José Mourinho is on the way of winning two European trophy in a low. Last season, it was the UEFA Conference League, but this season it is the UEFA Europa League. The expectation is high because everybody knows he is excellent at winning the final in cup competitions. On the other hand, he is not good in a league, but it is also his strategy. Last time when he won the Europa League with Manchester United, he gave up securing the Champions League qualification by finishing top four in the league. This can be the motivation for them to win the Europa League and qualify the Champions League. Additionally, it was also possible to rest some key players by avoiding playing twice in a week. This is same with Roma this season. They have not won a single game in recent seven league games at the moment. Instead, their focus has been on the Europa League probably after qualifying the knockout round. Of course, his football itself is also suitable for cup games. The ability of avoiding conceding goals is extremely important in cup games. Let’s have a look at his tactics in detail.
Keeping the ball at the back to find a right moment to play through is not his way. Usually, this strategy provides planned chances, but in return, risks conceding counterattacks by losing the ball at the back. He hates it because there is a risk. Thus, his idea in possession is nice and simple. Playing over and attacking the opposition back line is his way.
Even though Roma are willing to play over from goal kicks, it is not every time. When the goalkeeper plays short, they are trying to play away from pressure and play in behind. In this case, the middle centre back, usually Chris Smalling position himself next to the defensive midfielder Nemanja Matić while the wide centre backs and wingbacks drop deeper to be away from pressure. Then, they play around and the opposition team often targets at the wingbacks, so they will play long first-time.
They hardly play through in the middle, but Bryan Cristante often offers a passing lane by dropping back. On the other hand, Lorenzo Pellegrini, Edoardo Bove or Georginio Wijnaldum prefer to position themself higher. These asymmetrical attacking midfielders are also one of the characteristics in playing out from the back. Additionally, Paulo Dybala, who plays as one of the strikers, often drops back to offer a passing lane in the middle unlike other strikers.
In the midfield, Matić controls the possession by dropping into the back line and facing forward. Like the build up from the back, they play long as soon as finding an option up front. It is often Matić or wingbacks to play long and strikers or one of the attacking midfielders such as Pellegrini or Wijnaldum makes a run in behind. Additionally, both Andrea Belotti and Tammy Abraham are capable of holding up or running in behind diagonally, so they are the key players to progress the ball into the final third.
Their job is massively important because due to the lack of support, they need to work in tough situations. If a team tries to play short and break lines one by one, attackers can have time and space provided by their midfielders. However, Mourinho’s team do not do it. So, Belotti and Abraham need to solve the situation by themselves, and they can do it.
Final Third Attacking
Most of all chances for AS Roma come from counterattacks, or fast attack after playing over. The first key players are the strikers as it was mentioned, but the second most vital players are both wingbacks. This is a classic role for wingbacks though, they are required to run up and down to create overloads both in possession and out of possession. Especially in final third attacking, their job is running in behind in wide areas and delivering crosses.
The left wingback Leonard Spinazzola is great at dribbling as well, so he can play a role as a winger and is a valuable player in the final third. Additionally, another important player is Pellegrini, who often plays last through passes in between the lines and arrives at the box for cutbacks.
Overall, their chances come from counterattacks or fast attacks and if they can find Pellegrini in between the lines or get many players in the box for crosses, they are likely to score, even though they will not create many chances in a game.
Out of Possession
Their biggest strength is the solid defending, but it is not about pressing high aggressively, instead, it is extremely passive way to defend. They try to press high, but in many cases, as the quality of the opponent increases, their pressing has been easily bypassed. However, Mourinho will not care about that. This is because good pressing will create chances of short counterattacks, but it does not help to defend the goal. Moreover, by increasing the number of players who step up to press, the back line will be fragile. His philosophy of out of possession is avoiding conceding goals.
Their pressing structure usually consists of two strikers, three midfielders and five defenders. Two strikers apply pressure from the inside to the outside and force the opposition centre backs to play wide areas. Then, other players find a man to mark in the ball side and they will follow their markers when they move as the pressing is highly man oriented. This requires individual strength on the duels and Roma’s players basically have the ability especially Smalling or Matić in the middle in both winning the tackles or intercepting a pass.
However, as it was mentioned, the pressing is often beaten easily by being switched the ball. In that case, they will retreat quickly and prevent them from playing through the back line. As the first pressure is horizontally towards the outside, if the opposition players can find a spare player in the opposite side, the opposite side wingback often hesitate to step up to take a risk.
Failing to press high does not mean anything for Mourinho. More important thing is defending the goal. So how to be solid defensive block is going to be explained.
Final Third Defending
First of all, there are three centre backs and three midfielders in the middle. The space in the middle is too tight to exploit. Additionally, like pressing, their defending is highly man oriented, so if the opposition attacker tries to receive a split pass, Roma’s defender will jump to apply pressure on the opponent on the ball to prevent him from turning forward.
Secondly, when one of the defenders steps up to apply pressure on the ball, it is so smooth for one of the midfielders to drop back to fill the vacated space or the ball side wingback to cover the space in the back line.
This makes it possible to keep applying pressure on the ball and covering the space in the middle effectively. Additionally, in the second leg of the semi-final against Leverkusen, they were in the situation that if they did not concede any goals, they could qualify to the final. In that game, not only midfielders or defenders, both strikers worked closely to the defensive block and focused on screening the passing lane to the opposition defensive midfielders.
It is unsure whether the strikers will behave like this in the final, but this is the hardest defensive plan for Mourinho.
So far, everything is going well for Mourinho. They intentionally failed to qualify for the UCL in the league, so their focus is only on this final. The key thing for them is not conceding a goal first and exploiting the channels as the fullbacks of Sevilla would position themselves higher up the pitch. Let’s enjoy his classic plan in the final. Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed this.