Sampdoria 2-1 Roma: Juan errors cost Roma as Sampdoria alter their shape to beat ten men

January 9, 2011

The starting line-ups

Sampdoria battled back from 1-0 down to claim the three points.

Domenico di Carlo played a 4-4-2 system, but was forced to leave flu-ridden Giampaolo Pazzini on the bench, with Nicola Pozzi coming in. Daniele Mannini and Fernando Tissone were left out with Vladimir Koman and Andrea Poli starting instead.

Claudio Ranieri chose an XI that looked likely to be 4-3-1-2, but actually formed a 4-3-3 system with Jeremy Menez and Mirko Vucinic switching wings throughout, and also moving into the centre. Ranieri also completely changed his midfield trio from the side which beat Catania 4-2 in midweek.

The game was played at a slow tempo but was relatively open and enjoyable throughout, and produced three goals and three red cards.

Contrast in styles

The two sides had different approaches. Roma had more men in the centre of midfield and were playing a patient passing game, building up play relatively slowly. They sometimes held onto the ball for too long in the centre of the pitch without really drawing Sampdoria out of position, as if they missed having the trequartista they’ve fielded in recent weeks to link midfield and attack.

Still, the use of two wide players was forcing Sampdoria’s full-backs back, and Roma were at their best when the full-backs, winger and outside midfielders formed a triangle on the flank and combined.

Sampdoria poor early on

Sampdoria were playing more direct, looking to hit the ball quickly to their wingers, and switching the play from flank to flank. They lacked good interplay between the wingers and forwards, though, and the striking duo of Pozzi and Guido Marilungo, fielded together for the first time, lacked fluency.

The same could be said of Sampdoria’s pressing – they tried to shut Roma’s midfielders down, but were not set out in a formation that made this easy – Roma simply passed around them in midfield. Roma’s goal came from a rare direct attack, when Vucinic powered down the right and thumped the ball into the far corner, but overall their dominance merited the lead.

The formations from 55-80 mins, after Roma went down to ten men

Second half drama

It was fairly comfortable for Roma for the rest of the half, and indeed until the 55th minute, when one stray pass turned the entire game on its head. Juan, on at half time for Phillipe Mexes, underhit a backpass and Julio Sergio brought down Angelo Palombo. He was sent off, and substitute keeper Doni was unable to save Pozzi’s penalty.

Ranieri had removed Menez in order to bring on Doni, and so Roma moved to a 4-3-2 formation, with both Vucinic and Marco Borriello asked to try and occupy both a centre-back and full-back each, trying to provide a goal threat whilst also keeping the full-backs at bay. For the majority of the second half this worked, as Di Carlo didn’t respond to having a man extra with a change in tactics.

Static contest

The situation was quite strange – Roma were clearly playing for a draw, and the midfield three and full-backs generally remained in position even when the Giallorossi had the ball. This meant that, with Sampdoria playing a back four and two deep midfielders, the home side often had 6 v 2 when Roma hit the ball long to the forwards, and they weren’t forcing the issue with regards to a second goal.

Furthermore, the two Roma forwards played their roles well, with Luciano Zauri rarely influencing the game and Reto Ziegler moving forward tentatively. It looked like we were heading for a stalemate.

Substitution proves vital

Di Carlo made two straight swaps with his strikers, and then finally brought on an extra attacking player on 82 minutes, with Mannini replacing Poli, and Samp doing 4-1-3-2. Sure enough, within 60 seconds of Mannini being on the pitch, Samp went ahead after his cross into the box – Guberti poking the ball home after another dreadful Juan error.

The final moments were strange. Despite needing a goal, Ranieri waited until the 91st minute to introduce Francesco Totti into the game, whilst both Sampdoria’s centre-backs were dismissed for collecting two bookings. Samp’s situation at the end of the game was bizarre – they had to defend for their lives without any centre-backs, and were literally sorting out positions on the pitch themselves. In the end, they weathered the brief storm, and collected a win that seemed impossible at half-time.


The tactical lesson here is that adapting your shape when the opposition get a man sent off is generally wise. The side you set up to beat eleven men might not be the best side to beat ten – you’re presented with a different challenge, a numerical superiority in (at least) one area of the pitch, and the opposition often change their mentality too. Too many managers simply keep their starting XI on the pitch and hope to steamroller their opponents, when a little managerial craft can change things quickly.

That was the situation here – Di Carlo persisted with his 4-4-2 for far too long, allowed his full-backs to be subdued far too easily, and very nearly gave up the opportunity of the three points. The introduction of Mannini was crucial.

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