Roma 1-1 Inter: Bradley & Guarin sum up Serie A’s obsession drivers rather than creators

January 22, 2013

The starting line-ups

A match that started strongly before fading in the second half.

Zdenek Zeman didn’t feel Miralem Pjanic was 100% fit, so went for Alessandro Florenzi in the centre of midfield.

Inter coach Andrea Stramaccioni was without both Antonio Cassano and Diego Milito, so selected youngster Marko Livaja upfront. Juan Jesus, Yuto Nagatomo and Walter Gargano also returned to the side.

The game was all about tempo – Roma looked very good in a frantic first 20 minutes, but as the game calmed down, it became more balanced.

Roma start strongly

In the opening stages Inter were brave with the positioning of their wing-backs, pushing them high up the pitch in advance of the Inter midfielders. This resulted in the expected problem when playing three-against-three at the back, and there are few more dangerous sides to face in this situation than Roma, who waste no time in getting the ball forward and attacking directly.

Roma’s front three played different roles. Francesco Totti was left-sided but came towards the ball, turned and played passes for midfield runners (and the other two forwards), Pablo Osvaldo drifted across the line and made runs in behind the defence, sometimes switching with Totti, while right-sided Erik Lamela started deeper and tended to run with the ball.

Totti space

Nagatomo played higher up the pitch than Alvaro Pereira on the opposite side, which meant a large gap opened up in front of Andrea Ranocchia. Totti was able to drift into this pocket of space, and received far too much time on the ball, with Ranocchia understandably nervous about coming too high up the pitch, and leaving the other two centre-backs exposed two-versus-two. “Playing in a back three requires more speed, because in comparison to a back four line, there is more distance between the three centre-backs and the two players on the flanks,” says Ranocchia.

But as Totti brought Ranocchia up the pitch and Osvaldo darted in behind, Inter encountered problems in that zone, as Osvaldo was marginally flagged offside early on. Ranocchia and Totti were both directly involved in the opening goal, albeit not from open play – Ranocchia committed a foul inside the box, and Totti smashed in the penalty.

Bradley and Guarin

The man who won the penalty was Roma midfielder Michael Bradley, who was typically tenacious throughout the game, moving forward to press Inter’s deep midfielders (making six tackles, the most on the pitch), and motoring into attack when Roma won possession. Bradley was a perfect example of what Zeman wants from midfielders – consistent forward running and direct passing.

As it happens, Inter’s star performer was Guarin, playing a similar role – going on six dribbles and attempting six tackles, both the highest in the game. The Colombian was used as a more permanent attacking midfielder, but shares Bradley’s love of powerful running from midfield. He created the equaliser, scored by Rodrigo Palacio, with a classic example of his combative, aggressive style - outmuscling two Roma defenders to a rebound of his own shot, and providing a low cross.

In fact, this game was a perfect example of Serie A’s current obsession with driving midfielders, or pure runners, rather than creators in that attacking midfield role. I’ve written more about that at ESPN:

While Bradley started the game, the more technical, arty Miralem Pjanic sat on the bench. As Guarin was blasting past opponents, Wesley Sneijder was packing his bags, preparing for his move to Galatasaray. The Dutchman’s form has been inconsistent since his incredible 2009-10 season, which is the primary reason for his lack of playing time in recent months — but it’s also true that Serie A has, at least temporarily, fallen out of love with the number ten.

A change in attitude midway through the first half – less pressing, more standing off – allowed Inter to deal with Roma’s pressure. The threat in behind was less obvious, although the two Roma full-backs played some clever one-twos to get past Inter’s wing-backs. They also had success with long balls towards the front two, particularly Livaja, who was inches away from a stunning goal.

Second half

The main feature of the second period was the offside traps – strange, after Inter had previously switched to defend deeper in the first half. There were no fewer than 11 second half offsides (compared to two in the first half) which maybe reflected the impatience of both sides.

But there was little tactical progression. Zeman’s half-time decision to bring on the rather limited Panagiotis in place of De Rossi was a reflection of the Italian midfielder’s struggles with Guarin, and the fact he was on a yellow card, and the following five substitutions were all straight swaps too. Little happened in the second half.


In the end, something of a disappointment. But with Bradley and Guarin the catalyst for both goals, it showed the value of that type of midfielder. They can both provide a sudden burst from central positions – which means they can cope when the tempo of the game is high, and can stand out when the tempo drops. However, when the game becomes cautious and they face defensive-minded midfielders behind the ball, they lack the guile to open up sides.

The other issue involved Totti’s space, and it might be wise for future opponents to put someone in front of him, preventing him enjoying so much space between the lines when he moves deep, although it remains the case that a back three against a front three is always likely to be dragged out of shape, at least to some extent.

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