Although Maurizio Sarri and José Mourinho may have similar personalities, Kaustubh Pandey reckons their tactical approach will be very different in the Rome Derby on Sunday.
Defensive lines have always been important in football. Those of Roma and Lazio clearly showcase the transformation they’ve gone from their previous to current coaches. On top of that, these defensive lines will hold a key when the Derby della Capitale kicks off at the weekend.
In many ways, Maurizio Sarri and Jose Mourinho are contrasting coaches. While they are similarly complex personalities, their approach to the game differs vastly. The Italian has already shown at Lazio that his Biancocelesti side is doing well to play his trademark 4-3-3 with an ultra-high backline and high volume possession. While there have been some troubles along the way, it was meant to be a long-term move anyway.
Mourinho has also seen many positive signs, even though they did lose to Hellas Verona last week. It hasn’t been ideal for either manager and perhaps, that is how it was meant to be. Roma have gone from being a team that played a higher defensive line under Paulo Fonseca last season to a manager who wants them to play deeper.
The opposite is true for Lazio. Simone Inzaghi took a transition-based approach at the Biancocelesti, structuring them deeper. Sarri has taken the defensive line several yards up the pitch. These transitions take time and the cases of Roma and Lazio show that.
Playing deeper allows defenders to use their individual attributes more often. There is more emphasis on their 1v1 ability, heading and recovery. It isn’t as a complex machine as the higher defensive line is. In Sarri’s case, it is about the backline as a whole and their organisation. Individual ability is undoubtedly essential but functioning as a team higher up the pitch comes first.
Francesco Acerbi’s situation has been suggestive of how defenders can come across issues in these transitions. Roma have also conceded goals resulting from errors that will take a while to iron out.
When these two opposing teams take the field, it won’t be perfect. Lazio will be dealing with the disappointment of the failure to beat Torino and Cagliari, while Roma weren’t quite completely impressive against Sassuolo, Verona or Udinese. Lazio had their backline constantly exposed against Il Toro and Roma’s backline has looked vulnerable, having conceded a fair amount of chances in the last three games.
If anything, though, Mourinho has historically been the sort of manager who loves to exploit the spaces the opposition provides. Roma did that sort of job against Fiorentina. While they were far from perfect against ten men, the off the ball ran from Tammy Abraham, Lorenzo Pellegrini, Eldor Shomurodov and Henrikh Mkhitaryan exploited all the spaces on the pitch.
While Pellegrini will not be available for the derby due to a suspension, Mourinho still knows how to stamp out possession-based teams’ threats. He did that multiple times to Manchester City as a Tottenham manager and in the Europa League final against Ajax with Manchester United. Even when Tottenham faced Liverpool last season and found themselves at the top of the league, they had created enough clear cut chances to win the game.
Lazio have already shown that they aren’t great while defending transitions in the higher line and the performances against Cagliari and Milan have shown that. Using Rafael Leao, Milan exploited the spaces very well and Lazio couldn’t cope with the pace on the break. Mourinho will look to do the same at the weekend.
It will allow the Special One to play to his strengths – absorb all the pressure and hit teams on the break. A Sarri team that is in the build-up phase has always shown vulnerabilities and this will prove crucial. Even though both teams are transitioning from one approach to the other, it promises to be an enticing tactical battle. And as time goes on, these occasions can get even spicier.