Two passionate crowds, two Scudetto rivals, two talented squads with two 4-3-3 formations. Roma and Napoli have so many things in common and when you add to all that their shared rivalry towards Juventus, the two teams seem almost identical.
The Giallorossi and the Partenopei will be locking horns against each other on Saturday in a clash between the only two teams that managed to launch a decent title challenge in recent years. But despite all similarities on the surface, are Maurizio Sarri and Eusebio Di Francesco’s sides really so alike?
That’s definitely not the case when it comes to their gameplay, as both tacticians interpret their favorite 4-3-3 formation in a completely different manner. It takes just one look at their starting XIs to spot the first major difference, which is the centre-forward position.
Edin Dzeko and Dries Mertens are their top goalscorers and finished first and second respectively in the Capocannoniere race last season with just one goal separating them. However, they are complete opposites.
Dzeko is a slow, powerful, classic Number 9, whose main strengths are his physicality, positional awareness and aerial prowess. Therefore the Bosnian is a constant, static presence in the box, who mainly counts on his finishing ability and is much more dependent on the service provided by his teammates than Mertens. This means that Roma’s wingers and full-backs are encouraged to put the ball into the box more often compared to Lorenzo Insigne and Jose Callejon,who are usually cutting inside or making runs behind the opposition’s back-line.
On the other hand,Mertens is almost everything that Dzeko isn’t - the Belgian is quick, agile, extremely technically gifted and creative, so he is much more capable than the Bosnian when it comes to unlocking tight defenses on his own. Mertens loves to drop deep and use his incredible vision and technique to either dribble past opponents, look for a through ball or shoot from distance. Considering that the 30-year-old is more of a False 9 than a classic centre-forward, the 28 Serie A goals that he scored last year prove just what an incredible player he is.
Another significant difference between the two formations is the right wing position. While Mohamed Salah was more of a classic winger for Roma last term, his replacement Gregoire Defrel is trying to play the role in a different way and has struggled to adjust to Roma’s style. It’s true that Defrel was playing under Di Francesco for Sassuolo for two seasons, but he was mainly used as a centre-forward and is having a hard time matching Salah’s creativity and understanding with Dzeko since his move to the Capital.
The Frenchman is a decent dribbler, who likes to cut in from the right and look for shooting opportunities with his preferred left foot. However, his crossing is below par and Dzeko’s static game style often leaves the former Sassuolo man without much space to operate in, which makes him predictable and easy to anticipate.
It’s no surprise that Sarri’s preferred option for Napoli’s right wing has always been Callejon. The Spaniard is an intelligent player, a deadly finisher with good technique, whose greatest strength is his off the ball movement. This makes the former Real Madrid man an extremely efficient weapon and a crucial part of one of the Partenopei’s trademark attacking moves, which sees him finishing off a chipped ball by Insigne behind the opposition’s defence at the back post.
Last but not least, Sarri and Di Francesco use the deep-lying playmaker role in a completely different way. Daniele De Rossi and Jorginho are usually their first choices and while the Roma man is a tough-tackling player who loves to play long balls towards Dzeko, Jorginho is an elegant midfielder who prefers short passing and quick ball distribution.
The clash at the Stadio Olimpico on Saturday is a must-watch not only for every Serie A follower, but also for every fan who enjoys the tactical side of the sport. Roma-Napoli promises to be one of the games of the season and also demonstrate how two equally talented sides play the same 4-3-3 formation in a completely different manner.