Palermo 3-1 Roma: 4-3-2-1 beats 4-3-1-2

November 29, 2010

The starting line-ups

Palermo recorded a comprehensive victory over a toothless Roma side.

Palermo’s star striker Fabrizio Miccoli is back, and he spearheaded a Christmas tree shape with Palermo pretty much at full strength. There were no changes from last week’s win over Cesena.

Roma recalled David Pizarro to the centre of midfield, whilst Mirko Vucinic was not fit enough to start, so was replaced by Francesco Totti. At the back, Juan started alongside Philippe Mexes.

The game started strongly, as did Roma. They dominated possession and territory, spending most of the game in the Palermo half but unable to find the breakthrough.

Palermo defend well

Palermo deserve a large amount of credit for defending intelligently. With no spare centre-back, the full backs tucked in and defended very narrow, and with Roma lacking anything like natural width in midfield, they found it difficult to penetrate Palermo.

Of course, the 4-3-2-1 v 4-3-1-2 battle is not particularly different from the 4-3-1-2 v 4-3-1-2 battle we’ve seen a lot in Serie A in recent weeks, and the key to which side dominates is who can get their full-backs forward more, and involved in attacking play. Here, it was unquestionably Roma – Marco Cassetti stayed high up the pitch on the right, whilst the central midfielders and Totti were keen to switch play from flank to flank, bringing John Arne Riise into the game. Still, Palermo were happy enough to let the Roma full-backs have the ball – the outside midfielders came to meet them and close them down, and Palermo were relatively comfortable.

Palermo breaks?

In the first half, however, Palermo were subject to constant pressure because their transitions from defence to attack were poor and they lost the ball quickly. With Miccoli upfront they lack a targetman they can thump the ball to when under pressure, and the normally wonderful Javier Pastore didn’t have his best game. Although Roma were leaving plenty of gaps at the back for Palermo to exploit, the home side weren’t taking advantage.

However, they did look threatening because quick balls forward (even if wayward and unsuccessful) often meant Roma had 3 v 3 at the back, with Daniele De Rossi in front of the centre-backs. The use of two playmakers meant one of the Roma centre-backs was unsure what to do – to remain in the backline or to step forward and pick up one of the trequartistas – most frequently this was an issue for Juan. His defensive partner Mexes tracked Miccoli, but the forward’s good movement into deep and wide positions dragged Mexes out of position and further made the Roma defence look vulnerable to direct attacks.


Still, Palermo had to rely on Roma conceding possession cheaply to get their goals. First Pizarro inexplicably let a pass roll under his foot in midfield – Palermo broke quickly and Miccoli finished well. In the second half, Menez conceded an unnecessary throw-in and Josip Ilicic teed up Federico Balzaretti to score.

The win seemed somewhat incomplete without a truly well-crafted goal on the counter-attack, but the third goal filled that criteria as Palermo broke with 3 v 2, and then a fourth man, Antonio Nocerino, became involved to convert centre-back Cesare Bovo’s pass. Palermo had conceded territory throughout the game, but found themselves 3-0 up thanks to clinical finishing.

Roma had no response – Cicinho replaced Menez and set up a consolation in the final minutes for Totti, but Roma had been caught out in defence.


Palermo had just 40% of possession but emerged triumphant. They had more space to break into and their forward three made the most of the room they were afforded, with the mobile Miccoli dragging defenders to the flank and the young playmaking duo making forward runs to exploit the space. Their attack was much more cohesive than Roma’s.

The Christmas tree shape has not been particularly popular despite many benefits, and Palermo are putting forward a decent case that it is a more effective shape than the 4-3-1-2 that Roma, Lazio, Milan and Inter have all played recently – with the right players, of course.

The game has changed since the last time 4-3-1-2 was popular in Italy (around the turn of the century) and has become much more about counter-attacking. It would seem that the Christmas tree offers more counter-attacking potential than the 4-3-1-2 – it presents the opposition defence with more of a problem about who to mark, and offers the midfield with easier forward passing options. Palermo didn’t break particularly well in the first half of this game, but even so they were a constant threat despite spending much of the game inside their own third of the pitch.

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