Tactics talk: Spalletti’s midfield beats Roma

by | Aug 28, 2017 11:24

Luciano Spalletti’s return to Roma saw his Inter take the three points, with the clever use of a double-pivot in midfield.

The Nerazzurri were 1-0 down at the break, but rallied in the second half to take a comfortable 3-1 win and maintain their perfect start to the season.

Words: Lee Scott (@FMAnalysis)

Luciano Spalletti’s return to Roma saw his Inter take the three points, with the clever use of a double-pivot in midfield.

The Nerazzurri were 1-0 down at the break, but rallied in the second half to take a comfortable 3-1 win and maintain their perfect start to the season.

Words: Lee Scott (@FMAnalysis)

The standout fixture of the second matchday in Serie A was without a doubt the match between Roma and Inter Milan at the Stadio Olimpico. Both Roma and Inter are coming off the back of impressive victories in their opening matches, Roma were perhaps fortuitous in defeating Atalanta 1-0 in Bergamo whilst Inter looked strong in defeating Fiorentina 3-0.

The main narrative prior to the match however was the return of Inter Coach Luciano Spalletti to Rome having left the side from the capital at the end of last season.

Spalletti, of course, enjoyed two spells in charge of Roma, however last season was somewhat blighted by the ongoing situation with Giallorossi legend Francesco Totti. The forward was in his last season at the club and the achievements of Spalletti and the rest of the squad would always be overshadowed by questions surrounding Er Pupone's playing time.

Whilst Spalletti’s presence on the bench at the Olimpico was of interest it should not detract from the new man in charge at Roma, Eusebio Di Francesco has impressed in recent seasons with his work under a limited budget at Sassuolo and his body of work certainly showed that he was deserving of a chance at a bigger club.

Team News

Roma: Alisson; Juan Jesus, Manolas, Fazio, Kolarov; Nainggolan, De Rossi, Strootman; Defrel, Dzeko, Perotti

Despite the summer arrival of influential sporting director Monchi to Roma the starting line-up for this match bore more than a passing resemblance to last season.

New arrivals Alexsandar Kolarov and Gregoire Defrel came in to the left-back and right attacking midfield slots respectively but otherwise there is a sense of continuity about the side from the capital. They lined up in De Francesco’s preferred 4-3-3 shape although with Juan Jesus being played at right-back there was an imbalance between left and right, with the Brazilian preferring to stay in a defensive position whilst Kolarov was more willing to move forward and join the attack.

Inter: Handanovic; D’Ambrosio, Skriniar, Miranda, Nagatomo; Gagliardini, Vecino; Candreva, Borja Valero, Perisic; Icardi

Spalletti chose to line up his side in a static 4-2-3-1 with Roberto Gagliardini and Matias Vecino acting as a double pivot at the base of the midfield to ensure that the ball could be circulated at ease, in the second half Gagliardini was withdrawn for Joao Mario and Borja Valero dropped in to the deeper controlling role.

The presence of Maruo Icardi as the lone striker would, as is so often the case, prove to be the main factor that swung the match in Inter’s favour.

Solid base is the key for Inter

Despite going a  goal down to a strike from Roma forward Edin Dzeko that was wonderfully controlled and accurately finished, there was still a sense throughout the match that Inter were very much the side in control of proceedings.

This can be in large part attributed to the strength and solidity that the midfield base gave to the Inter system. In the first half Gagliardini and Vecino provided the platform from which Inter built their attacks, while also offering a block that forced Roma to build their attacks in wide areas as opposed to trying to penetrate centrally.

With Borja Valero initially playing as a traditional number ten in an advanced position, the double pivot for Inter held their shape and performed exceptionally well.

Initially in the build up phase the two Inter central defenders, Miranda and Milan Skriniar were cautious in possession and looked to feed the two deepest midfielders at every opportunity, as opposed to trying more vertical or direct passes.

In the second half this strategy altered somewhat with Skriniar in particular becoming more progressive with the ball, looking to find Antonio Candreva where possible on the right.

As you can see from this passing map created by @11tegen11 using Opta data there was a clear preference from Inter to build up and funnel their play through the central area of the field.

The double pivot at the base of the midfield for Inter also had an effect on the way that Roma built their attacking movements, by forcing to side from the capital to advance in wide areas.

As you can see from this example the Inter midfield block is compact with good depth and the central players are man marked. That forces the Roma attack in to wide areas where they can be blocked in and closed down as they move in to the final third of the pitch.

This pass map is from the same source and you can see the clear contrast between the two sides, whilst Inter were centrally orientated the Roma map shows the clear preference not only for the wide areas but also the differing roles of the two full-backs. Whilst on the left Kolarov was quick to support the attack, on the right Juan Jesus kept a far deeper position.

Inter start to find spaces in Roma midfield

As the match wore on, and with Inter enjoying more sustained possession whilst Roma were content to sit deeper in the hope of a successful counter attack, the pressure on the centre of the Roma defensive structure began to show.

Gaps began to appear in areas that could be exploited by Inter as they built up through the centre of the pitch.

Here we have the second phase of attacking movement from Inter with Roma having been forced in to a relatively deep defensive line. As you can see the controlling midfielder for Roma has dropped in to form a line of five defenders, although they are only effectively covering one Inter player, Icardi.

The key is in the midfield where Roma have poor depth and are relatively stretched across the width of the pitch. A simple lateral pass from Inter finds a man in space between two Roma midfielders where he has the space to move forward and attack the defensive line.

With the introduction of Joao Mario in the second half the clever movement of the Portuguese midfielder in the number ten role began to tell for Inter.

Time and time again the Nerazzurri were able to find the Portuguese star in pockets of space behind the line of midfield pressure from the Lupi. With both Matias Vecino and Borja Valero allowed space in front of the Roma midfield, they were able to pick passes in to dangerous central areas that dissected the defensive structure of Roma.

Interplay in and around the penalty area

With increased penetration in to the final third as the match played out for Inter, it was only a matter of time before they started to find passing lanes in to the Roma penalty area.

Mauro Icardi scored twice for the Beneamata in a performance that served to remind us that he is a forward with world class movement and a real appreciation of space. Despite Roma trying to mark the Argentinian international tightly, he still found space in the penalty area for two improbable finishes.

In the first half Roma were more solid defensively utilising aggressive man marking that looked to shut inter down in the final third. This of course is a relatively difficult defensive strategy to implement as passing lanes can be exploited if the ball is circulated quickly.

Here you can see the two near sided Roma defenders moving out of position to engage the opposition, one moves to press the ball whilst the other moves to cover the pass wide. This in turn creates a passing lane down the side of the penalty area that Inter were able to exploit through a quick through ball.

Now, imagine the danger that these passing lanes could cause if they were created centrally.

Here with the ball in the central position the man in possession is covered by two Roma midfield players, despite this the defensive player still makes the decision to rush out and engage the man in possession.

This movement leaves Icardi, still played onside, with space to receive the ball and turn in to space for a change on goal


Over the course of the 90 minutes it would be hard to argue that Inter were not deserving of the three points. They executed their game plan more effectively than Roma did and Spalletti appeared to be in control, always having a solution to De Francesco’s tactics.

The lack of control centrally will worry Roma but there are few teams in Serie A that can match Inter for controlling midfielders. Likewise Inter will be concerned that having conceded the first goal, their opponents struck the woodwork on more than one occasion as they looked to add to their lead.

An exciting match then, in what promises to be a fascinating Serie A season.


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