Jose Mourinho's early A.S Roma tactics may have surprised a few spectators. Not the formation, but the positive football that has been on display at the Stadio Olimpico. Jose has managed in four competitive games so far, with a 100% record scoring an impressive 12 goals with just two conceded.
In today's tactical analysis, we will look into Jose's early tactics and why they have worked for him so far. Furthermore, can it continue? We also have the Football Manager 2021 Jose replicated tactic.
So far in all four matches that Jose has managed, Roma have lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation which has served them reasonably well. In both Serie A games, Mourinho fielded the same 11 but was forced into one change against Salernitana, which saw Carles Perez come in for the suspended Nicolò Zaniolo. He has also fielded the same side in both UEFA Europa Conference League qualifier legs against Trabzonspor. Eldor Shomurodov started the first leg before Tammy Abraham arrived at Stadio Olimpico.
In practice, both of the wide men in Jose's 4-2-3-1 shape invert whilst the full-backs pushed up high and wide. The two in the pivot tend to hold their position in midfield, preventing counter-attacks in Jose so far positive approach.
When building from the back, Roma's full-backs would push up high and wide, and Bryan Cristante would drop deep to collect the ball and dictate play, setting the tempo for the Roma side. So far, Jose's side has remained very patient in their build-up and would often form either a box or diamond shape with both central defenders and double pivot. According to WhoScore.com, AS Roma have the highest average possession from the opening two games, enjoying 59.4% of the ball but largely down to them having 80% of the ball against Salernitana, who were happy to defend in their deep 5-4-1 shape.
A.S Roma's box/diamond shape when building. 4+1
Versus Salernitana, the two central defenders alongside Bryan Cristante happily circulated the ball whilst slowly progressing inside the Salernitana half. Often, it was 4v1, and Roma had no issues finding passes in the early stages. Once the ball has been worked into the opponents half, Roma looked to play the ball out wide in a bid to stretch Salernitana's 5+4 defensive shape and open up space in between the channels. Roma's attacking 4 (both wingers, attacking midfielder and striker) also shared the responsibility of dropping deep to receive the ball, in turn, disrupts the opponent's defensive shape as the player who dropped would often be followed by a defender.
The ball has been worked out wide in both examples, as the Salernitana defender follows Karsdorp, this creates space for a runner to attempt to disrupt by penetrating the space.
Roma have been effective in getting the ball inside the box and also creating good scoring chances. In the opening two games, A.S Roma have had the most touches in the penalty area (48) and have the greatest expected goals with 4.99 highlighting their positive approach so far.
The wide players have been the primary source for creation. As we have touched on before, the attacking players shared the responsibility of dropping deep to receive, usually depending on the side of the ball, where either of the wingers can drop deep before turning and looking to play a defence-splitting pass in behind defences. Carles Perez vs Salernitana was extremely good at this and very difficult to pick up whilst always having the full-back overlapping causing the defence to retreat and give Perez more time and space to pick out key passes.
Here captures Perez's creativity. He drops from his marker to receive the ball from midfield, Karsdorp pushing up with an eye to overload forces the wing-back to break his defensive shape. This creates a gap between the defence where Perez completes a through ball to Tammy Abraham, inside the box
Interestingly, all of A.S Roma's 36 attempts at goal (the most) in the Serie A have been from open play showing their good possession play. They generally look to work the ball inside the box but are not afraid to shoot from outside the box if the chance to work the ball is not on.
For Roma's opening goal during their 4-0 victory over Salernitana, we have a good image of their attacking shape and how they worked the ball into the box by getting the ball wide, opening up a channel for Pellegrini to penetrate and eventually score.
The wingers in this Jose system so far operate very narrow and overload the number 10 area. This allows both full-backs to advance and join the attack line, and so Pellegrini can support the striker by breaking into the box and becoming a goalscoring threat.
Tammy Abraham has also started very well and has been the 'typical' Jose striker. He has so far shown his strength and power but is also very smart off the ball movements. Tammy has played a significant role in stretching defences and becoming an attacking outlet allowing Roma's deeper players to advance by holding up the ball. He so far has one goal and two assists in his first 2 Serie A games.
Tammy stretching the Fiorentina defence and getting an assist
In Transition - Defence
When A.S Roma wins the ball, they look to make counter-attacking movements to put the side on the attack instantly, but when they lose the ball, they hold or go back into their defensive shape rather than having multiple players press to win the ball back.
After losing the ball high in the image (Carles Perez, unfortunately, hurt himself off the pitch) Roma look to regroup
Roma look to defend in their 4-2-3-1 shape in a mid-block of some sort. When the opponents build from the back, Roma don't necessarily work to prevent this and are happy to allow the opponents to have the possession as they work to make it more challenging to be broken down. They remain compact and are also happy to concede the wider areas, blocking off routes centrally by careful positioning. Tammy Abraham positions himself between the defender on the ball and the central passing option, blocking that passing lane whilst the Roma midfield mark tight, forcing the opponents out wide. When the ball does eventually go wide, the ball-sided winger will leave his narrow position to close down angles for the wide man on the ball.
This forces Fiorentina, in this case, to play backwards. This then triggers A.S Roma's press and pressure the opponent's defence to make an error or play an uncharacterised pass. As we can see in the images (below), Roma's press forces Fiorentina backwards, and they eventually played out and broke Roma's press well, but this is an indication of how Roma look to set up without the ball. Patient with their press and only will do when they force backwards passes.
Deep inside their half, this defensive principle remains. They'll drop deep, remain compact and narrow, forcing the opponents out wide. Once the ball is played out wide, Roma's ball-wide players will start to apply pressure to force backwards passes. This triggers Roma to then press, allowing Roma's defensive line to push up and not remain deep.
Roma's PPDA is at 9.11, which is higher than the leagues average at this moment. So though they are not displaying the most intensive press, they also are not sitting back and remaining overly cautious as some would have predicted. They remain patient in breaking their defensive shape, which equals low interceptions and defensive duels, and in turn, they become tough to break down. They are ranked 5th with the fewest shots against per 90 (7.03), which is just one shot difference from the fewest. Moreover, according to Wyscout.com, their challenge intensity (Duels, tackles and interceptions per minute of opponent possession) is at the league average, 5.5.
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