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Home   /   Why do Roma struggle against top Serie A teams?

Despite featuring in the top four between Matchday 12 and Matchday 23, Roma have never looked like serious candidates to win the Scudetto. Their most recent defeat against AC Milan has cancelled all hopes, now sending them into the Europa League places. 

With third and seventh only separated by three points, winning head-to-head games can be crucial to gain important points, as well as defining the standings should teams finish with the same amount (Italy uses the head-to-head system). 

In this respect, Roma have appeared to have huge struggles, collecting fewer points than Spezia against the top teams. If we were to take into account games between the top seven teams, also known as “The seven sisters”, Roma would currently feature in last place, having failed to win a single match. 

TeamGames playedGFGAPoints
Inter814715
Atalanta8191314
Milan8141713
Juventus7989
Napoli712119
Lazio814138
Roma89223

Should we expand further, Roma have also lost against eighth-placed Sassuolo and collected three points out of six against Hellas Verona.

What saved them was a perfect score against every other team up until last week, where Filippo Inzaghi’s Benevento became the first team below the top nine to steal points off the Giallorossi.

In essence, Roma have collected 37 out of 39 points in “small games”, that being the most out of everyone, but only six out of 33 in “big games”. 

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Where do these struggles originate and how can a team have such form difference? 

Paulo Fonseca plays with a 3-4-2-1, usually featuring Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Lorenzo Pellegrini as supporting strikers, plus youngster Gonzalo Villar and Jordan Veretout in midfield. 

This season there hasn’t been a firm striker, with both Edin Dzeko and Borja Mayoral playing 18 games each. Dzeko particularly isn’t living a great season. He spent most of January out of the team after disagreements with Fonseca, who also stripped him of the armband and is now injured following the Europa League game with Braga. 

Even if Dzeko only once scored more than 16 goals in six Serie A seasons at Roma, Roma’s game has always been centred around him. His strength and utility at keeping the ball and finding his teammates has allowed the Giallorossi to be dangerous with any player.

Last season, Mkhitaryan, Aleksandr Kolarov, Nicolo Zaniolo and Veretout all scored more than six goals, with Dzeko getting 11 assists. 

In 2018/19, Dzeko’s seven assists contributed to Stephan El Shaarawy’s 11 goals and Aleksandar Kolarov’s eight. With the Bosniac now on the edge of being 35 and having and out-of-form season, it’s no surprise Roma can struggle. 

Mayoral is a different type of player, more dynamic and similar to the likes of Pedro, Mkhitaryan or El Shaarawy. The absence of a target man at the front can be a struggle against top teams that press you high and force you to kick the ball long. 

Examples in the most recent game against Milan were evident, as Milan’s high press forced Roma to give the ball away, also conceding a goal this way. 

Although Veretout has scored an incredible 10 goals, of which five are penalties, with Mkhytarian also having nine, relying too much on them is problematic. Veretout especially, has other responsibilities and Mkhytarian is not a poacher who attacks the penalty box.

They can take opponents by surprise with midfielders scoring goals, but against organised defences, this isn’t the case. Despite having the third-best attack, they have the worst in head-to-head games. 

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Roma’s dynamism at the front is an important asset against bottom teams, which is evident as Roma have scored 48 goals this season. However, playing too many creative players can be an issue when defending and this resulted in 37 goals conceded.

That’s five more than Lazio and six more than Atalanta (The likes of Inter and Juventus have conceded 24 and 20 respectively). 

Clearly, a team that concedes so many goals can hardly go far and against stronger attacks and it’s no surprise they struggle in big matches. 

Roma’s most used centre-backs have been 22-year-old Roger Ibanez and 24-year-old Gianluca Mancini, with centre-midfielder Bryan Cristante having to feature multiple times as third centre-back given the absences of Marash Kumbulla and Chris Smalling. 

With Brazilian Juan Jesus out of the team, Fonseca has also needed to recall Federico Fazio, who has looked all but sharp against Milan and even gave away a penalty. 

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Where are the issues originating? 

Inexperience can be a massive factor that can be attributed to Ibanez and Kumbulla, plus to Cristante for stepping in another role. However, Roma’s greatest disappointment has to be Smalling.

The defender was finally taken off Manchester United on the last day of transfers and was coming off a great season in 2019/20. He has been hugely disappointing, only claiming two clean sheets in 12 games and appearing out of place most of the times. 

Quality in goal is also far from ideal. 37-year-old Antonio Mirante joined to be second goalkeeper but found himself starting giving Pau Lopez’s unreliability.

He offered decent performances, but at 37 and after playing most of his career for Sampdoria, Parma and Bologna, Roma probably need a world-class goalkeeper. 

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If we take into account the top seven, Roma are the team that has the most goals conceded from defensive errors. In fact, mistakes when playing out from the back, or defensive woes are common.

Even Milan’s second goal on Sunday started from Pau Lopez giving the ball away, as the goalkeeper had also been unpunished from a similar first-half mistake. 

TeamErrors leading to shot (not including goals)Errors leading to goal 
Roma97
Napoli74
Lazio43
Milan33
Inter22
Juventus90
Atalanta50

Scoring with ease can mean that against bottom teams Roma can still collect points, but defensive errors are more costly against teams that can punish you. 

In conclusion, Roma play too much of an offensive style of play, but the absence of a target man makes it inefficient against top teams.

There is the basis of a strong team, particularly going forward, with Mkhitaryan and Veretout having tremendous seasons. But the lack of balance between defence and attack is hampering their campaign.

Finishing in the top four and gaining access in the Champions League can be huge and would help Roma to progress forward. A third consecutive season in the Europa League might mean that next season has a high chance of proving similar to this one. 

For more of Edoardo’s work click here.

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