Jose Mourinho is a coach who always leaves an impression on whatever club he works out. And it’s no different at AS Roma. Despite not taking the Italian team into the Champions League, the Portuguese coach can still end the season on a high as he leads the team in the UEFA Conference League final against Feyenoord.
In this article, we’ll delve into the tactics which have taken Roma into this final and allowed them to be so competitive in the domestic league this season.
Mourinho’s Roma don’t line-up in the 4-2-3-1 formation which has been traditional in most of his other teams, but rather a 3-4-2-1 system that has seen them obtain some great results.
The team is led by star signing Abraham, a striker who fully adapts to Mourinho’s tactics and was an express request of the coach. The Englishman is accompanied by other big players such as Pellegrini, Zaniolo, Mkhitaryan and Sergio Oliveira
Roma’s methods when starting from their own box is to play long and try to win the ball in midfield. One player will usually move to receive the ball, whilst the others will find space around him to get the pass and start a quick attack. Roma are not characterised by excessive possession and simply try to reach the opposition goal area as quickly as possible.
In this picture, we can see a typical example of the long ball. One player goes to fight for the ball while the others around him fight for space.
We can see the same situation in this picture from a goal kick: one goes to the ball while the others attack the space.
Roma form 3-4-2-1 in the offensive phase and 5-2-2-1 in the defensive phase. Pellegrini and Zaniolo usually play behind Abraham.
If they do start the build up short, Roma organise themselves as you can see in the image below, with one of the central defenders (Smalling) in a more advanced position as a passing option, with two players wide on the wings and Cristante in front of the defense in midfield The basic pattern remains the same with the long ball.
Mourinho’s Roma usually position themselves in a 3-4-2-1 in attack with players wide on the wing for constant crossing. A positional midfielder in front of the 3-man defense, another pushing into the box, and two players floating behind the number 9, Tammy Abraham.
In positional attack, the wingers are always looking for passing options out on the wing. Abraham is the reference in attack with Pelegrini and Zaniolo floating between the lines.
Roma do not stand out for their possessional play, but usually play a lot of direct attacks with Abraham receiving crosses from the wings.
Mourinho’s Roma’s best attacks come from quick transitions. They don’t like to waste their passes when trying to reach the opposition area. They simply want to get there as quickly as possible.
Here you can see the typical wing play with Abraham and his two back ups waiting in the centre.
And here’s the arrival of the second phase of the attack as two midfielders enter the box.
They get position in the medium-low block and repeat the pattern that makes Mourinho’s team most comfortable, attacking quickly in transition through Abraham.
Recovery and quick attack, in this taking advantage of the width of the wingers and the arrival of a player from the second line.
Many Roman attacks are borne from quick offensive recovery and transition, generally carried out by Abraham, Pellegrini or Zaniolo, who have great weight in Mourinho’s system.
In the following image, we see the width of the team in the offensive phase, creating space for the appearance of a midfielder and the arrival of a wide/deep winger ready to cross.
In this image, we see an accumulation of players on the inside to release outside.
Players arrive from the second line.
In the defensive phase, Roma usually defend with 5 players, generating density in the area where the ball is and occupying all the spaces, keeping the mid-low block as tight as possible.
Pressure on the area where the ball is, opening up the opposite side.
5-2 defensive structure off the ball.
When positioned high, they tend to direct the pressure towards the wings where they usually try to mark up the opposition attackers.
Pressure on the wing. Density and accumulation of players in the vicinity of the ball, opening up the opposite side.
Roma’s high pressure tries to be coordinated. They seek to equalise but are often deficient since they are often late for duels and suffer.
In the previous image, we see another example of failed high pressure. Again, the opposition can easily find a free man. Clearly, the team feels more comfortable positioning itself medium low and accumulating the players around the ball.
In the following image, we see the same pattern repeated again. They try to press high but do it incorrectly, so the opposition can escape and progress easily.
Pellegrini arrives late to the press, the opposition player gets in front and starts the attack. Bad pressure.
5-2-3/ 5-2-2-1 in the defensive phase positioned medium-low and, again, incorrect pressure is applied. Players arrive late for pairings.
In the following image, we again see an accumulation of players around the ball, leaving the opposite side wide open.
Mourinho’s tactics are evident in AS Roma’s game, but he needs more regularity and precision to be able to aspire to the higher levels of the Serie A. However, hope remains that next season, the system will be more established and they can look to finish higher in the league. Historically, the Portuguese coach tends to have better second seasons than first.
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