In what was a tight and balanced confrontation, not particularly rich of highlight-worthy moments on either side, Roma narrowly defeated Milan by 1-0. Here is our technical analysis of the match, covering the teams’ approaches to the game, from the line-ups till the 90th minute.
Roma (3-4-1-2): Szczesny; Rudiger, Fazio, Manolas; Peres, Strootman, De Rossi, Emerson; Nainggolan; Perotti, Dzeko.
Coach: Luciano Spalletti.
Bench: Alisson, Greco, Vermaelen, Juan Jesus, Seck, Mario Rui, Spinozzi, El Shaarawy, Gerson, Iturbe.
Injured: Salah, Paredes, Florenzi, Totti, Nura.
Disqualified: Juan Jesus.
Spalletti decided to display the same eleven that won the Derby last week, his only doubt being regarding whether to start Stephan El Shaarawy, who was initially benched. Hence, the rock solid back three were confirmed, along with the newly-discovered Emerson on the left-hand side and the unmovable Dzeko up front. Spalletti’s initial doubts were swiped away 38 minutes in, when the Roma manager was forced to remove Bruno Peres. The Brazilian wingback was substituted by El Shaarawy, due to what appeared as a potentially serious leg injury (3 weeks out for Peres, according to La Gazzetta dello Sport). Hence, structurally speaking, we saw little or nothing new from the giallorossi.
Milan (4-3-3): Donnarumma; Abate, Paletta, Romagnoli, De Sciglio; Pasalic, Locatelli, Bertolacci; Suso, Lapadula, Niang.
Coach: Vincenzo Montella.
Bench: Gabriel, Plizzari, Antonelli, Vangioni, Zatana, Gomez, Ely, Poli, Mati Fernandez, Sosa, Honda, Luiz Adriano.
Injured: Montolivo, Calabria, Bonaventura, Bacca.
Milan’s back-bone was also left unaltered: the rossoneri‘s 4-3-3 is now a confirmed system and, despite the numerous absentees, Montella decided to preserve this so-far successful structure. Nonetheless, with Kucka disqualified, Bonaventura still injured and considering Sosa’s poor display against Crotone, Montella had to rearrange the midfield department. Mario Pasalic was confirmed again, serving as a physical, whilst still technically-able, midfielder. Surprisingly, Andrea Bertolacci was revived from the dead, perhaps to provide a plausible alternative to Bonaventura. Seemingly, and as the game went on to reveal, Montella tried to impose his well-known possession-based style of play. This is a pattern that has recently emerged, as the Milan manager has gradually tried to use more technical players (Sosa, Mati, Pasalic) as opposed to the more physical, disruptive midfielders (Poli, Kucka) whom he often employed at the start of the season.
Milan: not afraid to play
Milan started their game as they’ve often done this season against the big teams, and as many would’ve expected: waiting for Roma to set the rhythm, defending solidly and counter-attacking efficiently by means of either Suso or Niang.
However, as the first half progressed, Milan became palpably more confident and adopted a more relaxed approach, initiating a possession-based style of play. With the likes of Bertolacci, Pasalic and Locatelli in midfield, all predominantly technical players, Milan’s ball distribution was well-paced and elegant. Montella’s teams have been known to play with this mentality and the likelihood is that, after having built a somewhat solid foundation, the aeroplanino is now encouraging his team to play the ball on the ground, faster and more efficiently.
As far as possession goes, Milan outplayed Roma for a great part of the game, especially in the first half. No doubt, this persistent ball possession was aimed at opening gaps in Roma’s defensive line and the through-ball that that met Lapadula’s run inside the box, culminating with the penalty for Milan, is proof of this.
Nonetheless, other than in Lapadula’s case, the rossoneri’s ball distribution failed to be conclusive for most of the game. Suso, Lapadula and notably Niang didn’t particularly shine, making it difficult for Milan to create goal-scoring opportunities (Of which there were few, especially in the second-half.). Surely, if the penalty had been converted, we would be talking of an entirely different match.
Roma: technical superiority
Given Milan’s initially defensive stance, Roma’s first approach to the game was of offensive nature. Bringing forward about 5/6 men (Strikers, wingers and at least one midfielder) every time they attacked, Roma’s aim was to pressure Milan’s defence and cause them to make mistakes. Initially, this proved to be effective, with Dzeko warming up Donnarumma’s gloves a few times in the first 20 minutes and Emerson Palmieri providing many un-exploited crosses from the left-hand side.
Nonetheless, as Milan’s ball distribution improved, Roma began to suffer, especially in midfield, where the Rossoneri were often able to play around them. Consequently, long balls to Dzeko became a frequently chosen option for the giallorossi. This proved to be effective thanks to Dzeko’s outstanding ability to hold the ball and to threaten the Milan defence, even when on his own. An example of this was when he received a long ball directly from Rüdiger, and was able to beat both Paletta and Romagnoli with a chest control, then firing a precise diagonal shot which almost beat Donnarumma.
Ultimately, Roma managed to bring the game home thanks to the prowess of individuals such as Dzeko, as described, or, even more importantly, Radja Nainggolan. Nainggolan’s goal, which effectively came out of nowhere, must be attributed almost entirely to the player’s superb technical ability, as opposed to schemes and tactics. Admittedly, Romagnoli’s rushed clearance, which then resulted into Nainggolan receiving the ball, was a product of Roma’s ongoing pressing. However, Nainggolan’s touch and curved finish were what made the magic happen for Roma. After the goal, the game ended in typical fashion, with Milan understandably bringing men forward and exposing themselves and Roma responding with a series of dangerous counter-attacks, the likes of Perotti and Emerson barging forward at every Milanese mistake.
Conclusion: individuals give Roma the edge
The game was very balanced and well-fought by both teams, with both struggling to break through each other’s solid defensive lines. Milan tried ball-possession, Roma tried quick and uncontrollable attacking moves, but ultimately both approaches were inconclusive. As said, what gave Roma the edge was individuals, Radja Nainggolan in particular.
Milan’s limits under this aspect come through every time they face a big team – they can work efficiently as a unit but, especially in midfield, the quality of their players sometimes doesn’t suffice.