Our columnist looks at a notable shift in tactical style on Thursday, as Paulo Fonseca saw his side deliver a first win of 2020 in the process...
Roma brushed aside Parma 2-0 in the Coppa Italia on Thursday evening. In what was an extremely impressive road performance at the Stadio Ennio Tardini, Roma's display was finally rewarded when Lorenzo Pellegrini's second half double secured the victory.
Even though Roma are suffering an injury crisis, it was encouraging to see how the team stepped up to get the job done, with the collective effort being very strong indeed.
Moreover, it was pleasing to see Nikola Kalinic, Cengiz Under and Bryan Cristante, who've all had interrupted campaigns, produce encouraging performances.
Paulo Fonseca's tactical tweak was arguably the most fascinating aspect of the match, however, as he moved away from his customary 4-2-3-1 and opted for a fluid, three at the back formation, which took on many permutations, including a 3-1-4-2, 5-3-2 and 3-3-3-1.
Judging on the result and the all-round display, Fonseca was vindicated for his bold tactical selection, which notably saw Cristante - who few might have expected to do such a job - slot in at centre-back and Cengiz Under and Diego Perotti enjoy flexible attacking midfield roles.
Building up with the three central defenders and Amadou Diawara providing nearby support, this allowed them to stretch Parma's first line and gain a 4v3 numerical superiority.
The wing backs would stay wide to provide the width to offer an option for switches while the buzzing midfielders in Pellegrini, Under and Perotti would help by either dropping deep, supporting wide attacks or getting close to striker Kalinic.
Looking very dangerous going forward, this animation catered brilliantly to Pellegrini, Cengiz and Perotti's skill sets, who offer a great blend of creativity, ball carrying, smart movement and running power.
Granted the freedom to frequently switch positions and strategically push centrally or wider to manufacture overloads, Parma found it very tough to keep tabs on them. In addition, the way they rotated with each other, Kalinic and the wing backs only compounded issues.
Forever opening passing lanes and producing space within the final third, they showed a super understanding throughout.
This subsequently meant they exploited the channels between full back and centre back nicely, took up ideal positions in between the lines and ran in behind smartly when the opportunity arose.
The cue for the latter was when Kalinic would drop towards the ball, which usually saw Perotti or Pellegrini then maraud forward.
As a result, Roma constantly stretched the Parma rearguard and occupied the last line, something that not only maintained depth but also prevented Parma from stepping out to close down players in the 10 spaces.
It also warrants mention how much Roma's central occupation and ball near presence allowed them to counterpress quickly once they lost possession - with, this, in combination with their high line, shutting down so many Parma counter attacks.
In fact, their solid pressure after Aleksandar Kolarov turned the ball over to then recover it was the catalyst for Roma winning their penalty that was expertly slotted home by Pellegrini.
Due to Roma frequently populating one side of the field, which saw them positioned within close proximity to combine quickly to move Parma's block, this had the added upside of leaving the far side open for switches of play.
Knowing the Gialloblu would shift to the ball side, this meant Roma could quickly find the full-back on the underloaded opposite side so they could take advantage of the acres of space available.
Indeed, there were many occasions when Kolarov, Alessandro Florenzi or one of the midfielders were spotted making clever blindside runs into the box or were isolated 1v1 against their man.
Another important factor from their attacking phases came from how Chris Smalling and Gianluca Mancini would venture forward to join in attacks.
Be it using their ball carrying or surging runs, this gave Roma another number in attack, which either provoked a pressing action to free up a colleague or placed doubt in the minds of defenders on who should mark who. Adding another dimension to possession play and successfully manipulating their adversaries' shape, Fonseca implemented this method wisely to give Roma an additional edge.
Kalinic's body of work deserves a mention, for the Croatian definitely put in his best display in a Roma shirt. Leading the line with aplomb, he linked play smartly, held the ball up competently with his back to goal and dovetailed smoothly with his colleagues. Although he couldn't get on the scoresheet, his beautiful one touch layoff assist for Pellegrini's opener was a fine reward for his efforts.
"I enjoyed (Nikola) Kalinic's display. I thought he was fantastic and the best player on the park," a delighted Fonseca gleamed afterwards.
Meanwhile, Roma's tactically sophisticated manager then went on to speak on his team's overall performance, which he was clearly happy with.
"It was the first time that we played like that, with Cristante at centre-back. I liked the way we started to build up the play," he said.
"With a back three, we controlled Parma's counterattacks and attempts to get in behind, which they're always dangerous from. Bryan gave us extra quality when building the play. I liked our formation. I don't know if we'll play like that again, but it's certainly an option."
While it's unsure if he'll deploy this system moving forward, there was certainly much evidence of how effective it can be, especially when Roma are going forward.
Either way it gives Roma another valuable option and layer of unpredictability, as this match also demonstrated how Fonseca continues to get the best out of his players and what a masterful managerial appointed he was by the club in the summer.