Ten games into the Serie A season Roma were seventeenth, with just eight points. Fifteen games later they have climbed up to sixth, accumulating thirty five more points in the process and playing the best football in the league.
The last two games have seen Roma enter a rough patch but is seen as only temporary; niggling injuries have seen a number of key players rated doubtful before the game at Arsenal while veteran Christian Panucci has been frozen out after refusing to take part in a recent match against Genoa finding out he had been named as a substitute.
But if such issues have derailed their preparations, they haven’t affected their confidence and belief. “When we’re in form there’s nothing anybody can do about it,” confessed Danielle De Rossi. They are passing the ball with great purpose, while their dynamism comes from their movement and sweeping counter attacks. De Rossi himself has been in imperious form, dictating play from deep and surely must be one of the best midfielders in the world right now while Mirko Vucinic has risen from Francesco Totti’s shadow after their talismanic captain’s injury. Indeed the biggest dilemma now that he back, is what formation to play.
Much of Roma’s recent form has been when the Giallorossi have been playing the diamond formation or the 4-3-1-2 but that has been without their captain. However in their last league game reverted to a 4-2-3-1 with Totti once again as the spearhead. Such a formation has been described as the 4-6-0 with Totti featuring as the lone forward pivot with the onus on the other midfielders to break past him and support in numbers. The problem arguably with this system is that it fails to get the best out of Mirko Vucinic who would play wide left but on recent form shown just how effective he is as a striker. It is likely at the Emirates they will play the diamond formation as centrally it is where their strengths lie.
It is the midfield movement that has been the real success story for Roma no matter the system used. Whether with two up front or none, the midfielders attack in numbers and are particularly deadly on the counter attack.
What is really impressive, like Barcelona, is that they are always a threat even when teams are defending deep. As there is a lack of space behind defences, they utilise the space in front with great effect. The llegada (arrival) as Pep Guardiola likes to call it, is Manchester born Simone Perrotta who makes Frank Lampard style runs into the box and plays give and go’s around the area. It is not just Perrotta who makes these runs, all the midfield are capable and with the energetic Cicinho at full back can pose a great late danger. Having five players in and around the box makes it hard to defend because of the movement and the uncertainty on who and where to mark.
Though the diamond formation is their preferred system now, their strikerless system used mainly in previous seasons and the start of this with Totti as the forefront has raised some tactical observations. The first is the impact of movement in the modern game. “Systems are dying, says Slaven Bilic. “When defending, great teams want many behind the ball. When attacking, players from all sides. We have to be compact, narrow to each other. It’s about the movement of 10 players now.”
Secondly is the greater demand on the fitness of players. Either one of the midfielders in De Rossi, Taddei, Pizarro, Perrotta, Brighi and Aquilani can undertake each others roles. This is typified by the goal scored by Vucinic in their 3-0 win over Genoa where the normally deepest midfielder De Rossi initiated the counter attack with a surging run from the edge of his box before chipping the ball to the striker. Former Inter Milan manager Roberto Mancini feels the likely evolution of football will be more to do with improved physical preparation than with tactical development.
Manchester United went one better than Roma in perfecting the role of the universal striker as Ronaldo chipped in with 42 goals as the forward line interchanged positions. When successful it is hard to mark but effective utilization of this tactic requires great stamina as well as movement which is one of the reason why the great Total Football sides had found it hard to continue.
How to beat Roma
Roma are a tough team to beat but circumspect in defence therefore at the Emirates are likely to be cautious, looking to execute the sweeping counter attack. Most of the play will go through Totti who Wenger says is a “fantastic protector of the ball who has a quick turn, using every pass that comes from the back.” If playing a diamond Roma will have their best players but one will feel they will be more vulnerable especially out wide as they can be very narrow.
From deep De Rossi dictates play and is the perfect model for Denilson to follow. Brazil successfully pressured De Rossi and Pirlo against Italy at the Emirates and if Arsenal forwards do the same will stop Roma from playing. The defensive midfielders do not pressure enough which leaves their defence open more than Mexes and Juan would like, which gives the Gunners a good chance to find a gap. If Juan fails to shake off his knock we may see Frenchman Diamoutene start who has looked shaky in the performances he has put in this season. For Denilson and Song they will have to be on top of their games in terms of concentration and tracking their runners.
Arsenal’s problems have been scoring against ultra-defense minded opposition but that won’t be the case in this match. It looks to be a great game and definitely one for the purists.
Roma Probable line up (4-3-1-2): Doni, Cicinho, Mexes, Juan, Riise, De Rossi, Perrotta, Brighi, Taddei, Vucinic, Totti
Subs from: Aquilani, Artur, Baptista, Bertagnoli, Diamoutene, Filipe, Loria, Pizarro, Montella, Motta, Tonetto
Injury Doubts: Aquilani, Cicinho, Juan, Vucinic, Tonetto