AS Roma 0-2 Real Madrid : Tactical review

Against la Roma, Zinedine Zidane might have realized the gap still existing between him and great coaches. Facing a veteran, the « young » Zizou remained powerless, observing his Real Madrid stuck in front of a very well organized team.

It took a lightning from Ronaldo (57th) to unlock the game, before Jesé frees his teammates on a second solitary action in the end of the game. Real did the job and is almost qualified for quarter finals… but the team is still far away from pretending winning the Champion’s League.

Line-ups :

With Bale’s absence, James and Isco both started the game. The Columbian transformed the BBC in a BJC and Isco took place in the midfield, along Modric and Kroos.

On the Roman side, Spalleti changed nothing of his old habits : he lined up a 4-3-3 without real center-forward (Perotti) and with two very pacey wingers (Salah, El-Shaarawy). Mission : sit back, wait for Real Madrid and trap them by playing behind their full-backs.

AS Rome vs Real Madrid - Football tactics and formations

Roma’s tactics :

A game needs two teams, and if Real had difficulties for almost an hour, it is also due to the game plan set up by Luciano Spalletti.

Defensively, Roma disturbed Real Madrid on all of its passings. Without pressing all over the field, which could have been dangerous facing such skilled players, the rule was to break short passing from the Spanish team. It required not to give enough space to players such as Kroos, Modric or Ramos, that could then have played long balls towards Ronaldo or Benzema.

When Real was getting out of its defensive third, Roma was then with Perotti as a center-forward on the center circle. Varane and Ramos were left without pressure, the center-forward focusing on Toni Kroos. Behind him, his partners were tracking their direct opponents (Pjanic-Isco, Nainggolan-Modric but also Ronaldo-Florenzi).


Facing such a density in the heart of the game, it is difficult for Real Madrid to find solutions in the center.

Well positioned, Roma didn’t gave much opportunities to Real Madrid to play forward. Real Madrid’s play mostly went through the wings, with long passes along the touch line or transversals in order to bypass the opponent’s block.

Roma was expecting only one thing : let the game go back in the center to close down the carrier and get back the ball. Then, in possession, Romans were eager for a counter-attack with Salah or El-Shaarawy on the wings. Even Real Madrid’s set-pieces were an opportunity to launch a counter attack.

Real Madrid’s lack of movement and initiatives

Facing such a well-organized team, Real wanted to keep possession. Modric, Isco and even Ronaldo or James got back in the midfield many times to provide solutions to their three passers (Kroos, Ramos, Varane) and then go on moving with the ball. But the main problem is that multiplying fixation points has no great interest without movement.

The other problem for Real Madrid, on build-up, was the lack of initiatives of Raphael Varane. Very often, the French was the most free player, but he refused attacking the space He played most of his passes to Carvajal (12 passes in the first-half). A shyness that can surprise because he found Ronaldo in the Roman’s side on his first and only attempt to play forward (long through ball, 32nd).


Real created space on the right side. Varane has to use it.


But the French takes no risks and plays on the side, on Carvajal, erasing the free space existing at first.

Real Madrid suffered also the lack of projection of its midfielders at the start of the game. When the game was going on the wings around Carvajal-James or Marcelo-Ronaldo, these duos were very quickly without solutions other than individual skills to get out of it (Ronaldo-Marcelo, 32nd).

Supposed to accompany them and provide solutions in the center of the game, Modric and Isco were very discreet on these sequences. This lack of movements eased the Giallorossi’s task : they only had to deal with Benzema’s run in their defensive third.


Ronaldo runs on the left side, but is not an actual threat : there are no support around him.

Madrid’s side had to use free-kicks and throw-ins to tighten the distances between them and provide solutions in small spaces. These sequences were the perfect way to remind that they are part of the elite on a technical point of view.

Minutes after minutes, Isco and Modric took more initiatives and combined with the players on the wings. Always in support of these actions, Kroos brought his passing skills to exploit spaces which were created or take the game on the opposite side.

Nothing spectacular however, Romans were rarely out of position. On the 7 attempts of Real Madrid, on the first half, only 4 took place in the center of the game (all off target).


When Isco goes on the left, it creates more space for Marcelo and Ronaldo.


With his run, the midfielder took Pjanic with him, opening space for Marcelo.


Marcelo plays on Ronaldo, along the sideline.


The Portuguese is now in a 1 on 1 facing a Roman full back and has three solutions around the danger zone.

Real Madrid : failing at getting the ball back

Against a team well-organized in its half, pressing can become a very important weapon : if you use it well, you can get the ball back higher on the pitch, increasing chances to face a then disorganized team.

The lack of forward projection from the midfielders firstly limited the efficiency of the pressing when losing the ball. If there are few solutions around the ball’s carrier, there is also little pressure on the opponents in the seconds after losing the ball.

Only El-Shaarawy naiveness putted Roma in difficulty (ball lost facing James). One stat to illustrate it : even though there was a clear domination, Real Madrid didn’t realized more defensive actions than Roma in the opponent’s side.

In its defensive structure as well, Real showed its limits. Since his first match against Deportivo La Corogne, Zidane confirmed his « filiation » with Carlo Ancelotti using the same system as when they won La Decima : 4-3-3 when attacking, 4-4-2 when defending.

More details (in French) : Real Madrid 5-0 Deportivo la Corogne, l’analyse de la première de Zidane


On the opponent’s side, Real Madrid plays in 4-3-3 / 4-5-1.


On their side, James reaches the midfielders and they form a 4-4-2.

The problem is that Madrid’s forwards had no defensive presence (except for the 1st minute…). And against Roma’s first passes, Real Madrid do not have Di Maria’s activity in the midfield to put pressure and shepherd the opponent’s midfielders.

Among the 3 midfielders, Kroos seemed to be the only one able to harass the opponent’s with efficiency. However, his n°6 position doesn’t fit such movements. More troublesome, even when he ran for the ball, he was rarely helped by his teammates.

Real Madrid repeated many times there one-man-pressing sequences throughout the game and that didn’t really disturbed Roma. It is the core problem, already seen on construction phases : one player is active, the others are witnesses.


Kroos presses, but nobody’s helping him : 1 vs 2, he can’t do much.

But all those problems were hidden by the performances of Ramos and Varane. The central defenders played very well. Sergio Ramos realized a world class game. Out of 35 tackles made by Real Madrid, he made 11 (10 successful), intercepted 2 balls, made 4 counters and 4 clearances. Those figures reveal how much he was exposed.

With Ramos-Varane, that did a superb save against Salah in second half (71st) – not to mention Pepe -, Real Madrid owns a core defense that is absolutely able to support a team determined to get back the ball higher on the pitch. The problem lies in front and in the midfield : the two lines aren’t well coordinated and don’t make enough efforts to realize an efficient pressing.


Kroos and Isco are pressing, but they get eliminated.
Even though the situation is critical, Ramos gets in between and gets the ball back.

Talent before tactics ?

Ronaldo’s goal (57th) hid all those problems and unlocked the game. After this, Roma couldn’t just contain Real Madrid’s attacking phases : they now had to to get the ball back. This agressivity boost on the Italian side eased Real Madrid’s job. Modric became more available in the midfield, creating spaces for James in the opponent’s half.

The match’s rythm increased in the last 30 minutes : the occasion to see more opportunities from Real Madrid on quick attacks… and a lack of accuracy in these sequences. Combined to collective difficulties to get the ball back, this showed a team inspired by the one from the Decima, but still far away from this model.

Apart from the link between Zidane and Carlo, that can even be made in the management, we also feel a strong will from Zidane to have possession : to the point his team sometimes refuse to take opportunities to move foward more quickly (end of the game).

Credits to Pierre Marionneau for the translation.
Original link here : AS Rome 0-2 Real Madrid : les chantiers tactiques de Zidane

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