Barcelona drew AS Roma in the Quarter Finals of the Champions League as they were the first tie to be decided in the draw. On first sight, it looks to be a fairly easy draw for the Spanish giants with a number of other top clubs avoided. But it has to be said that Roma should not be underestimated solely down to the fact that they topped a group that had the likes of Chelsea and Atletico Madrid in it while beating Shakhtar Donetsk in the Round of 16, who are a very impressive team themselves.
Barcelona need no introduction to how they have been performing this season. They are unbeaten in their league so far while also staying in contention for the Copa Del Rey with a final against Sevilla awaiting them whilst beating Chelsea comprehensively in the last round. Ernesto Valverde has been doing nothing short of miracles with the club and the personnel at his disposal.
Barcelona have become a very solid team under Valverde this season where they have been so difficult to score against. There are some very interesting tactical patterns exhibited by the Catalan club, despite relying heavily on Lionel Messi for the creative influence in the final third. The Argentinian has been doing a single man carry job of the team, or so it may seem when you consider his output in terms of goals and assists, and the build-up play that precedes it, but it would be foolish to not consider the other parts that make up the sum.
The game play for Barcelona depends heavily on how they set up compact throughout. They set up a high line and have an excellent counterpressing structure, something that can be expected to be seen heavily as they will be expected to dominate possession against Roma.
The unconventional setup, asymmetric rather, from Barcelona in their 4-4-2 sees Messi drop deep a lot while the connection between Jordi Alba and himself has paid a lot of dividends this season. Coupled with the late runs made into the box by Paulinho, while Busquets and Rakitic make up the numbers in the centre brings balance to the entire side in transitions, is something that can be deemed as genius from Valverde.
Sergi Roberto, whenever he starts at RB, makes inward runs to make up for the numbers in the middle while the wide midfielder makes runs further or tucks into the middle based on the scenario. Paulinho who plays at the tip of the diamond when in possession, moves further forward for his physical presence and also make well timed runs, feeding off Messi’s balls.
Read more about Barcelona under Valverde here
Roma are altogether a different entity under Eusebio Di Francesco. They have been quite on and off this season, with a number of dire performances in the league while turning up their game in the Champions League. EDF plays a 4-3-3 mainly with Daniele De Rossi at the base or Kevin Strootman too at times, while Strootman/Pellegrini and Nainggolan play as the 8’s. Two wingers flank Edin Dzeko up top and have the utmost creative freedom to be the attacking components of the side.
Starting off with how they defend, Roma make use of a man oriented press that works well when they adopt a high press to stop their opponents from building up. They look to force their opponents to play long balls from the back so that they can win it off from those situations, by ensuring they are positioned well for picking off second balls too.
This approach however changes when they set camp at the back ensuring they adopt a zonal strategy so that they do not leave gaps for the opponent to exploit. The lines are extremely compact so that the opponent is forced out wide and restricted to pinging crosses into the box. The wingers are tasked with tracking back to an extent and help the fullbacks out against the opposition wide men.
The last two points mentioned here are crucial if they are to stand a chance against Barcelona. While pressing high against Barcelona might be a good option if they would like to peg them back near their goal, Roma would have to be wary of counterattacks. Also, with the likes of Busquets, Iniesta and Messi in the line-up, Barcelona have some of the best players who are capable of getting rid themselves off man marking.
Tracking back will be essential against Alba and Semedo, if he plays, and Roma’s defensive sturdiness will be put to test. Scoring will be a mandatory given that they are playing against Messi and co, and this will mean that the wingers and the 8’s have a lot of responsibility in ensuring Edin Dzeko gets his chances.
Roma play with a bit more freedom under EDF when you consider how his midfielder profiles line up in the eleven. Both Nainggolan and Strootman, when they start as 8’s in front of De Rossi, are tasked with roaming in and around the final third and ensure that they form connections with the wide men and the striker. They are tasked with more attacking responsibility with the team looking like five attack minded players and five defensive ones, when in possession.
It will be a tough test for Roma, something that seems insurmountable on paper, but anything is possible in football. Barcelona are firm favorites to go through, but the tie over the two legs promises to be a fascinating encounter from a tactical standpoint.
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