Serie A 2018/19 Tactical Analysis: Sassuolo vs Roma


Roma travelled to Sassuolo to keep their Champions League qualification hopes alive after beating already crowned champions Juventus last week. Claudio Ranieri‘s team has been dominated by the news of that long-serving captain Daniele De Rossi will depart at the end of the season.

The last time these two teams met in Serie A was back in December. Roma dominated with a 3-1 win. With Atalanta losing 2-0 to Lazio on Wednesday this would be a perfect chance for Roma to strengthen their case for Champions League football next year.

In this tactical analysis, we will look at how Roma were left frustrated at Sassuolo in terrible weather conditions.


Serie A 2018/19 Tactical Analysis: Sassuolo vs Roma

Ranieri has been building steady momentum since being brought in as caretaker manager. After trying several formations recent success has been found in the 4-3-3 with N’zonzi as a pivot. For this game “The Tinkerman” would slightly change things with a 4-1-4-1 formation but with N’Zonzi remaining in the middle as a pivot once again. When Roma attacked their formation took more of a 4-3-3 with El-Shaarawy and Ünder joining Edin Džeko up front. Kolarov found himself far up the wing in support of El-Shaarwy. Juan Jesus replaced centre back Manolas due to injury.

Sassuolo also opted for an attacking formation and went with 4-3-3. Magnanelli acted as the pivot in the midfield. The wingbacks pushed up into midfield when out of possession to create a 4-5-1. This was successful to some degree, especially in the first half as it limited Roma’s chances on goal. Rogério replaced Peluso at left back. Locatelli replaced Bourabia in midfield due to suspension. Beradi replaced Sensi up front.

Roma play from the back

Ranieri’s men started the game very composed and built attacks from the very back. The two centre backs had N’Zonzi dropping back fulfilling the pivot to achieve triangles. This helped to outmanoeuvre Sasuollo’s first line of defence. Transitioning from the back to the middle of the park Roma tended to keep the ball centrally and tried out-passing Sassuolo. Once in the final third the ball then was hit wide for either a wingback or midfielder to send a cross towards the danger area.

Serie A 2018/19 Tactical Analysis: Sassuolo vs Roma
N’Zonzi was the pivot and created ‘triangles’ with the centre backs to beat Sausuolo’s first line of defence.

Safety in numbers

When out of possession N’Zonzi usually stepped up into the midfield line. This changed the formation to a 4-5-1 and employed a mid-block. This tactic helped congest the middle of the pitch making it hard to either pass through or to even penetrate either wing.

Serie A 2018/19 Tactical Analysis: Sassuolo vs Roma
N’Zonzi steps up into the midfield line to form a 4-5-1

Above we can see an example of this. Sassuolo are looking to play down the left wing where they favoured most of their attacks (40%). Roma as a team have shifted across the field in units to restrict movement for Sassuolo down the left. The solution to this would be to pass quickly to the opposite flank. However, the weather conditions made such transitions very difficult.

Going forward

When Roma did advance forward and looked to gain entry into the final third the formation would slightly alter.

Serie A 2018/19 Tactical Analysis: Sassuolo vs Roma

El Shaarawy and Ünder would join forward Džeko. Wingbacks Florenzi and Kolarov moved further up the field to support the midfield. N’Zonzi rarely joined the team when attacking. His average position was just left of centre. The team now took the look of a 3-4-3 going forward.

Sassuolo struggle to break the Roma lines

When the ‘I Neroverdi’ attacked they looked short of ideas to get through Roma’s lines. Claudio Ranieri’s team looked well drilled in positional play from the off. As mentioned before, Sassuolo favoured the left wing to try and break through but seem to be short of ideas of how to penetrate.

Serie A 2018/19 Tactical Analysis: Sassuolo vs Roma
Roma, compact when defending kept a great shape. The dotted green line shows a potential way to beat the lines.

Above we can see another example of Sassuolo trying to go down the left flank. The ball was passed around the three players you can see in the top left. This did nothing in trying to force Roma to break their shape. The dotted green line shows a potential route into the final third and a potential shot on goal. The ball needed to switch across the field at pace then driven forward vertically. Instead, aimless long balls were played forward in which Roma dealt with easily.

Similar defending patterns

Roma faced similar problems when going forward. Sassuolo had a similar defending pattern to Roma which seemed to cancel each other out.

Serie A 2018/19 Tactical Analysis: Sassuolo vs Roma
Similar ‘mid-block’ numbers in the middle of the pitch stifled movement as Sassuolo also adopt the 4-5-1

Above we can see Sassuolo have moved the left and right attackers back into midfield to create a 4-5-1. Numbers in the centre of the field stifled movement as Roma looked dangerous going through the middle. Eventually, both Roma wingbacks started positioning themselves onto the touchlines to give the team width.

Battle of the left wingbacks

The two best players throughout the game were the opposite left wingbacks. Sassuolo’s Rogério and Roma’s Kolarov.

Rogério managed 4 tackles, 3 blocked crosses and when going forward looked dangerous whipping low crosses into the danger area. As Sassuolo opted to go down the left flank, Rogério found himself making a big contribution to both attacking and defending elements of the game. His pass succession stood at 88% and was by far Sassuolo’s best player throughout the game.

Serie A 2018/19 Tactical Analysis: Sassuolo vs Roma

Alternatively, Kolarov was voted man of the match. His work rate alone moving up and down the pitch at the tender age of 33 was highly impressive. His crosses into dangerous areas were always a threat.

The link-up play between him and former Manchester City team-mate Džeko looked well established as Kolarov attempted long direct balls to the target man. One of the best chances of the game started from a Kolarov cross towards Džeko. The target man used his physical presence and controlled the ball down to which El Shaarwary hit the ball first time. However, the ball was not hit cleanly and passed the right-hand post.

Serie A 2018/19 Tactical Analysis: Sassuolo vs Roma

Kitchen sink

Roma could sense their Champions League place slipping through their hands. Every missed opportunity caused more frustration. Roma were getting desperate. In the last five minutes of the game, Roma pressed with maximum vigour. The forward line was bumped up to four and pressed high up the pitch trying to force Sassuolo into making an error.

Serie A 2018/19 Tactical Analysis: Sassuolo vs Roma
Roma’s attacking line / 1st line of defence consisted of four players with a high press trying to force Sassuolo into making a mistake.

Unfortunately for Roma, Sassuolo remained calm at the back and managed to get the ball to relative safety in the dying moments of the game.

Terrible weather = terrible finishing

The game could be summed up by consistently terrible finishing. Both teams had undeniably match-winning opportunities and both teams failed to hit the back of the net. With such wet conditions, players have a slight advantage over goalkeepers. Instructions are usually given to hit the ball when given a chance to see if the keeper spills it or slips. The shot total for both teams saw an exponential increase from their respective previous games. Roma conjured 13 shots against Juve but upped the number to 22 shots for this game. By the same token, Sassuolo only managed 8 shots in their last game but took 17 shots in this game. With just under 40 shots taken by both teams in this game, it is miraculous how the score stayed 0-0.

Sassuolo’s man between the sticks, Consigli was the second best player in the team. If not for him Roma could’ve easily come away with a two or three-nil win.

In the dying moments of the game, Roma had yet another opportunity to take all three points and squandered it in spectacular fashion. Kolarov’s free-kick ended up making its way to an unmarked Fazio. With only the keeper to beat, Fazio got too much underneath the connection and the ball sailed high and wide.

Serie A 2018/19 Tactical Analysis: Sassuolo vs Roma
Fazio has a chance to win the game for Roma and to keep Champions League hopes alive. A shocking miss in the dying moments of the game.


The statistics tell an interesting story of Sassuolo having more possession of the ball. Watching the game you would not have thought so as much of their possession accumulated into little ‘nothing’ passes as they struggled to penetrate Roma. The passes tell the same story and although a more superior number than Roma’s, they failed to do anything significant with the advantage. Roma will be furious with the five big chances missed to wrap the game up.



Sassuolo will be quite happy at keeping Roma at bay. With safety reached and top flight football guaranteed for next year, Roberto De Zerbi will be happy with this performance.

Conversely, Claudio Ranieri will feel this was a golden opportunity to snatch a Champions League place away from the other competing teams Inter, Atalanta and Milan. They need other results to go their way as well as needing at least six more goals to put them in contention.