AS Roma – Genoa CFC: Inconsistent Roma steal all three points in chaotic Serie A encounter (3-2)

In a chaotic and thrilling match, Genoa was very strong with their attacking movements and caused Roma’s passive defensive line all sorts of problems. Roma’s change of shape in the second half largely helped secure the 3-2 victory.

Tactical analysis by Chris Baker

AS Roma made five changes from their previous Champions League game, a disappointing 2-1 defeat to Plzen, although they were already qualified for the knockout stage. Firstly, Roma switched back to a 3-4-3 formation. Starting from the back, Robin Olsen replaced Antonio Mirante in goal. Nicolò Zaniolo lead the attacking line replacing Patrik Schick. Juan Jesus and Federico Fazio came back in for Javier Pastore and Iván Marcano. Alessandro Florenzi also replaced Davide Santon on the right.

Genoa is led by veteran manager Cesare Prandelli, who made three changes to his side following the 1-1 draw with SPAL. Ervin Zukanović replaced the suspended Domenico Criscito as the right-sided center-back. Daniel Bessa moved into central midfield as opposed to Miguel Veloso. Lastly, Rômulo replaced Pedro Pereira at right wing-back.


Roma’s pressing scheme vs Genoa’s in possession shapeRoma’s way of pressing against Genoa’s formation in possession 


Genoa’s direct play against Roma’s 5-2-3

For the entire first half, Roma pressured Genoa’s possession plays, using a 5-2-3 formation. Justin Kluivert, Nicolo Zaniolo and Cengiz Ünder confronted the deeper players of Genoa as they looked to impose themselves using an aggressive man-marking scheme to match the away sides build-up.

The back three, in addition to the wing-backs, theoretically gave Genoa the ability to progress via a stable wing-oriented approach. However, they held their back-three in build-up, pushing the wing-backs higher and thus nullifying the potential for short combinations. Furthermore, the heavy man-marking against the back three cut off the connection between the defenders and Andrei Radu, making it hard for the Genoa to stabilize any sort of short passing combinations in build-up due to a lack of passing options for the player on the ball.

Therefore, Genoa made little attempt to build out from the back with shorter passes, and instead used overloads  When one team has more players in a certain area or zone than the other team. in the midfield area to play directly, trying to win the second ball. Doing so allowed Genoa to progress up the pitch, nullifying Roma’s high press. Their dropping forwards meant they had more players in the middle of the pitch, which helped picking up the second ball.

As AS Roma played with a deep double pivot  4-2-3-1 is one of the most frequently occurring formations in football. The two most defensive midfielders are called a ‘double pivot’. and high forward line in pressing, there were spaces to exploit between their midfield and attacking lines. The main form of doing so was using long balls into depth. Quite often, Genoa had free men in midfield due to Roma committing three players to press high and Kouamé or Piątek dropping, creating four-versus-two overloads. This also allowed them to win more loose balls, if their physical superiority did not allow them to win the first ball due to the central presence.

Genoa exploit Roma’s high-line with runs in-behind

Given the emphasis on direct long balls into the midfield areas, Genoa’s positioning often allowed the second player to receive the ball in a forward-facing position. When they managed to access a player in such position, the furthest forward, Kouamé or Piątek, would immediately begin a diagonal movement from the center to the flank, or vice versa. These runs offered the midfielders a passing option to destroy Roma’s defensive organisation and get into dangerous areas in the final third. 

Another way of creating danger for Genoa was a nice set of combination play towards the flanks with their midfielders and fullbacks. In said scenarios, Roma’s wing-backs, Aleksandar Kolarov and Alessandro Florenzi, would often step out, whilst the orientation of Bryan Cristante and Steven Nzonzi also focused on the ball as opposed to Genoa’s midfield three. This would then free Daniel Bessa and Oscar Hiljemark in the halfspaces  If you divide the field in five vertical lanes, the half spaces are the lanes that are not on the wing and not in the center. Because there is no touchline like on the wing, players have freedom to go everywhere. But this zone often is not as well-defended as the very center. This makes it a very valuable offensive zone to play in and a lot of chances are created by passes or dribbles from the halfspace. to receive the ball which attracted the interest of Roma’s backline, allowing Kouamé or Piątek to move and make runs on the blindside of the back three. These movements were rarely tracked due to their habit of following the ball and the overall central focus.

Roma’s hasty approach costs them

In the entire first half, Roma’s desperation to score was their own downfall. The home side attacked in numbers, looking to create space for breakthroughs. This left a dangerous underload at the back, with the narrow defense left exposed against the onrushing midfield and attackers of Genoa. With Cristante pushing up between the lines, the wing-backs high and Nzonzi at times pushing higher than the position of holding midfielder, Genoa outnumbered Roma on the counter. Furthermore, when Roma were in possession, the back-three stayed narrow, which posed the same issues as they were unable to successfully defend the wide spaces in transitions.

There were times where Genoa’s midfielders would make smart runs into these wide areas when the forwards dropped to receive the ball in midfield areas. This was not tracked, due to the natural momentum they managed to gain on the retreating wing-backs and midfielders. Roma did not have enough players in defensive positions, therefore they were unable to defend against counters or defend key spaces which lead to Genoa creating several breakthroughs.

The first goal, after 17 minutes, was a good example of this. Moments before the opening goal, Cristante and Nzonzi held a strong central position, covering the central axis of the pitch well. However, Cristante was easily persuaded into leaving the midfield line to pressure Zukanović, who was in his own half. This naturally created a gap within the defensive shape. The aggressive pressure was easily bypassed with a vertical pass into Bessa who moved wide to receive. From here, Bessa began his dribbling action deep into the final third The one-third of the pitch that is closest to the opposition’s goal. with no engagement from the Roma players.

As such, Nzonzi, who was the only Roma player covering the key central spaces, shifted heavily to the ball-side, as opposed to staying with his marker. This left Oscar Hiljemark free in the middle with time to get his shot off, which was slotted in by Piatek to make it 1-0 following an unfortunate error by the goalkeeper. Before half-time, Roma equalized through a set-piece goal by Fazio, whilst Genoa instantly regained their lead in similar fashion from a corner kick with Hiljemark netting at the back post. Just before halftime, Kluivert scored a nice individual goal to make it 2-2, and both teams ended the enticing 45 minutes of football on a level score.

Roma change to 5-3-2 in the second half

After the interval, Roma’s pressing scheme retreated into a more defensive stance, with less focus on high man-marking and pressurising Genoa’s build-up. Nicolo Zaniolo dropped into the position of left central midfielder whilst Ünder and Kluivert constituted a front two in a 5-3-2 shape. This naturally allowed Genoa’s defenders more time and space on the ball as Roma aimed to contain them in the midfield areas. A few reasons that may have prompted Roma’s manager Eusebio Di Francesco to make these adjustments:

i. Stronger connections for transitions. In the first half, there was no real connection between midfield and attack. Having a player in deeper areas in Zaniolo, they could utilize his dribbling and speed superiority to make direct movements against the backline.

ii. More presence in midfield to press against the second balls. Through a more compact base position, the midfield three could match the positioning of Genoa’s midfielders and were in stronger positions to challenge the loose balls. Their adjusted positioning allowed better coverage of the spaces in front of the defensive line.

iii. Allow Cristante to push into depth. If the Italian broke the lines, Zaniolo would fill the ball-far eight spaces alongside Nzonzi with Kluivert and Ünder adding box presence.


Roma change to 3-5-2 out of possessionRoma’s formation in the second half. 

This largely stabilized the match, as Roma were a lot more solid defensively, but were not so prominent on the attacking side of the ball. Later on in the match, when Davide Santon was introduced, Zaniolo moved back into the first line alongside Kluivert, and later Patrik Schick with Florenzi moving into that left-sided midfield position and Santon right wing-back as Roma, just about saw the game out.

They were able to take on such a defensive stance, because Bryan Cristante had given them the lead in the 58th minute. After some slick half-volley interplay with Kluivert, he struck the ball wonderfully from the edge of the penalty area. Besides a late storm, when Genoa threw on a host of attacking players, the lead was never seriously in doubt and Roma won three much-needed points.


Victory for Eusebio Di Francesco’s Roma leaves them in sixth place, ahead of Sassuolo only on goal difference and just two points shy of AC Milan in the Champions League spot. However, this was not an inspired victory. Just like Inter, Genoa penetrated Roma’s defensive lines but did not take advantage of their numerous openings, which ultimately cost them at least a point. Cesare Prandelli will feel very hard done by not picking up anything but will be encouraged by his team’s performance.

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Chris Baker (22) is a Business Coordinator. Interested in, and writes about, tactics. Coaches twice a week and aspires to work full time in football. Tries to follow most of the top teams across Europe, especially Arsenal and Barcelona. When he is not coaching or watching football, he is probably reading… about football. [ View all posts ]


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