AS Roma – Lazio Roma: AS Roma beat city rivals in end-to-end and intense derby (3-1)

This edition of the Derby della Capitale was close and very intense, with chances for either side. AS Roma won because of better finishing and converting from set pieces, but it was hard to say which team truly deserved to win.

This derby has a bit more back-story than your run-of-the-mill ‘two clubs from the same city or region’, mind you. In 1927, Italy’s political leader Benito Mussolini aimed to found a strong football club from the capital, as the clubs from northern Italy were dominating the Serie A. His idea was to merge all four Roman football clubs. Because SS Lazio refused to participate, they became the immediate rival for the newfound club AS Roma, consisting of the other three clubs.

A little over 91 years later, that very same AS Roma played what is now known as the Derby della Capitale against Lazio Roma. The hosts came into this game on the back of a very average league start, gathering only eight points out of a possible eighteen. Manager Eusebio di Francesco’s formation of choice seems to be 4-2-3-1 for now, with Steven Nzonzi and Daniele de Rossi in a double pivot in midfield.

Lazio Roma will be very content if they manage to finish the season on the fourth place, exactly where they stood coming into this match. They had a fairly good season opening, winning four games and losing two. Manager Simone Inzaghi favours a formation with three center-backs, very offensive wingbacks and one holding midfielder (Lucas Leiva) flanked by two more forward-thinking midfielders.

Displayed below are all twenty-two outfield players in their positions. AS Roma in a 4-4-1-1 against Lazio Roma’s hybrid attacking formation. For the purpose of participating in the obsession of slapping a numerical combination on every formation in football, Lazio’s formation can be counted as 3-4-2-1, a 3-5-1-1 or a 3-5-2. Depending on how you classify Luis Alberto and Milinković-Savić.

Lazio dominate the first twenty minutes
Both teams clearly came into this match with the intention of playing out from the back and trying to play out from under the pressure, but only Lazio succeeded in doing so.

When the ‘visitors’ were building up, their three central defenders could have been pressed more by AS Roma’s three attackers. In most cases, only Džeko and Pastore were trying to press, while Alessandro Florenzi and Stephan El Sharaawy were not pushing through. This gave Lazio a three-versus-two advantage, and to make things worse, Lucas Leiva was subsequently not marked well by De Rossi or Steven Nzonzi.

This made it a four-versus-two advantage for Lazio at times and their pivot The defensive midfielder of a midfield trio is often called a ‘pivot’. Leiva was easily found by wall-passes from either Marco Parolo or Sergej Milinković-Savić.

It is a pity to see AS Roma – who pressed Barcelona off the very same pitch in a pivotal Champions League match last season – get so easily outplayed by Lazio’s build-up. Very little was needed to push AS Roma back into their own half, were they formed a 4-4-2 or a 4-4-1-1, as displayed in the diagram above.  

When they were pressed themselves, AS Roma were the inferior team as well. Lazio had their striker Ciro Immobile blocking the middle of the field and Luis Alberto and Milinković-Savić positioned themselves close behind him.

The middle of the pitch was successfully congested and if AS Roma decided to pass it to one of their fullbacks, Lazio would push through with one of their wing-backs. AS Roma were unable to find a solution for Lazio’s pressing. This resulted in a host of long balls in the general direction of striker Edin Džeko, without any successful attacks.

Roma finds their footing
Lazio dominated the first twenty minutes in all aspects of the game, except a quite important one: creating chances. Even though they outshot AS Roma zero to six in the opening phase, not one of these shots was actually from a very good location.

With the game still scoreless and real chances lacking from this match, AS Roma started to come to life. Not surprisingly – since they were pinned back by Lazio so successfully – their biggest chances came from counter-attacking. In the 22nd, 23rd and 25th minute, Roma launched several dangerous counter-attacks through Pastore, Džeko (brilliant individual dribble) and El Shaarawy, without scoring.

It is always questionable whether the course of a match can swing due to abstract phenomena such as ‘confidence’ or ‘momentum’, but it is a fact that Roma started to play better after their series of counter-attacks.

The game started to become more frenetic, more end-to-end, with the intensity you would expect from a Derby della Capitale. AS Roma improved their build-up significantly, playing through Nzonzi and De Rossi much better than in the first twenty minutes.

If AS Roma managed to get into Lazio’s half, a 5-3-2 was formed with Milinković-Savić as a left midfielder alongside Leiva and Parolo. This proved to be a quite sturdy defensive organisation and AS Roma did not create any big chances in the rest of the first half.

They did manage to score, though, from a seamlessly innocent long ball to Džeko. The Bosnian striker headed it on and a series of defensive errors by Lazio’s defense and goalkeeper ensued. This resulted in a clear-cut chance for Lorenzo Pellegrini, who came into the game for the injured Pastore in the 37th minute. He beautifully converted the big chance with his back heel and Roma took the lead just before half-time.

Lazio switch it up to 4-2-3-1
Just after half-time, Lazio’s manager Simone Inzaghi decided to change things. His team lacked the dominance from the first twenty minutes and AS Roma started to become the better team.

With the introduction of Joaquín Correa and Milan Badelj – who came on for Luis Alberto and Marco Parolo – a more traditional 4-2-3-1 was introduced with Leiva and Badelj in a double pivot and Correa and Senad Lulić as wingers.

Lazio’s general positioning and movements after the game was 4-2-3-1 against 4-2-3-1.

Leiva and Badelj did a fairly good job in terms of progressing the ball, but Lazio’s problems – once again – occurred in the final thirty yards of the field.

With the benefit of hindsight, it was a strange decision to let Lulić, nominally a defender, play as a left winger and take off a creative player like Luis Alberto. Lazio suffered from it. All their dangerous moments came from Immobile making runs in behind or dribbles by Correa.

Lazio had excelled in preventing AS Roma from building up in the first twenty minutes. This defensive dominance faded as the game progressed, and with the introduction of the 4-2-3-1, this aspect was entirely lost. Nzonzi and De Rossi were easily found between the lines and Lazio’s midfield did not step out in time.

This meant that the game resolved to what it had been for most of the first half. An open, action-packed derby that maybe was more about the overall intensity on display than it was about pure quality. Either side got their little chances without one of the teams eminently deserving to score more goals than their opponent.

Roma get in front again and see out the match with five at the back 
This was reflected in the way both teams scored their goals as well. In the 67th minute, AS Roma’s central defender Federico Fazio made a huge mistake when he tried to play the ball back to his goalkeeper. Immobile, lurking as he also does, collected the ball and scored 1-1 with a wonderful low-driven shot.

Just a couple of minutes later, one of AS Roma’s goalkeeper Robin Olsen’s many route one balls to Edin Džeko was superbly chested by the Bosnian. He found Pellegrini, who was fouled on the edge of the box. A solid tip for Serie A teams: if Aleksandar Kolarov is on the other team, do not foul opponents around the edge of the box, guys. 2-1 AS Roma, brilliantly struck by the left-footed free kick specialist from Serbia.

Quickly after this, Di Francesco brought on central defender Juan Jesus for Florenzi and AS Roma saw out the match in a 5-3-2 formation with Džeko and El Shaarawy as the two strikers. Lazio Roma could not get a successful offense flowing in the remaining part of the match.

The game was effectively over in the 86th minute, when Federico Fazio made up for his mistake that led to Immobile’s goal. With a powerful header after a beautiful delivery by Pellegrini, he sealed the game.  

Despite the loss, Lazio look like a fine team that will contend for the Champions League spots in this year’s Serie A. They were outdone in this game in key moments, but coach Inzaghi knows what he wants from his team and they do not look like a very different team than last season, when they finished fifth.  

As we all know, getting a football team to play better is like trying to repair an airplane in flight. This derby win is very welcome, but all of AS Roma’s goals had nothing to do with a general offensive plan. In fact, it remains a question what their offensive strategy was in this game. Last season, Di Francesco figured it out and AS Roma’s offense got better along the way. If he can do it again is one of the key questions for a successful season.

Erik Elias (29) is co-founder of Between The Posts. Dutch, so admires Johan Cruijff and his football principles, but enjoys other styles as well. [ View all posts ]


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