Roma recorded an important 3-0 win over Cagliari at the Stadio Olimpico. Claudio Ranieri’s side are caught in a five-way battle for a place in the top four. Just six points separate Inter Milan in second place and Atalanta in sixth. Goals from Federico Fazio, Javier Pastore and Aleksandar Kolarov gave I Giallorossi the all-important win, and moved them into fourth place in the Serie A. This tactical analysis aims to understand and highlight the important points from the game.

Lineups 

Roma lined up in a standard 4-2-3-1 formation. Antonio Mirante started in goal with Robin Olsen being poor for most of the season. Antonio Florenzi and Aleksandar Kolarov were the full-backs. Fazio and Kostas Manolas were the preferred centre-back pairing. In midfield, Steven N’Zonzi and Lorenzo Pellegrini formed a double-pivot although Pellegrini operated in a more advanced position. Stephan El-Shaarawy and Justin Kluivert were the wingers on the left and right respectively. Javier Pastore played in the number ten role with Edin Džeko leading the line.

The visitors lined up in a 4-3-1-2. João Pedro and Leonardo Pavoletti led the attack. Valter Birsa played as the attacking midfielder. The trio in midfield comprised of Nicolò Barella, Luca Cigarini and Artur Ioniță. Roma loanee Luca Pellegrini played as a left-back for the visitors.

Roma’s perfect balance 

Ranieri was spot on with his team selection for the game as Roma looked balanced and cohesive for the entirety of the game. The formation played to the strengths of all the players starting. Most notable was the partnership between N’Zonzi and Pellegrini in midfield. The Frenchman is known for his robustness and ability to shield the defence while Pellegrini is more creative and is comfortable as a roaming midfielder. Between themselves, N’Zonzi and Pellegrini made four blocks, four tackles, two clearances and 94 passes.

Serie A 2018/19: AS Roma vs Cagliari Tactical Analysis Statistics
Roma’s 4-2-3-1 with N’Zonzi (Circled) behind Pellegrini
Serie A 2018/19: AS Roma vs Cagliari Tactical Analysis Statistics
Roma defend in a 4-4-2 which enabled Pastore to be more effective on the counter

Roma have seen a lot of chopping and changing this season. Two managers have also been at the helm for this campaign which has been quite poor compared to their performances last year. Frequent changes to the side have not helped players settle well. In this game, Roma‘s attack looked potent and dangerous. El Shaarawy started on the left flank as he favours cutting inside onto his stronger foot. The Italian winger has enjoyed a prolific season scoring 12 goals in all competitions. His dribbling skills and pace were an important outlet for Roma as Cagliari weren’t able to handle him at all.

Similarly, on the opposite flank, Kluivert was a real handful. While El Shaarawy’s role was to offer more of a goalscoring threat, Kluivert played an important role in bringing width to the attack and playing more crosses. The Dutchman attempted three dribbles and was a perpetual threat from the right flank, crossing heavily for Džeko.

Džeko himself was great as acting as a focal point for the entire attack. The Bosnian’s movement constantly dragged the Cagliari centre-backs out of position, leaving space in the box for the likes of El Shaarawy and Pastore.

Serie A 2018/19: AS Roma vs Cagliari Tactical Analysis Statistics
Dzeko(in red) holds up the ball in a wider position, dragging the defender with him. This allows his teammate to run into space
Serie A 2018/19: AS Roma vs Cagliari Tactical Analysis Statistics
Džeko(circled) then moves back into position unmarked

Cagliari play themselves into trouble 

The visitors were brave in their approach to a difficult away game but played themselves into trouble. Rolando Maran’s side tried to be positive and take the game to Roma but as a result, left themselves far too open and exposed. The main issue arose in midfield where they were completely overrun despite having a numerical advantage.

Serie A 2018/19: AS Roma vs Cagliari Tactical Analysis Statistics
Pastore is completely unmarked. He would then score from the chance.
Serie A 2018/19: AS Roma vs Cagliari Tactical Analysis Statistics
Roma players are able to freely run into the box without any opposition. All three Cagliari midfielders are caught out of position
Serie A 2018/19: AS Roma vs Cagliari Tactical Analysis Statistics
Pastore has acres of space as Cagliari leave no one behind while attacking

Cagliari‘s approach was extremely naive as they unnecessarily committed men forward despite knowing about Roma’s pace on the counter. It was poor planning from Maran as his side had no answers defensively and failed to make an impact in attack. Cagliari would have done far better to sit back and look to counter themselves. The least the visitors should have sought to do was play sensibly and not overcommit against a superior team like Roma. While Roma did play well, the victory was equally assisted by Cagliari’s recklessness.

Barella, Cigarini and Ioniță ought to have been more conservative in their commitment to attack. Barella is a good creative player and his partners in midfield aren’t as creative or attacking in comparison. Cagliari’s attack was equally toothless as the visitors lacked a clear plan. Despite having a numerical advantage in midfield, they failed to capitalise on this and looked chaotic. Erratic crossing and a couple of hopeful shots characterised Cagliari’s attacking threat.

Pastore runs the show 

Javier Pastore was excellent for Roma in their win as he scored a well-taken goal. Cagliari had no answers for the Argentine midfielder’s silky runs, nonchalant passing and playmaking skill. Pastore is such a frustrating player at times, given his talent and ability. The ex-PSG man has not been able to make much of an impact in Rome largely due to injuries but when on form remains a joy to watch. In this game, he made 33 passes, two dribbles and lost possession only once. Roma have struggled for creativity at times and will be hoping Pastore can carry this form into the remaining games.

Conclusion

A win was necessary for Roma to mount a sustained challenge for a top-four spot in the Serie A. Ranieri’s side are currently fourth in the table, marginally ahead of Milan and Atalanta who have a game in hand each. Through this tactical analysis, we can see that Roma were by far the superior team. Roma still have to play Juventus in their final games and look likely to miss out on the Champions League if Milan can win most of their games. Nevertheless, they got the job done against Cagliari and will be hoping results go their way elsewhere.

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Hrishi Anand

Football writer and analyst based in India. Arsenal fan, Borussia Dortmund. Law student.