Eusebio Di Francesco commented after the semi-final 1st leg at Anfield “We will see a very different Roma in the second leg”. That has been the case during the whole 2017/18 Champions League edition for AS Roma. The Italian side have conceded 17 goals in this Champions League but none conceded at the Stadio Olimpico.
Di Francesco changed his formation to a 1-4-3-3 and also made 3 changes on the starting lineup by dropping out Juan Jesus, Strootman and Ünder for Pellegrini, Schick and El Shaarawy. Instead of playing with a back line of 3 defenders, Di Francesco opted for a line of 4 defenders (Florenzi, Manolas, Fazio and Kolarov). The midfield was formed by Pellegrini, Nainggolan and De Rossi where the Italian capitano was the deepest player in the midfield to mainly offer a defensive balance when Florenzi and Kolarov joined the attack. El Shaarawy, Dzeko and Schick up front.
Jürgen Klopp replicated the 1-4-3-3 formation but only one change from the semi-final 1st leg at Anfield, Wijnaldum for the injured Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Liverpool’s front three (Firmino, Mané and Salah) when out of possession were not pressing the Italian centre backs (Manolas and Fazio). Firmino’s main defending task on Roma’s half was to screen any passes to De Rossi, as we can see in the following pictures.
Firmino’s defending task was going to find a quick reward when Nainggolan gave away possession in the middle of the pitch and Liverpool took advantage of an unbalanced Roma to break quickly and score the first goal of the night.
Klopp’s second instruction to his players when out of possession was to leave Salah up front on their right side, and the midfield to move across quickly to Roma’s left side when the Italians were attacking with Kolarov to provide support to Alexander-Arnold and finally Mané needed to drop to track Florenzi when moving forward on the opposite side of the pitch.
AS Roma attacking plan was based on: 1. Full backs (Kolarov and Florenzi) high on the pitch to provide width. 2. Attack mainly on the left side by teaming up Kolarov and El Shaarawy; taking advantage of the Serbian crosses and the Italian pace. 3. Crosses to the box.
Kolarov joined the attack more than Florenzi during the semi-final 2nd leg as we can see on the following heat maps from both players which explains why the majority of the crosses came from Roma’s left attacking side and why Kolarov delivered 12 crosses while Florenzi delivered only 5 crosses.
Kolarov’s heat map (above picture).
Florenzi’s heat map (above picture).
As we can see in the picture above, 68.6% of the 35 crosses were delivered from Roma’s left side.
AS Roma’s aerial threat by Dzeko and Schick, who played mainly on the right side, was another reason why the Italian side based their attacks in crosses and why the majority of them were delivered from the left side; also, during many occasions, Pellegrini made forward runs into the box to join Dezko and Schick.
Roma’s equaliser of the night came from a cross by Florenzi to the far post where El Shaarawy headed down and Lovren clearance hit Milner’s face to go directly to the net but The Reds defended well Roma’s crosses (34.3% were successful).
Di Francesco learned the lesson at Anfield regarding defending against The Reds quick defending-attacking transition because at the Stadio Olimpico, the Romans had a better defensive balance to avoid leaving exposed their centre backs against Liverpool’s pace.
How did Di Francesco organise his team to create a more effective defensive balance? 1. Florenzi slightly deeper than Kolarov. 2. Manolas – Fazio – De Rossi triangle.
After Dzeko scored the 2nd goal for Roma on the 53rd minute, Di Francesco made the 1st substitution of the match by replacing Pellegrini for Ünder changing the formation to a 1-4-2-3-1 when out of possession and a 1-4-2-4 when in possession. El Shaarawy, Dzeko, Schick and Ünder formed the line of 4 attackers.
In the picture, notice AS Roma’s shape (1-4-2-3-1) when out of possession while the following two pictures show their shape (1-4-2-4) when in possession where Kolarov and Florenzi where moving high on the pitch simultaneously.
The change of shape from the Romans, especially, when in possession had as objective to overload Liverpool’s back line of 4 defenders by Kolarov keep moving forward on the left side and Nainggolan making forward runs whereby The Reds needed to stick to Klopp’s defensive plan of moving across quickly to avoid 2v1 situations against Alexander-Arnold and Mané supporting Robertson defensively.
De Rossi was the 2nd substitution of the night for Roma on the 69th minute (Gonalons came on) and finally El Shaarawy was substituted on the 75th minute for Antonucci who made his debut in the Champions League.
Klopp’s made his 1st substitution on the 83rd minute by replacing Mané for Klavan to form a back line of 5 defenders when out of possession on their own half and to deal with the number of crosses delivered by the Romans players but just three minutes later (picture below), Nainggolan was going to score the 3rd goal for AS Roma by a magnificent shot from outside the box.
Nainggolan was going to score his 2nd goal of the night on the 94th minute from the penalty spot but it was too late to finish the comeback.
“Roma deserved extra time” was one of Klopp’s post-match comments but Liverpool finished the job started at Anfield one week ago.
Liverpool (5 Champions League titles) will face Real Madrid (12 Champions League titles) at the NSC Olimpiyskiy Stadium in Kyiv, Ukraine; on the 26th of May, repeating the 1981 European Cup final, in which Liverpool beat the Spanish team 1-0.
The Reds reached the Champions League final after scoring 20 away goals this season, equalling the record for a single campaign in the competition (Real Madrid 2013/14); Liverpool became the 3rd team to score 40 goals within a single season in the Champions League, after Barcelona (45 in 1999/00) and Real Madrid (41 in 2013/14); Salah (10 goals), Firmino (10 goals) and Mané (9 goals) have scored 29 goals between them during in the Champions League thise season, making them the highest scoring trio at a club in a single campaign in the competition.