find space in behind the Roma defence rather than coming short into an increasingly congested midfield, and it caught Roma out. He was surprisingly withdrawn for Pasquale Foggia as Lazio went to an all-out-attack formation of 4-4-2 / 4-2-4 late on.

They could have had a penalty of their own when Riise rugged down Mauri, but conceded one at the other end when substitute Julio Baptista was tripped by Andre Dias. Vucinic scored from the spot, and sealed the points.


The tactical lessons here were to do with the 4-3-1-2 system. Ironically, was also the major talking point in the previous meeting before the two towards the end of last season, when Ranieri’s initial starting 4-3-1-2 played directly into the hands of Lazio’s three-man defence.

Lazio were the ones who opened things out with the second half change in shape, but Roma capitalized by being more productive – and slightly more fortunate – in the final third. In truth, neither played their best football and neither dominated the game – in pure tactical terms, it was a stalemate.

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