Roma defeated Udinese 4-0 in the opening round of 2016-17 Serie A fixtures, with two goals coming from Diego Perotti (both penalties) and one each from Edin Dzeko and Mohamed Salah.
Roma (4-3-3): Wojciech Szczesny; Bruno Peres, Kostas Manolas, Thomas Vermaelen, Emerson; Radja Nainggolan, Leandro Paredes, Kevin Strootman; Mohamed Salah, Edin Dzeko, Stephan El Shaarawy
Udinese (3-5-1-1): Orestis Karnezis; Thomas Heurtaux, Danilo, Samir; Silvan Widmer, Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, Seko Fofana, Emil Hallfredsson, Ali Adnan; Rodrigo De Paul; Duvan Zapata
Udinese operated a middle press with man-orientated defensive movements and marking. They maintained a strong central presence through Badu, Fofana and Hallfredsson, while De Paul tended to drop back to mark Paredes after forming the first line of pressure with Zapata.
In the first half, Roma’s midfield spacing was often too far apart, with large distances between Paredes, Strootman and Nainggolan. This made it hard for the trio to form central connections, harming the quality of Roma’s possession in the middle third. This problem was particularly evident in Nainggolan’s positioning, as he would often move into the final third, beyond the Udinese midfield line, too early and subsequently fail to offer a viable passing lane. These spacing issues also made Roma more vulnerable in defensive transitions, as due to the lack of connections there were not enough safeguards around the ball in possession and the area through which Udinese could counter-attack was great.
In the defensive phase, Udinese’s defensive line became a compact oscillating back five. The ball-near wing-back would move out to challenge the Roma ball-player in the wide area, while the ball-far wing-back would tuck in. This setup made it difficult initially for Roma to find central space in the final third, pushing many of their attacks wide.
Roma’s wide forwards, Salah and El Shaarawy, practised different movements and positionings in order to try and isolate Dzeko. They would occasionally hold a very wide position to try and stretch the Udinese back three, which became a back five in the defensive phase. Otherwise, they would drop deep in the relevant half-space with the aim of dragging the near Udinese outside centre-back with them and creating space for Dzeko to attack in the channels.
In the second half, Strootman occupied a slightly deeper space to the right of Paredes in the possession phase. Roma’s shape became more of a 4-2-3-1. This alteration enabled smoother retention of ball possession, if not easier ball progression, as it improved the spacing and ensured an inward pass to both full-backs, Peres and Emerson.