Fotbal Club FCSB, commonly known as FCSB, are a Romanian club based in the nation’s capital, Bucharest. An absolute mainstay in the Romanian First Division (Liga 1), they have spent their entire history in the highest tier of Romanian football, winning a league-leading 26 titles in the process. Their longstanding neighbourly rivals, Dinamo București, are second on the list for titles, with 18 themselves. Games between the two are referred to as the ‘Eternal Derby’ for a reason. They are far and away the two biggest teams in the division.
In recent years, their respective eras of dominance have come to an abrupt end with teams such as Astra Giurgiu and Viitorul Constanța winning their first league titles in the 2010s, but it is CFR Cluj who dominated most recently, winning the last three league titles consecutively. For FCSB, it has now been six whole seasons without domestic success. This season, however, under Anton Petrea, they have had their fortunes turned around. This analysis will detail Petrea’s tactics and how they have reinvigorated a sleeping giant in Romania.
In this tactical analysis, we are going to cover the progress that FCSB have made under Petrea, some of their key tactical concepts, and highlighting their star men.
Defensive structure & overall system
Let us begin our analysis by looking at FCSB’s defensive approach, especially versus the better teams in the division, who they have had a considerable amount of success against this season. Now, Petrea most commonly lines up his side in a 4-3-3 formation similar to Liverpool, though during the game it can look like more of a 4-2-3-1 in certain game states, with Adrian Șut and Darius Olaru forming a double-pivot and Olimpiu Moruţan moving into the #10 role.
This 4-2-3-1 has been the system of approach in the bigger games or when they look to protect the lead, but this changes when FCSB are in the ascendancy, looking to grab another goal, and the formation will change to more of a 4-1-4-1, with Șut at the base of midfield, while Olaru will join Moruţan further up the field. In both systems, the defensive principles are to remain the same: block off dangerous passing lanes in the defensive third.
Here we can see FCSB in their 4-3-3 formation, which adjusts into a 4-1-4-1 in attacking situations, with Gabriel Simion in this game staying at the #6, offering a platform for progression from the defence.
FCSB are not huge on aggressive pressing from the front line. They have certain pressing triggers in their regime: if the opposition defender passes inwards from a wide area or backwards to the keeper, then their forward’s will engage in tracking wherever the ball goes with their runs. Petrea’s clear tactical instructions dictate that FCSB attacking and defend as one whole unit – meaning when the opposition attacks, they drop back as a team to defend.
Especially against teams considered dangerous in attacking sense by Petrea, the idea is to overload the box with men to defend the goal by blocking shots on goal in a Burnley fashion or crowding out the player in possession of the ball. They are extremely compact in that sense and it suffocates their opponents in the sense that they feel as if they have no room to manoeuvre – forcing them to pass sideways or backwards.
As the Cluj defender passes inside from a wider space, Olaru engages in a higher press, cutting off the completion of the passing triangle that Cluj had been attempting.
Here, we have a Craiova player crossing from a wide-right zone, but FCSB have filled the box with numbers, making it difficult for the crosser to find his target.
In their 4-3-3 system, when they do win the ball back, their formation changes as the left-back Risto Radunović pushes higher up the pitch and right-back, Ovidiu Popescu, stays back to form a back three. This helps since they can overload the left flank, it facilitates a platform for progression from defence, and it protects FCSB on the counterattack. Again, in these moments it is about protecting the goal, so the structure is very compact.
In this game, Popescu played at left-back, so we understand that it is the right-back, regardless of personnel, will stay back to form the back three, in this case, veteran Valentin Crețu.
Their defensive success is represented in the statistics, and how they rank in Liga 1. 21 goals conceded (3rd lowest in the division), 7.62 shots against per 90, and 7.47 PPDA are impressive figures for a side who finished only 5th place last season, a considerable underperformance in the view of the fans. They have become an impenetrable force predicated on a solid pressing regime, defensive structure, and appetite.
In terms of FCSB’s build-up play, it is all established on a team that have become comfortable in possession. The defenders like to play long balls directly into the forward line from deep, or they can rotate the ball around the defence to create space for a passing option into one of the midfielders. Much of this initial build-up is done in central areas, but this is where Radunović is important as he stretches the opposition further up the wing.
Florin Tănase, FCSB’s centre-forward and the league’s top goalscorer is actually crucial in this phase of play. Not to say he acts as a false 9, but Tănase does drop deep for a few key reasons: it drags defenders to create space for the wide forwards to run into, it makes it easier for the defenders to find him with a long ball accurately, and it destabilises the opposition defensive structure.
Tănase here drops deeper to collect the ball, moving from the channel and passes it on towards Moruţan who can find the space to shoot.
The key player in the build-up though would have to be Moruţan, almost purely thanks to his expanded skillset. He is a capable presser and defender, but above that, the 21-year-old’s forte is ball progression. He ranks top ten in the league for dribbles, progressive runs, and progressive passes per 90, his variation of actions during a game is part of what makes him so effective, on top of his creative responsibilities.
One thing that Moruţan does excellently is to position himself into spaces where he can receive the progressive pass, allowing his team to break the lines and attack at a high pace. When he does receive the ball, his port of call is to carry the ball at his feet, drawing attention to his location, then releasing the ball at a suitable time to break down the opposition defence. It also helps him get into shooting scenarios himself.
Moruţan receives the progressive pass and immediately drives forward with the ball. Here, he has a couple of forward passing options to choose from.
It helps that everyone in the midfield and attack is comfortable at taking on their man directly via dribbling too. When these players are placed under pressure, they rarely concede possession, or at least at a lower rate compared to most of the league. Most importantly of all, their movement in the build-up play allows them to create the number of chances that they make thanks to the runs off the ball.
When it comes to FCSB’s attacking approach, they have a plethora of options that they explore regularly during a match. They have midfielders who can chip in with goal contributions from deep, with Moruţan going above and beyond in this regard. They have full-backs who are capable of whipping in dangerous deliveries from wide zones. But ultimately, the greatest proportion of their goals comes from their attacking unit, who have combined so well this season.
In the final third, Petrea’s tactics instruct Moruţan to go beyond the midfield and join the attacking unit to create a band of four men across the width of the pitch. The band of four players is slightly offset, with Tănase dropping deeper as we previously mentioned and Florinel Coman (formerly linked to Chelsea)is regularly the furthest attacker forward on the left side. Octavian Popescu is more of a traditional winger on the right side who looks to stretch the opposition defence.
Attacking with width: FCSB here are in a 4v3 scenario where they can exploit the wide areas thanks to their width and Popescu’s run in behind here.
Before the January transfer window, Petrea’s side has Dennis Man in their ranks before he joined Parma in Serie A for a fee of €12m + €3m in addons and performance-related bonuses. Man was easily the best player in the league, the 6’1” tall winger who used his physical advantages to dominate opposition full-backs and score frequently from his left boot. Popescu, the 18-year-old who ultimately replaced him, is a different type of right-winger and the team has adapted as a result of that.
Popescu has done really well to become a really useful operator in his own regard. Despite not scoring or assisting at a high rate yet, his work rate and technique have impressed this term, and his runs in behind have been especially effective in asking questions of the opposition’s defensive structure. When he does enter the penalty area, there are ways he can improve, but a lot of it has to do with composure, which will come with more game time.
Popescu has an intelligent variation in his running angles. Wide right or centrally from a wider area, he is difficult to defend against because of this and his substantial pace.
Here is a brilliant example of Popescu’s creativity. He takes out several Poli Iasi defenders with one chipped through ball to Tănase who scores with aplomb.
Against teams who like to pack their own penalty area with numbers, the goal of FCSB is simple: apply pressure via shots from the edge of the area. Petrea understands that in these moments it can be very difficult to break down a compact defence, so let’s instead take advantage of our midfielders who are capable distance shooters in their own right. Moruţan has been especially effective at finding space to shoot in these moments.
Tănase runs the channels and drags the ball back for Moruţan who times his run to the edge of the area perfectly and hits a sublime first-time effort into the top left corner.
Their formation in the attacking phase of play typically looks like a 3-3-4, since Radunović moves up into the midfield on the left flank, and Moruţan moves forward to join the forward line. The 21-year-old is the player who most frequently carries the ball into the final third and from here he looks to either play the one-two between himself and Tănase or make the through pass to either of the wingers.
Tănase also makes himself available inside the box when build-up play is orchestrated in wide zones. From here he has demonstrated a variety of goals: predominantly off his right, sometimes from his left, and seldom off his forehead. He is an instinctive striker – he likes to create half a yard of space before striking the ball with the power to zoom past the side of a goalkeeper. On top of this, he is overall a smart striker, hitting the ball where the keeper least expects it to go.
Here, he runs down the channel, looking to receive the through ball, and he slots home, off-balance, from his left foot.
Petrea has taken to the helm at FCSB like a duck to water, it is fair to say. After spells as an assistant manager at a smattering of different clubs across the globe, returning to Romania has been a great choice, both for his career and the state of FCSB. No league title since 2015 looks likely to be rectified, and they’re playing some entertaining football in the process, whilst incorporating some intriguing young talents who should be tracked keenly by clubs outside of Europe’s top five leagues. Although Dennis Man has shown that a top-five league move is anything if attainable.