Roma 1-1 Juventus: Juve revert to a back three and sit deep

March 4, 2015

The starting line-ups (image credit:

Juventus played for, and achieved, the draw which means they remain firm favourites for a fourth consecutive Serie A title.

Roma selection

Rudi Garcia’s side was largely as expected, with Francesco Totti playing the false nine role, and Adem Ljajic on the right flank.

The only change from the Europa League victory over Feyenoord was in goal, where Morgan De Sanctis returned.

Juventus selection

Max Allegri switched to a three-man defence – although, in reality, it was more of a back five. Martin Caceres came into the side.

Andrea Pirlo was injured and Paul Pogba on the bench, so Claudio Marchisio and Roberto Pereyra played instead.

Match summary

Roma had the majority of possession, but Juventus defended extremely well in open play, and counter-attacked dangerously too. Allegri’s side had the upper hand throughout.

Juve back three

The main story here was Allegri switching to the 3-5-2, the formation generally used by his predecessor Antonio Conte. The system isn’t necessarily defensive in itself, yet here it was clearly used for defensive purposes – this was an old-fashioned, Italian, get-the-job-done display from the champions, and Allegri was primarily playing this system simply to play an extra centre-back.

The wing-backs sat deep and formed a five-man defence, and whenever Roma attacked through their front three, Juve almost always had at least one, and sometimes two, spare players covering.

Indeed, for long periods they simply had a surplus of defenders, with no Roma midfielders looking to advance beyond the forwards, plus both Francesco Totti and Adem Ljajic dropping into deep positions. It felt incredibly easy for Juve to sit deep and soak up pressure, and it’s difficult to remember Roma penetrating their backline whatsoever.

The most frustrating thing was the positioning of the two Roma full-backs, who are both decent attacking players but stayed in cautious, supporting positions rather than looking to get to the byline. Here, it was slightly difficult to work out what they were doing other than offering an easy out-ball to retain possession, because they weren’t contributing properly in an attacking sense, and nor were they in a position to stop counter-attacks either.

With De Rossi playing very deep – or, looking at it the other way, with Tevez and Alvaro Morata dropping deep themselves – it’s arguable Roma were actually playing a 3-4-3 formation in possession.


The biggest difference between the sides, however, was in terms of pressing. Whereas Juve were sitting deep and their forwards jogged back into a position goalside of Daniele De Rossi, Roma were keen to force the issue and therefore pressed intensely throughout the game.

De Rossi set the tone when he was fortunate not to be dismissed for a clumsy foul on Arturo Vidal within the opening 30 seconds. Whenever Roma lost possession they immediately closed down, and the game sometimes turned into a series of one-versus-one situations through the centre of the pitch – Miralam Pjanic usually on Marchisio, De Rossi backing up on Vidal, Seydou Keita close to Roberto Pereyra, then two-on-two at the back.

Juventus counters

This meant Juventus could often counter-attack quickly, and create an overload simply by getting one player past his direct opponent – with the Roma full-backs often too wide to offer any assistance. Even when Roma had the ball, Juve were the most threatening side.

Juve’s attacks usually came when Pereyra or Vidal stormed through the centre to link up with, or get in advance of, the two forwards. Roma’s centre-backs, particularly Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, stuck extremely tight to the Juventus forwards, who often peeled off into deeper positions to create space, almost as decoys.

Juve’s key attacks usually came from the shuttlers racing forward on the break. Pereyra’s underhit cross nearly forced Kostas Manolas into a clumsy own goal midway through the first half, before Pereyra set up Vidal for a good chance just after half-time, and then Vidal was fouled by Vasilis Torosidis on the edge of the box for the game’s key moment. Torosidis picked up a second booking, then Carlos Tevez beautifully curled the free-kick into the net to put Juve ahead.

The second booking for Torosidis may have been slightly unfortunate, but Roma had been asking for trouble by committing so many rash fouls when counter-pressing, or to cynically stop Juve’s breaks.

Roma fightback

That goal seemed set to be the season’s defining moment – Juve were now a goal up, a man up, and notionally 12 points ahead in the league table. However, Roma’s fightback in the final 20 minutes was impressive.

Garcia made three subs. He took off Ljajic, Totti and De Rossi, and introduced Juan Iturbe, Radja Nainggolan and Alessandro Florenzi. Roma were now broadly playing something like a 4-3-1-1 – Florenzi attacking from right-back, Nainggolan in midfield with Keita moving deeper, and Itrube floating around behind Gervinho.

More important than the shape, however, was the renewed energy. The major quality of all three substitutes is mobility, and their speed proved crucial in the closing stages. Compared to the sluggish build-up play that was obvious when Totti was on the pitch, Juve’s backline suddenly had decisions to make about who to track, when to challenge, how to deal with two pacey forwards.

Roma attacked well down the right through Florenzi and Itube – amazingly, despite playing for only 25 minutes, they were the game’s two most prolific dribblers, which summarises how much they lifted the tempo.

Eventually Chiellini mistimed a challenge on Iturbe, and Florenzi curled the free-kick into the box for Keita to head home for an equaliser.

With ten men, Roma were more impressive than with eleven.


Overall this was a disappointingly flat game, though credit must go to Juventus for slowing the tempo, breaking up the game and defending in numbers. They knew a point would be a good result – it’s just surprising it was 1-1 rather than 0-0, although goals both came from set-pieces.

The five-man defence worked well for this specific task, and it’s something Allegri might use more in the closing weeks of the season, especially if and when Juve are happy to draw games, and keen to conserve energy considering they’re still competing on three fronts.

Roma were disappointing – the tempo of their passing was too slow, they didn’t push midfielders or full-backs into the final third often enough, and their frantic pressing meant a red card felt inevitable. Garcia deserves credit for his subs, however – he compensated for the numerical disadvantage by introducing three players with great energy.

Roma have now drawn nine of their last 12 matches – and while the other three have been victories, it’s those dropped points which will cost them the title.

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