How could Bologna play well and still lose to Roma?
Monday evening saw Bologna make the five-hour journey south to visit the Stadio Olimpico to play a Roma side who have struggled domestically of late. Roma won 2-1 in the midweek Champions League round of 16 match against FC Porto, but they have only won one of their previous four games domestically.
This included a 7-1 embarrassment away to Fiorentina in the Coppa Italia. Eusebio Di Francesco’s side hoped that they could use the first leg victory in the Champions League to right their domestic campaign as they started this game four points off the final Champions League position in Serie A.
Roma may have struggled lately in the Serie A, but Bologna have had even more problems. Since the winter break, Sinisa Mihajlovic’s side have only one win in five games in all competitions. Roma are hoping to qualify for Europe’s top club competition next season, but Bologna are just looking to ensure another season of top flight football. Three points away from safety, Mihajlovic needs to start gaining points soon or he will find his own position under threat.
Bologna were able to control the first half, but they couldn’t finish in front of goal. This allowed Roma to go in at halftime with the score still 0-0, but Di Francesco made a couple of key changes that meant Roma dominated the second half with chances on the counter. By the final whistle, Roma won 2-1 through a pair of set piece goals despite trailing on expected goals (xG) 1.63 to 2.88
The Giallorossi made three changes over the side that won 2-1 against Porto. Swede Robin Olsen started in goal, with Antonio Mirante dropping to the bench. Club captain Daniele De Rossi was on the bench alongside Stephan El Shaarawy. They were replaced by former Sevilla midfielder Steven N’Zonzi starting at the base of a midfield three and former Ajax academy product Justin Kluivert on the right wing.
After a 1-1 draw at home to Genoa, Bologna also made four changes. Unusually, Mihajlovic left Mattia Destro, former Inter player Rodrigo Palacio, Federico Mattiello, and Giancarlo Gonzalez out of the squad entirely and they were replaced by leading goal scorer Federico Santander, Nicola Sansone, Mitchell Dijks and Filip Helander.
Keys to the game
In this tactical analysis we will look at some of the important aspects that allowed Roma to win 2-1, such as how Bologna were able to take advantage of slack passing by Roma’s defence and midfield. We will also show how Di Francesco’s changes at half time allowed Roma to create more chances, and defend a weak backline. Finally, we will look at how Roma used set pieces to turn an expected loss into three points.
Poor passing and worse positioning
A recurring theme to Roma’s season has been their defensive problems. Much of this is down to the poor positioning of their defensive line, and their sloppy passing when trying to play out of the back. There were several examples of this in this match, with all four members of the defensive line being guilty at different points of the match.
These defensive failings allowed Bologna to control the first half of the match, even though Roma had more possession. It became apparent early on that Bologna were happy playing on the counter-attack, allowing Roma to play the ball out of the back and then trying to turn the ball over as the Giallorossi advanced the ball into the midfield.
There were several occasions when sloppy passing or poor touches allowed Bologna to win the ball back high up the pitch. The image below shows one of the best examples of this. In the fourth minute, former Manchester City full-back Aleksandar Kolarov is caught and dispossessed near the halfway line, allowing a fast counter attack. Simone Edera would have had a prime goalscoring opportunity had it not been for a last-second diving block by Manolas at the edge of the six-yard box.
Poor positioning was another problem for Roma’s back line. Kolarov plays so high up the pitch on the left side that the centre-backs are forced to shift to cover the space left by the Serbian. This is illustrated in the image below as Fazio has moved left to defend the half-space, leaving Manolas to follow Federico Santander as he wins a flick on for Nicola Sansone. Sansone is able to slip into the gap where the other centre-back should be.
In attack, a common movement for Bologna was Simone Edera dropping deep while Roberto Soriano made a run into the wide areas. One of the main reasons for this movement was to progress the ball up the pitch, and provide width on the attack, as Bologna’s right back Ibrahima Mbaye stayed very deep. In possession, Bologna almost had a three-man defence as Mbaye stayed deep with the two centre-backs, as shown below.
Bologna had limited success in the build-up, but they were dangerous on the counter. This theme repeated throughout the first half, giving Bologna a 9-6 shot advantage (3-1 on target) at halftime, with three clear chances and one shot against the woodwork. The inability to convert chances would leave Bologna vulnerable, and eventually cause them to leave the Stadio Olimpico empty handed.
Changes in the air
Roma may have had more possession in the first half, but they were lucky to reach the half-time interval at 0-0. Their defence struggled, and they attacked with all the penetration of an inebriated eunuch. Di Francesco made a substitution and switched formation at the break in the hope that his team would be able to offer more going forward, while not giving up the steady stream of counter-attacking opportunities.
Bryan Cristante was taken off, replaced by Stephan El Shaarawy, as the home side switched from a 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3-1. El Shaarawy plays on the left side of the three attacking midfielders, with Justin Kluivert moving across to the right side and Nicolo Zaniolo moved inside to play behind Edin Dzeko.
This shift meant that Lorenzo Pellegrini played a deeper role, as part of a double pivot with Steven N’Zonzi. This offered more help for the defence, giving them more passing options and reducing the counter-attacking opportunities of the visitors. Zaniolo was also able to provide more support to Dzeko, allowing him to drop deeper to receive passes with his back to goal while Zaniolo got forward. This meant Roma were able to maintain a presence in the box, and put more pressure on Bologna.
El Shaarawy also came inside from the left to link up with Zaniolo and Dzeko. In the images below we see a good example of this, as El Shaarawy makes an angled run into the box. Kolarov is able to chip the ball into him, and he plays a wonderful flick on to Dzeko. Dzeko plays the return pass to an onrushing El Shaarawy, who is rugby tackled by two Bologna defenders to win a penalty for his side. Kolarov converts the penalty, giving Roma a 1-0 lead in the 55th minute.
After a first half spent getting dismantled on the counter attack, Roma were able to take the lead within 10 minutes of the restart through the half-time substitute. In the 68th minute, Justin Kluivert was taken off for Daniele De Rossi. De Rossi settled into the midfield alongside N’Zonzi, and Pellegrini replaced Kluivert wide on the right side. This solidified the midfield and defence more, as De Rossi was less likely to go up the pitch.
Bologna forget to mark one of the tall guys
The match was still close at 1-0, but Roma were able to take control of the match in the 73th minute with a set piece goal by Federico Fazio. In the image below, we can see that Bologna makes an obvious mistake in their set piece marking. As the Roma centre-backs come forward, none of the visitors checks Fazio as he stands near the penalty spot.
The problem is compounded in the later images as we see the defenders get caught ball-watching, as Daniele De Rossi, another substitute, flicks the ball on to Fazio near the back post. With no defender within three yards, it’s an easy shot for the centre-back to tuck the ball in at the far post.
Bologna should have won this game on the back of their first half performance. A lack of finishing meant that Roma were still in the game at half time, allowing Di Francesco to make the changes to get his side back into the game. Both of Roma’s goals involved his changes, as he was able to shore up his defence while also changing formation to give his side more cutting edge going forward. This victory takes Roma within one point of fourth place, while Bologna look like they will struggle to avoid relegation to Serie B.
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