Roma 4-2 Fiorentina: Roma attack three v three

December 11, 2012

The starting line-ups

An extraordinarily open game at the Stadio Olimpico.

Zdenek Zeman named an unchanged side from the XI which defeated Siena 3-1, which meant Daniele De Rossi was only on the bench after his return from suspension.

Vincenzo Montella was without two key players – Stevan Jovetic and David Pizarro. Adem Ljajic was also out, so Montella surprisingly named Juan Cuadrado as a support striker behind Luca Toni, bringing in Mattia Cassano on the right. Ruben Oliveira replaced Pizarro at the bottom of the midfield.

4-2 wasn’t unfair, but a better reflection of the match would have been 7-4…

Formation battle

This was an interesting battle in terms of the formations. Roma continued with their attack-minded 4-3-3, while Montella persisted with a 3-5-1-1.

Early on, it was evident that Oliveira would be the midfielder with the most amount of time on the ball – Michael Bradley and Alessandro Florenzi tended to press Borja Valero and Alberto Aquilani, while Roma’s forwards had few defensive responsibilities. In a frantic game, Oliveira was the key player, given freedom to dictate the pace and direction of the play. But he had a very disappointing game, mixing poor distribution with indiscipline, and Fiorentina sorely missed Pizarro’s influence from that position.

3 v 3

The key story was that Roma played three-against-three high up the pitch, and in combination with speedy transitions from defence to attack (because of Zeman’s love of verticality and only playing a sideways pass following a forward pass), they simply exposed the Fiorentina back three readily on the break. Fiorentina’s centre-backs generally like sticking tight to their opponents – Facundo Roncaglia, for example, followed Francesco Totti when the Roma captain received the ball in deep positions (conceding the free-kick that resulted in the first goal) – but they simply got dragged out of shape and left too much space in central positions.

The three-on-three situation was obvious, but equally important was the directness offered by Bradley and Florenzi. They burst forward immediately as soon as they got the ball – Bradley’s end product was frequently disappointing, but he was the only midfielder not replaced by Zeman, because his continuous running from midfield to attack was overwhelming Fiorentina on the break. Roma should have scored far, far more than four goals – Mattia Destro’s finishing was very poor, while decision-making on the break wasn’t always up to scratch.

Fiorentina attacks

Fiorentina’s advantage, in theory, was in the centre of the pitch. However, in addition to Oliveira’s aforementioned difficulties, Cuadrado wasn’t suited to the attacking midfield role. He was probably used there to provide pace and energy high up the pitch – Toni has done a good job this season, but against a Roma side that plays a high line and pushes the full-backs high up the pitch, he needed support from a willing runner. The move didn’t really work, however – Cuadrado prompted quick attacks, but often had little support and didn’t have the expertise in possession to create significant chances.

Instead, Fiorentina’s most promising opportunities in the first half came when Manuel Pasqual moved very high up on the left, and received long diagonals from the right side of the pitch, trying to break in behind Ivan Piris – although he was often thwarted by the offside flag. The advanced nature of his positioning, and that of Cassani, meant that Fiorentina were badly exposed on the counter-attack – the wing-backs weren’t contributing because Roma broke so quickly, while Oliveira’s positioning was very poor, and Bradley motored past him.

Roma breaks

Fiorentina became so worried about counter-attacks that they resorted to incredibly blatant tactical fouls – Cassani, Gonzalo Rodriguez and Roncaglia all went into the book for challenges purely intended to stop breaks, while Olivera was booked for a more petulant act – which meant he was in danger of being dismissed if he tried to tackle. It’s also worth noting that both Rodriguez and Roncaglia each made two (successful) ‘last man’ tackles, demonstrating how Roma were breaking without Fiorentina able to get cover in front of, or behind, the centre-backs.

Despite being frantic in open play, set-pieces were a key feature of the game. Gianni Vio, Fiorentina’s set-piece coach, is doing a fine job with attacking at dead ball situations, but Fiorentina’s marking is surprisingly lax in their own box.

Second half

At the break Montella made two predictable changes. Oliveira was replaced, with Aquilani becoming the deepest midfielder – that’s not his favoured position, but it made sense considering the freedom that player was afforded. Mati Fernandez came on in the centre of midfield. Meanwhile, Cuadrado returned to the right-wing-back slot, with Mounir El Hamdaoui going upfront, and scoring with his first touch.

But Fiorentina surprisingly failed to rally after that goal. Despite having more ball-playing midfielders – Aquilani, Borja Valero and Fernandez in the same side after the break – they only managed 51% possession. Whereas Roma’s area of strength was clearly high up the pitch, Fiorentina’s attacks lacked purpose, especially after the break when Roma’s full-backs sat deeper, so Pasqual didn’t get such space in behind Piris.

Aquilani was a better distributor but offered no more defensive protection than Oliveira – he didn’t make a single tackle in the second half, in fact, and was unable to stop Bradley.

Zeman replaced Panagiotis Tachtsidis and Florenzi with De Rossi and Simone Perrotta – and although you wouldn’t ever say a Zeman side was shutting down the game, it brought more structure and discipline to Roma’s midfield. In combination with the deeper positioning of the full-backs, Roma did a fine job in killing Fiorentina’s ability to counter-attack, while still offering an attacking threat of their own, and it shouldn’t have taken until the 88th minute for their fourth goal.


The lesson here is simple, and particularly pertinent in a league now obsessed with a back three. If you attack a three-man defence with three players, and do so directly, and there’s a decent chance of constant chances on the counter-attack. By attacking quickly you essentially take the wing-backs out of the equation – Pasqual and Cassani/Cuadrado might as well have been wide forwards, because they offered nothing without the ball – and by playing three upfront, you can drag and stretch the back three out of shape. With energetic midfield runners, it becomes extremely promising.

There’s always a negative consequence, of course, and Roma were unable to pressure Fiorentina’s deepest midfielder Oliveira, while Cuadrado could have either (a) caused an overload in midfield or (b) helped attack Roma two-versus-two. But neither player was comfortable in their role, and in the absence of Pizarro and Jovetic, Fiorentina lacked the tools to exploit Roma’s weaknesses.

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