After Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi left Roma, it was obvious that someone needed to step in to provide the homegrown core the side has featured in the last 25 years. Alessandro Florenzi has been made club captain, but it is with doubt Lorenzo Pellegrini who has taken on the role of being the team’s homegrown star. This season, the Italian international has become the creative fulcrum of the team and provided five assists in seven league games. This tactical analysis scout report will look at Pellegrini’s role in Roma’s tactics and how that allows him to perform to his absolute best.
Tactical analysis: Lorenzo Pellegrini’s importance to Roma
Pellegrini came through the ranks at Roma but really made a name for himself during a two-year spell at Sassuolo. At the Neroverdi, Pellegrini impressed his hometown club enough for them to exercise their buy-back clause and bring the midfielder back in 2017. Since then, the 23-year-old’s importance has grown gradually and now he is key to the club’s fortunes.
Tactically, Pellegrini’s role is quite similar regardless of how head coach Paulo Fonseca sets the team up. He is always playing between the lines of the opponent’s defence and midfield and looks to receive in tight spaces and then progress the ball beyond the last line of defence. Roma are very fluid under Fonseca so Pellegrini’s positioning changes somewhat depending on what the coach has planned for each game. For instance, in the image below, Roma set up in a 3-2-4-1 in possession as the right-back Alessandro Florenzi stayed narrow while left-back Aleksandar Kolarov pushed on down the wing. As a consequence, right-winger Justin Kluivert kept maximum width on his side, while left-winger Henrikh Mkhitaryan moved into the left-sided half-space to open the wing up for Kolarov. This had Pellegrini then move into the right-sided half-space to give Roma good coverage of the five vertical lanes of the pitch.
However, in the game versus Brescia, all three of Roma’s attacking midfielders played narrow, with Kluivert in the left-sided half-space and Nicolò Zaniolo in the right-sided one. This meant that Pellegrini played in a more traditional no 10 role behind Edin Džeko.
Regardless of where he is positioned, Pellegrini contributes immensely to Roma’s attacking play and he is developing nicely into a very creative trequartista. Now, let’s look at what he brings to the team.
To be a good attacking midfielder, you need to be able to produce creative passing to create chances for your teammates. Pellegrini certainly fits that bill. So far this season, the 23-year-old averages 1.87 through balls and 2.74 shot assists per 90, according to wyscout. Wyscout also has him averaging 0.87 assists in Serie A and the Europa League so far from an xA of 0.39 with seven assists from nine matches.
In the image below, we can see one example of how Pellegrini uses his vision, reading of the game and passing ability to create a goal. After receiving in midfield, he notices the run of his teammate as well as how disorganised and high the defensive line is. He then plays the ball through, and a few seconds later Roma have scored.
The image below highlights another situation when Pellegrini exploits a disorganised defence. On this occasion, Pellegrini has drifted wide and spots the run of Džeko. He elegantly chips the ball into the path of the Bosnian who adds to Roma’s lead.
Pellegrini’s vision, reading of the game and creativity are all encapsulated in the situation highlighted below. Here, Amadou Diawara plays the ball into Pellegrini, who had found space between the lines. After quickly scanning his surroundings with a glance over his shoulder before the ball reached him, Pellegrini identified the space behind the defensive line. Accordingly, he then threads the ball through to his teammate with a first-touch pass.
It’s safe to say that Pellegrini thrives in chaotic scenes in games, such as an attacking transition. In fairness, most creative players do, and Pellegrini is certainly among the likes of club legend Totti who can make the right decisions and execute brilliant passes when others are panicking and disorganised around him. In the image below, Pellegrini receives the ball and instantly turns to play Kluivert in. Obviously, this would not have been possible if Pellegrini hadn’t scanned the pitch before receiving and then he has the quality to make the pass that hurts the opposition.
Apart from his passing, Pellegrini also averages 4.11 dribbles and 3.74 progressive runs per 90 according to wyscout, which highlights his ability to progress the ball on his own as well.
Drifting wide to cross
Pellegrini also has the ability to drift into wide areas and contribute to the attacking play with his crossing ability. Indeed, one of Roma’s most potent weapons is for the Roman to drift to the right and then produce what I like to call “central crosses” such as the one seen below. From this position, it is easier to swing balls into dangerous spaces as the defence usually still tries to keep a higher line. Moreover, when the ball is played back from the wing, the defence will push up and then the crosser can catch them by surprise by swinging the ball in early. In the image below, Pellegrini superbly finds Džeko at the back post.
The combination of Džeko and Pellegrini is lethal, and their relationship is still developing. Away at Bologna, the two combined for the winning goal, which is highlighted below. Again, Pellegrini has drifted wide and crosses for the Bosnian who heads home from close range.
Pellegrini averages 2.74 crosses per 90 and, added to his crossing ability, also delivers brilliantly from set-pieces. This has made Roma a significant threat from corners and free-kicks as the likes of Chris Smalling and Gianluca Mancini can attack the Italian’s inviting crosses.
Well-timed runs into the box
Lastly, Pellegrini also offers a goal-threat from his position in attacking midfield. He is yet to score this season but has always been a decent source of goals in the past. The main reason for his danger around the box is his ability to time runs into the box. It was in this way that he scored Italy’s crucial second goal at Armenia in September: we can see this in the image below. Pellegrini (yellow) makes a run in from the left and manages to get in front of the defender to head Leonardo Bonucci’s cross into the net.
Below, Pellegrini makes a clever run into the space vacated by Džeko, in turn opening up the passing lane to the right-winger. A few seconds later, the ball has been squared for Pellegrini who can score an easy tap-in.
In what must be an early career highlight, Pellegrini scored a brilliant goal in last year’s derby with Lazio. As a long ball was played towards Džeko, Pellegrini realised the vacated space behind Džeko and the defender. A few seconds later, the ball has ended up at the Italian’s feet, and he casually back-heels it into the goal.
This ability to time runs into the box is a fantastic trait to have, and if you add his ability to score from distance too, then you have a player capable of scoring around ten goals a season. This is a target Pellegrini must have since this is an area in which he can still improve to become a real heavyweight of Italian football.
As this analysis has shown, Lorenzo Pellegrini has had a wonderful start to the season, despite missing nearly two months with injury. His return of seven assists in nine games is very impressive and it seems as though the Italian is becoming ever more important to this Roma side. Additionally, his increasing importance will carry with it more responsibility, so it will be intriguing to see if the midfielder can become his club’s new talismanic leader, following in the footsteps of Totti and De Rossi.
If you love tactical analysis, then you’ll love the digital magazines from totalfootballanalysis.com – a guaranteed 100+ pages of pure tactical analysis covering topics from the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, Bundesliga and many, many more. Buy your copy of the November issue for just ₤4.99 here