For the third year in a row the Serie A has started in Verona, at the Stadio Bentegodi, where Hellas Verona and Roma initiated the first match-day of the season.
Mandorlini chose a 4-3-3, with the multi-positional Jacopo Sala as the right-central midfielder, and the newcomer Souprayen in defence, as the starting left-back. The ex-Roma player Leandro Greco played in front of the defence, while upfront was fielded the same attack we often saw during last season, with Gómez and Janković to the sides of Toni. The main purchase of the summer, Giampaolo Pazzini, began the match on the bench.
Garcia gave Castan his first start in almost a year, after the cavernous hemangiona which kept him away from the pitch for 12 months. With Maicon out injured and Ashley Cole not called for the match, hinting an increasingly close move away from Italy for the English fullback, Florenzi, usually a midfielder, played in an unfamiliar right-back position, with Torosidis on the left. As expected Totti sat on the bench, with Džeko starting. Salah and Gervino played alongside the Bosnian striker.
Verona narrow and compact 4-1-4-1
Since the first half Roma had a clear edge on possession, with a ball possession % close to 70%. During the first 5 minutes Verona tried to keep a medium/high block, but they quickly pulled back. Indeed, Mandorlini game plan was simple but effective: to defend deep and compact, in order to deny Roma wingers depth in the offensive phase.
Verona shape was a 4-1-4-1 more than a true 4-3-3, with the two wingers Gómez and Janković playing on the same line of the three central midfielders. As happened in last season match-up between the two teams, Hellas kept an enviable compactness throughout the course of the game.
When Roma built-up play from their defence, with, as usual, De Rossi coming deep to aid the centre-back pair of Manolas and Castan, Toni engaged Roma half-back. The 38-years old Toni, as proved by last season Serie A leading goal-scorer title, it’s a master in managing his own physical energies: rather than pressing the defenders, Verona striker preferred to closely mark De Rossi, trying to keeping him excluded from the build-up, forcing Nainggolan and Pjanic to come deep to give a passing option to the central defenders. This trick consistently slowed down Roma ball circulation.
The two wingers (or rather, wide-midfielders) took turns in pressing on the ball-side, yet never too high, but in a position near the midfield line.
Roma slow in possession and without width in offence
De facto, Roma accepted Verona conditions, giving the impression they were hoping, sooner or later, in a mistake from one of Verona defenders or in a game-winning individual efforts from one of their players.
The giallorossi possession recall that of the second part of last season: always tidy, but with series of horizontal, if not backwards, passes, whereby slowly gaining ground, leaving to the opposition all the time they need to organize their defensive set-up. Once again, Roma lacked the tempo from their first season under Garcia and their slow ball-circulation was never a danger for Verona, if we exclude the sporadic times when they tried a more direct approach.
Verona narrow defensive set-up, inevitably left spaces on the wings, yet never exploited neither by Gervinho and Salah, nor by the fullbacks, if not when it was already too late.
The Ivorian and the Egyptian are two very similar kinds of footballers: both give their best when there are large portions of space to run into, converging towards the goal, rather than spraying crosses from the touch-line. In a context in which Verona never exposed themselves to counter-attacks, the two played in a narrow attack, acting more as second-strikers than wingers. Among other things both prefer to play on the right-hand side: Gervinho started on the left and Salah on the right, but they often switched position. These continuous switches, didn’t disorient Hellas defenders, but bewildered the two, who acted on the same flank for the majority of the match.
Moreover, frustrated by the narrow spaces in which they were forced into by Verona they barely had the opportunity to receive the ball, if not with their backs to the goal: they opted to come very deep to get the ball, turning out to be pretty much innocuous to Mandorlini’s men. In particular, Salah was never a key factor, with a large part of his touches nowhere near to the offensive third.
During the first half, Pjanić, as he used to do last season, acted as the offensive midfielder, but his position, increased Roma predictability, because the Bosnian never succeeded in playing a through-ball, an option always denied by Hellas and by the lack of width in their offence.
Facing a defence horizontally compact as Verona, it’s useful to try to threaten opposite stability by widening the offensive frontline, or by subtracting positional references to the defenders. Until Salah remained on the pitch, Roma never exploited the flanks and Hellas defence had an easy task. No one roamed around the offensive third, in an effort to undermine defenders certainties, as Totti did, playing in a false-9 role in Verona-Roma from last season. That time, Roma captain occasionally managed to attract defenders out from their positions, but this time, the deployment of a pure striker like Džeko didn’t have the same effects.
Not even the fullbacks offered a wide outlet to Roma manoeuvre. Their right-footed left-back Torosidis never pushed himself up, attempting two crosses but both inaccurate. Florenzi was surely more dynamic, and he even scored, but he didn’t fulfil the classic fullback role, preferring to take Pjanić spot in midfield, whenever the Bosnian moved in a higher, offensive midfielder position.
Verona goal arose from a great effort by Hallfreðsson, the man of the match, given his contribution both in offence and in defence: the Icelandic came with the ball at his feet until Roma penalty box. Once there he crossed the ball toward the far post, to Janković, who made a great diagonal cut to score with the header.
The midfielder cross came from the offensive third, with Manolas and Florenzi both late in their exits and with Castan marking Toni, who was in off-side. However he main mistake was Torosidis’, who was unaware of Janković’s cut and instead move to close the running Sala.
Rafael goal-keeping on Florenzi’s goal was poor: the Brazilian keeper was taken by surprise by the right-back shot, but he redeemed himself with two great saves during the last five minutes. It’ curious how Roma last Serie A goal from outside the box was scored by Francesco Totti, during Verona-Roma from last season.
Garcia’s team never convinced and one would’ve been forgiven for thinking that we were still in last season. The substitutions, probably too late, changed the situation, with Falqué firmly on the left and Gervinho (then Ibarbo) on the right, who finally widened the offensive front, also conceding more space to run into to Nainggolan. On the other hand, Pjanić was weirdly moved to a deeper midfield role after Keita entering. The main Roma limit was their tempo when in possession: with a tempo so slow, in which the pre-season training could have had an impact, it’s difficult to break up the tight defences the giallorossi will face this season, even with all the quality they have at disposal.
Hellas defence, which last year conceded 65, the worst Serie A record for non-relegated teams, was pretty solid and organized. In next few games we will probably see the 4-1-4-1 alternated to the 4-3-1-2 we saw in the last few minutes, with Siligardi behind the strikers pair of Toni and Pazzini.
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