Top-heavy Roma force Lazio out of Derby della Capitale
Roma beat Lazio 2-0 in the Rome Derby Sunday as the victor’s offensive revolution continued. Ryan Wrenn looks at where the game was won and lost.
Arguably the most important improvement Roma coach Rudi Garcia brought to the club when he was appointed two seasons ago was a significantly improved defence. Garcia’s sides recorded the second best defence in all of Serie A in his first two seasons with the club – 25 and 31 goals respectively – only missing out on the top spot in each of those seasons by a legendary Juventus side.
For all their defensive acumen, however, Roma still suffered from a lack of punch, particularly last season. At 13, they earned the fourth most draws in the entire league despite finishing second.
That level of sterility had to be addressed this offseason though few figured it would be quite as dramatic as it ended up being.
Almost all of Roma’s regular starters in defence were sold or permitted to leave the club. In their place came new arrivals Antonio Rudiger and Lucas Digne, neither of which had Serie A experience, and Florenzi, himself converted to a right-back role in which he had relatively limited experience.
Those changes have been palpable, and not for the better. Of the four teams competing at present for the Scudetto, Roma have the worst defensive record with 13 goals conceded, four more than the next worse, Fiorentina, with nine. They sacrifice a relatively low 12.4 shots per game, but opponents manage to score every 4.27 of those shots they take.
Roma invested even more heavily at the other end of the pitch. Three of the four attacking players named in Sunday’s match against Lazio had never played in a Rome derby before.
Those changes have paid off in contrast to the defensive revamp. Roma’s offense is the best in all of Serie A. They lead the league with 25 goals scored in the first 11 matches. Their 6.9 shots on target per match also tops the table, significantly better than the next best, Napoli, with 5.7.
Perhaps more important, however, was the fact that Garcia named four attackers to his starting XI.
The Frenchman is a 4-3-3 fundamentalist, having fielded his team in that formation almost exclusively over of his time at the club, including nine previous times this season.
The switch to a 4-2-3-1 is partially down to injuries, but it also suggests a very conscious decision on the part of Garcia, one that played out in an unexpected way.
Garcia was justified in naming a top-heavy squad.
With 18 goals conceded, Lazio have the worst defensive record of the top half of the Serie A table. They’ve conceded an identical amount of shots on target as Roma, averaging 4.27 per game in the first 11 rounds.
Lazio’s best option at centre-back, Stefan de Vrij, recently suffered a season-ending injury. If there was ever a time that Garcia would press Roma’s offensive advantage, this would be it.
Did Garcia’s attacking gambit work, though? It’s tempting to use the 2-0 scoreline as proof and emphatically answer ‘yes’. That’s not the full story.
Roma scored with their only two shots on target. Lazio also managed two shots on goal but weren’t able to convert either. Both teams hit the woodwork in the first half.
Roma managed 87 passes in Lazio’s third, and Lazio managed 85 passes in Roma’s. Possession only narrowly favored Lazio at 55-45.
Both teams averaged over 80 per cent pass success in the 11 prior games in Serie A this season. Here, Lazio and Roma managed 73 per cent and 70 per cent accuracy respectively. It was as chippy a match as you’d expect the Rome Derby to be.
All of which is to say that in every way but the scoreline, this was an even contest. Indeed, with two shots on target conceded each, this was among the least prolific performances in terms of chances by both teams so far this season.
Perhaps the lesson Garcia and Roma can take from this contest is that sometimes the best defense is an overwhelming offense. Even if Lazio kept Roma’s chances limited, they only managed to do so by sitting considerably deeper than they might have otherwise.
The metronomic passer Lucas Biglia – arguably Lazio’s most important player so far this season – was particularly occupied with his defensive responsibilities. He recorded a mere 69 successful passes in this game, among the lowest he’s managed in a season where he’s averaged 90 per game.
His five tackles were two more than his average in the previous games, a lopsided stat line that hints at just how consumed Lazio were with containing Roma.
Roma’s advantage on Sunday was in forcing Lazio to first reckon with Edin Dzeko et al before they could concentrate on their own game.
To Lazio’s credit, the strategy broadly worked – only Dzeko’s fortunate penalty decision and Gervinho’s otherworldly pace and skill separated the two sides in the end.
In doing so, however, Lazio denied themselves the chance to express the quality of their own. Garcia should take that lesson to heart as he presses on with Roma’s offensive renaissance.