Roma 2-3 Shakhtar: Shakhtar counter-attacking unlocks a disjointed Roma side

February 18, 2011

The starting line-ups

An impressive display from Shakhtar gave them a clear advantage going into the second leg.

Claudio Ranieri omitted Marco Borriello, with Rodrigo Taddei playing on the left. Philippe Mexes and Nicolas Burdisso started at centre-back, so Marco Cassetti moved out to the right-back spot.

Mircea Lucescu played his usual 4-2-3-1 formation, with few surprises in personnel.

Roma’s shape was once again difficult to define. In the defensive phase it looked like a standard 4-4-2, with Jeremy Menez covering the right and Taddei on the left – presumably, Ranieri wanted to play with width when defending (rather than the 4-3-1-2 he’s often preferred this season) in order to occupy Shakhtar’s flying full-backs. When Roma had the ball, the shape was more fluid – Menez came inside, whilst Mirko Vucinic moved to the left and Francesco Totti dropped deep.

Shakhatar brave

Shakhtar were particularly impressive in how confident they were defensively. Usually, especially with the counter-attacking style Lucescu prefers, a 4-2-3-1 quickly becomes a 4-4-1-1 in the defensive phase – see Germany at the World Cup. From there, two solid banks of four break up play, before the wingers join the front two to attack with speed.

Here, however, Lucescu was often happy to defend with six players – the back four, and the two holding midfielders. The two wingers, Douglas Costa and Willian, would occupy the Roma full-backs and track them if necessary, but they would rarely drop in to form a second ‘four’ in the first half. That made for an open, entertaining game with plenty of goalscoring chances.

Open contest

With the game so open, it’s difficult to narrow the contest down to one particular area that decided the result. Shakhtar’s goals came (a) from a huge deflection, (b) from a long-range belter and (c) following an inexplicable error from John Arne Riise. That’s not to say that they did not deserve the win, but it’s not as if they were constantly exposing a clear Roma weakness.

Jeremy Menez usually picked up the ball on the right

The away side’s strategy was all about counter-attacking, however, and the second goal – a brilliant strike from Douglas Costa – epitomised their approach. They won the ball on the edge of their own box, and then played slightly risky quick passes from midfield to attack, trying to get past Roma’s pressing quickly. With four players staying high up the pitch, often 4 v 4 against Roma’s backline (with Daniele De Rossi sometimes a fifth man) they used pace and trickery on the break, and despite spending most of the game in their own half, were the greater goalscoring threat.

At the back, Shakhtar had problems with the Roma full-backs overlapping in the first half (since their wingers were high up the pitch) and also with Totti dropping into deep positions. However, they defended very narrow and packed the centre of the pitch, making it difficult for Roma to play through them. The two holding midfielders never ventured forward, and instead formed a ’square’ that Roma couldn’t penetrate.

Second half

In the second half Shakhtar were more defensive – the wingers did form a second bank of four after the break, and this was the main reason there was only one goal in the second period, compared to four in the first. The game was simply much tighter.

Ranieri didn’t look to change things in terms of formation. He needed a little more width, but the introduction of Borriello for Vucinic had the opposite effect, and in truth his problem was the same as Milan’s against Tottenham, or Inter’s against Juventus – Roma don’t have any wingers, which makes them easy to play against.


Shakhtar played very well – they defended cleverly by packing the centre of the pitch and taking advantage of Roma’s lack of width. On the break, they were always a threat – the first and third goals owed a lot to luck, but the second was superb.

Roma were again disappointing – a lack of drive from midfield, and a lack of width (despite a lot of fluidity amongst the front players) were the main problems. The lack of urgency from the whole side points to deeper problems at the club than merely tactics.