Roma boss Eusebio Di Francesco: From mastermind manager to tactical lunacyby Chloe Beresford / 25 April 2018, 14:59Tweet
When Roma full-back Aleksandar Kolarov stung the upright with a thunderous shot early on versus Liverpool in the Champions League, it appeared - for a brief moment at least - that the Serie A outfit had a chance at Anfield.
Yet the very fact the former Manchester City man was so high up the pitch would prove to be their undoing as the pacy Reds side began to demolish their opponents.
The potency of their attack was stunning to all who witnessed it, and the Merseysiders could’ve easily been four or five goals up by the break if it wasn’t for some woeful finishing by Sadio Mane. Man-of-the-moment Mohamed Salah had still already scored twice however, and it was clear that Roma boss Eusebio Di Francesco had made a big error with his choice of tactics and formation.
After having revealed he stayed up until 5am to work on a change of shape in order to mount that incredible comeback versus Barcelona, the Italian Coach opted for the same 3-4-1-2 which had been so effective at containing the likes of Lionel Messi as the Giallorossi won 3-0 that night.
However it was patently obvious from the get-go that a back three was clearly not enough to contain the Liverpool forward line, the tactician immediately switching from looking like a genius to appearing extremely naive.
With Kolarov and Alessandro Florenzi deployed higher up the pitch as part of the midfield four rather than creating a back five, the hapless centre backs were left three-on-three to cope with Liverpool’s dynamic forward trio. Such a high line was clearly suicidal as the Reds romped to a 5-0 lead by the 68th minute of the match, Roma crying out for a back four in order that there was a dedicated defender to mark Salah and a spare man to mop up afterwards.
The irony here is that the Giallorossi boss is a firm believer in the 4-3-3, a formation that would’ve served his side much better in this encounter. In fairness to the boss, he had been criticised for tactical inflexibility earlier in the campaign, and set out to prove he did have more than one trick up his sleeve, a move that certainly worked versus Barca.
In his first ever season in the Champions League, it is understandable that he would be found out by the vastly more experienced Klopp in a semi-final tie. But the fact that is nagging away remains that the error he committed seemed to be a simple one – and one that could have been avoided – while he also failed to admit his mistake in the post-match press conference.
“We had that system in the first 20 minutes, when it was very even, so that wasn’t the issue,” assured the boss when questioned about having deployed a back three. “We continued to lose every one-on-one situation and give the ball away very cheaply.
“Their attacking moves almost all happened when we lost the ball. If they allowed us some three against three moves, it means we have the quality. Our centre-backs were caught when they should’ve turned and blocked. Losing all these duels showed we were a little below Liverpool in terms of physicality and pace.”
While Roma are clearly below Liverpool in terms of quality in the side, to shift the blame onto his players like this seems a very odd move indeed. His formation left those three centre-backs exposed, and Di Francesco should’ve been man enough to admit it.
Two goals from the Giallorossi inevitably sparked talk of a comeback in the second leg as – just like against Barcelona – a 3-0 victory in Rome would be enough for the capital club to reach the final. However, Liverpool are unlikely to play in the same nervy and cautious manner that the Blaugrana did, and it’s difficult to see that history could repeat itself next week.
Di Francesco noted in his comments that he absolutely believes his side can overcome the scoreline once again, but in order to stand any chance of doing so he must take a long, hard look at himself in the mirror and acknowledge that he got it badly wrong in the first leg.
Roma's Eusebio Di Francesco after their 5-2 defeat to Liverpool: 'It's not over and that's something we've proved in the past. Those who don't believe should stay at home' pic.twitter.com/ssFMSb6B8e— Guardian sport (@guardian_sport) April 25, 2018