Four Things We Learned: Di Francesco cracks Sampdoria's code
Illustration by Vinnotsaurus (@vinnot86)

Roma brushed aside a usually excellent Sampdoria side in style at the Stadio Olimpico on Sunday afternoon. Our columnist looks at four key points from the contest...

Statement win to head into international break

Courtesy of their brilliant 4-1 win over Sampdoria, Roma head into the international break on a high. Putting in a performance to match the emphatic scoreline, there was so much positivity to be extracted from this victory. Roma passed the ball with conviction, defended authoritatively and there were many strong displays across the board.

Seeing Bryan Cristante, Patrik Schick and Stephan El Shaarawy prove their worth to Eusebio Di Francesco, in combination with how Justin Kluivert, Steven Nzonzi and Juan Jesus continue to impress, the Roma boss was rightfully delighted.

"We’ve found our balance and we’ve assimilated certain concepts," the coach said afterwards. 

"The boys prepared for today’s game very well indeed. We were up against a very aggressive side and, with a simple passing game, we managed to move them around the pitch. That’s what made the difference today."

He added: "We’re improving. If your physical and technical performance is not married with a psychological edge, then it’s worthless. I’m chopping and changing things, so as to achieve greater balance, particularly from a mental point of view."

El Shaarawy excels

Heading into the game, Di Francesco spoke of how he'd love to see El Shaarawy improve his consistency and stamp his mark in this match. And thanks to his polished, multifaceted showing, the 26-year-old did precisely that on his way to bagging a brace.

A menace throughout, the livewire on the left wing was instrumental in so many aspects. To start with, his dropping and lateral moves to support build-up on his side gave his team vital options to move upfield. A notable byproduct of this then came from his man tracking him deep or wide, which then generated room for Schick to target his runs into the vacant spaces.

El Shaarawy's wonderful movement, that was highlighted by his incisive rotations with Lorenzo Pellegrini and Aleksandar Kolarov, plus through his masterful blindside movement and runs in behind, was also crucial towards his productive afternoon. This component of his game duly aided him in the lead up to both of his goals, as evidenced in the graphics below.

Press mechanics effective

Roma implemented their manager's thoughtfully devised high pressing structure wonderfully, as they made life very difficult for Samp to pass out from the back.

Playing against Marco Giampaolo's side who love to pass out from the back and unlock their opposition with fast combinations and their central focus, Roma ensured they couldn't fully hit their stride here.

It was interesting to observe when Samp's two central defenders were positioned narrow in their build-up, Pellegrini and Schick would be oriented towards them while maintaining access to holding midfielder, Ronaldo Vieira. But if the centre-halves split wider, this acted as the cue for Vieira to drop in between them, with this triggering Nzonzi to step up and track Vieira. The Roma wingers would then be in intermediate positions, so they could press either the fullback or the ball near central midfielder.

If the Roma winger then pressed the opposing fullback, Roma's other central midfielder, Cristante, would then mark the nearby Samp central mid, while the furthest winger, El Shaarawy in the graphic, pushed centrally to mark the ball-far Samp mid to maintain compactness.

Getting these mechanics spot on for the most part, Di Francesco deserved immense credit for how fruitfully he managed to limit one of the premier passing teams in Serie A via his astute variations and planning.

Break through in build-up

When it came to the Giallorossi's passing out from the back, Roma's incisive movement and sharp ball playing allowed them to manipulate and unsettle the Blucerchiati stopping setup.

Seeing as Samp's front three tracked Roma's two centre-backs and Nzonzi, then had their midfielders in mixed positions in anticipation ready to choose whether to harry Roma's centre mids of fullbacks, Roma persistently progressed by manipulating the Samp midfielders.

As can be seen in the example below, Kolarov is able to receive freely as Dennis Praet jumps to press Nzonzi, thus leaving Kolarov free. What's more, the way the Roma wingers pinned their adversaries was also key, for this deterred them from charging forward to press, as they didn't want to risk leaving their man unattended.

The underneath images then displayed how when the Samp central midfielder pressed the fullback, this would open up one of Roma's central defensive midfielders as a free man.

Thoughtful, calculated and executed accurately, this was one of Roma's finest exhibitions of passing out from the back this season, as Di Francesco's philosophy is really beginning to resonate with his new signings and the whole squad in general.


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