Monday January 13 2020
Sarri wins tactical clash with Fonseca

It was one for the football hipsters, as Maurizio Sarri out-witted Paulo Fonseca at the Olimpico. Elio Salerno analyses the Roma-Juventus tactical battle.

A fascinating game unfolded at the Stadio Olimpico on Sunday evening, as Juventus edged out Roma to clinch the Winter Champion crown. Capitalising on Inter’s Saturday night draw with Atalanta was paramount, although the Bianconeri looked increasingly shaky as the game developed.

The battle on the side-lines was one for the football hipsters. Progressive Roma coach Paulo Fonseca attempting to outwit Maurizio Sarri.

There were no surprises in either starting XI, but injuries during the first half forced both tacticians into changes. Merih Demiral and Nicolò Zaniolo were making an impact on proceedings for their respective sides and it was a blow for everyone to see two of Europe’s most talented young players removed because of injury.

There was a frenetic start, Juventus found themselves ahead within minutes and doubled their lead with the match barely 10 minutes old. Roma’s self-harm was emphatically punished. Aleksandar Kolarov defended a Miralem Pjanic free-kick poorly and allowed Demiral to finish unopposed at the back post. Jordan Veretout was then guilty of being caught in possession on the edge of his own box as a result of poor awareness and indecision. Fingers will be pointed at goalkeeper Pau Lopez, but Veretout had more than enough time to deal with the ball. A midfield player at this level is expected to handle those situations.

It took 20 minutes or so for the first half to find any kind of rhythm or pattern. The home team responded well to their errors and set about executing Fonseca’s game plan. Roma’s 4-2-3-1 was very flexible both in and out of possession. Led by Edin Dzeko and Lorenzo Pellegrini, the Romans set about pressing Juve’s centre-backs and forcing their first pass towards the full-backs to prevent Sarri’s men developing play centrally. Roma’s first line of press was followed instantly by the supporting cast.

Juve were willing to accept the pressure. Moving the ball to their full-backs as Roma wished, the Old Lady looked to play forward to their strikers who had positioned themselves wide in order to help the team’s build-up. It had some success, when Juve could find the first pass out they had space to exploit or were quickly able to gain control of play. It did not come without risk and on a number of occasions gave possession away cheaply, allowing Roma opportunities to counter.

Former Shakhtar Donetsk manager Fonseca was also willing to take risks in order to get the desired rewards. In possession Roma were expansive, committed numbers forward, but looked vulnerable to counters. When building from the back, one of Amadou Diawara or Veretout would drop deep alongside their centre-backs to create a three and allow both full-backs to move high, providing maximum width.

In a shape that resembled a 3-4-2-1, the narrow positioning of Roma’s midfield ahead of the ball forced Juve’s central four to stay compact, keeping the spaces wide free. Once play reached either Alessandro Florenzi or Kolarov, Roma quickly looked to create overloads down the sides. Attempting to detach Juve’s defensive structure with the use of adaptable attackers like Diego Perotti and Lorenzo Pellegrini.

In general, Roma’s tactics were working reasonably well. They had positive spells of possession and were conceding little, but were unable to create much, meanwhile Juventus managed the first 45 minutes just enough to maintain some control. For the away side there were a few neat passages of play and a midfield that looked slightly better balanced than in previous months. Adrien Rabiot was having his best outing in a black and white jersey. The Frenchman is improving each week, both his athleticism and ability to impact play in different phases was evident in Rome.

The opening stages of the second half continued in similar fashion, with Sarri making a small change tactically in order to help his players evade Roma’s press. Committing another player wide to help his full-backs required Roma to shift another man over, stretching them and opening spaces to play through. However, Juve’s play lacked quality, and although the result looked secure, on 68 minutes a Roma penalty changed the momentum.

Sarri responded instantly to his side conceding, withdrawing Aaron Ramsey and Paulo Dybala in favour of Gonzalo Higuain and Danilo. A surprise switch to 4-3-3 with Juan Cuadrado now taking up an attacking role. Sarri had perhaps become concerned with the spaces his side were conceding in wide areas and looked to nullify that with these changes.

As Roma pushed on, the Bianconeri wasted great opportunities on the counter and but for the reliable Wojciech Szczesny – who at this moment has been Juve’s most consistent player this campaign – and vital last ditch defending from Matthijs de Ligt, the outcome would have been different.  

Juventus looked nervy under pressure in the closing stages and were unable to retain the ball or find a third. Roma will have wished for a few extra minutes that may have been enough to grab an equaliser. In the end, Juve claimed the three points they were desperate for, and with it the tag of Serie A winter champions. As for Roma, it is two defeats from two in the New Year, but there was certainly enough in their play to suggest they can feel confident about pushing for a place in the top four.

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Have your say...
I don't need to defend Ronaldo nor Juventus to a no name critic.
The records of this man and the team speak for themselves, if need be you should check the records.
No, Ronaldo at 34, is not the same player as in the past but he is a winner and so is Juventus.
No,Juve has not won a Uefa trophy in many years but they have competed in every year they have been in the chase.Few teams can compare.
I am not a Juve Fan but they will always be the PRIDE of ITALY regardless of your paranoid conspiracies
on the 14th January, 2020 at 4:09pm
Don't play Chiesa, Barella, Belotti or Donnarumma against them. Just in case.
Currently, Juve are just bad for Italian football.
on the 14th January, 2020 at 1:32pm
for me juve real problem is at the trequarista position. ransay is a solid player in that role but not ultra threatening. was surprised how much bernardeshi struggled as trequarista, it is clear now that he is only best as a winger. but for me even though douglas costa is a winger and not a natural trequarista. someone with his pace and dribbling would make juve counters much more effective. I would try costa-Dybala-Ronaldo in attack. I am still shocked costa is on the bench so much
on the 14th January, 2020 at 8:41am

Though you can understand Juve players/ Sarri:
They practically started the game with a 2-0 advantage!
Against Roma. At OLIMPICO!
With Inter a point above them.

Why should they attack & go for goals 3, 4?
Last year Juve was FAR better than Roma, attacked constantly, yet lost 2-0.
Yesterday Roma had HUGE problems against their always-set defence.

I fear Roma will be in a free fall now
--Similarly to what happened with Napoli...
They have Genoa "away" next. Then Lazio. They can lose both :(
on the 14th January, 2020 at 12:26am

Good read but your TITLE should be read as a "robotic language/ logic"...
There were two tactics. One team won.
So, "robotically": "Sarri wins tactical clash" IS TRUE...

But realistically, FAR FROM IT.
(As you yourself acknowledge under title.)

Juve scored because of Roma's GIFTS.
Then they (probably) changed their approach & played in second gear, minimizing any risk.
In the end it almost backfired and you could argue it should have ended in a 2-2, 3-3 draw.
on the 14th January, 2020 at 12:11am
Credit to Juve for winning at the Stadio Olimpico. No one appears to have noticed that for all the Juve criticism we have played all our nearest challengers away from home already: Inter, Atalanta, Lazio and Roma & are 2 points ahead. The football under Sarri is a work in progress and I can live with that but the biggest problem we have is actually Pjanic. He gives an incredible amount of dangerous ball away, gets needlessly booked constantly and hasn’t had one single Serie A assist!
on the 13th January, 2020 at 11:56pm
Thought most of the game was fairly entertaining from both teams. Those acting like Juve should be winning 10-0 against Roma are delusional. They are a fairly good team. Anyhow, Juve look to be getting better on the counters, breaking faster and taking opportunities. Still need more but its a plus compared to the past. Still would like to see Pjanic push harder and faster on the counters. He still tends to play it safe and goes for the recycling approach letting Cuad and Sadro bomb forward.
on the 13th January, 2020 at 9:22pm
What are these people saying its in there DNA to win, other then domestically they have won nothing in uefa since 1996. Their DNA is cheating and officating aid thats why they cannot win other then domestically. Ronaldo is useless and if its not for a PK Juve would have tied at best. They will neve win outside italy they dont have the mentality or skill the team is barely scrapping by.
on the 13th January, 2020 at 8:53pm
Winning is the goal and Sarri is learning how to win in different ways. Juve has been winning for so long it's in there DNA. Roma is much improved but was unlucky on sunday.
Don't understimate Juve in the Scudetto nor Champions league, they have more quality and experience than the EPL giants and that often makes a difference. With a bit of luck they can finally hoist the UEFA trophy, the Scudetto will be a battle all season but never discount a team led by Ronaldo.
on the 13th January, 2020 at 5:02pm
It's called managing a game. They collected the 3 points and that is all that matters. Its a shame they lost Demiral for the rest of the season though. He is a beast!! A very shrewd piece of business. I am not a big fan of Paratici, but he got this one right..
on the 13th January, 2020 at 4:52pm
I like how everyone believes that you can't win the CL if you play like this. People already forgot that Real won 3 in a row by parking the bus and hitting in the counter or taking advantage of opponents' blunders and rarely dominated the game for, say, 60 minutes.
on the 13th January, 2020 at 4:44pm
@CG: Who cares if you are 2-0 up...?? It's not Like Juve was up 2-0 at half time and lost 3-2 after failing to park the bus in the 2nd half (like Inter in CL vs Borussia) Juve won 2-1 and Roma has no goals from open play - you won't beat Juve if your can't score goals from open play it's just that simple !
on the 13th January, 2020 at 4:11pm
Juve never go out and smoke teams. It's not in their DNA. Once they got the 2 goals quickly, I knew if their was a third it would be a beautiful goal or a PK.

Their ability to sit back and suffer to final whistle is what has separated them from the rest of serie a for the last decade.
on the 13th January, 2020 at 4:11pm
Man City would make mincemeat out of Juve???? HAHAHAHA. I guess if you mean make 1,000 slick smooth passes and still get knocked out of UCL, then yes City are champions of that

Liverpool is still winning but starting to look tired. They will lose some steam soon but are still deadly
on the 13th January, 2020 at 1:55pm
Only for Higuains shoe lace being off side it would have been 1-3. The Juventus counters were very dangerous only let down by small errors on the night. Roma had no option but to try score and hence were exposed.
Interesting to note the following was written, 'Progressive Roma coach Paulo Fonseca attempting to outwit Maurizio Sarri'. This would imply that Sarri is a conservative coach.
That is simply ridiculous. Give credit to where credit is due
on the 13th January, 2020 at 12:50pm
Yes, I agree with Juventus. Maybe not a "provincial" side, but definitely not a Champions League contender. Juve's defensive errors and continuous handballs are concerning, as is their complete inability to dominate games. Who cares if you are 2-0 up...?? You go for more goals. Ask Liverpool and City (who right now, would make mincemeat out of Juve). Long way to go before Champ League can be won (and yes, THAT should be the priority)
on the 13th January, 2020 at 11:51am
Juve should have scored 2 more goals at least. Cuadrado made the wrong pass in the first half when he should have passed it to Dybala who was free in the box. Ronaldo should also have 1 more goal.
on the 13th January, 2020 at 11:34am
Sarri won the tactical battle? He won the lottery by being gifted 2 goals in the opening 10 minutes.

Juve looked like a provincial club more than anything else.
on the 13th January, 2020 at 11:05am

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