De Rossi discovering new Roma identity as back three backfires

It says a lot about Roma’s transformation under Daniele De Rossi that the team look utterly uncomfortable playing in a formation close to the one they have used for around the past four years.

One of the first major changes De Rossi implemented after replacing Jose Mourinho as head coach was to set up Roma with a back four, rather than a back three, although there could be some fluidity between the two in various phases of play.

However, within De Rossi’s first 11 matches in charge, Roma have started with a back three on two occasions: once to get Chris Smalling back into the starting lineup against Torino, and once to soak up the threat of Fiorentina.

Aside from the 4-2 loss to runaway Serie A leaders Inter, those also happen to be the only two games of De Rossi’s reign in which Roma have conceded twice. Individual defensive mistakes have seeped back in.

Most recently, against Fiorentina, there was a sudden realisation that the back three wasn’t working. At half-time, 1-0 down, De Rossi reshuffled his troops into a back four, putting Dean Huijsen at right-back and moving Angelino back over to left-back after an unusual start at right wing-back.

In a complicated game, the second half saw highs and lows for Roma, but Diego Llorente’s stoppage-time volley ensured they came out of it with a draw. The unbeaten run extended to seven games in all competitions.

For Roma to maintain their momentum, with games against Brighton and Sassuolo remaining before the March international break, an avoidance of a back three seems to be in their best interests now.

How ironic, then, that Mourinho regularly insisted the squad had been built to play with that setup and they couldn’t function otherwise. Would his Roma rollercoaster have ended differently if he had tried out a back four?

Even before Mourinho, Paulo Fonseca took too long at the end of his final season to realise Roma needed to abandon the back three that had brought them some stability and revert to his originally preferred 4-2-3-1.

That is not to say that Roma have always struggled with a back three over the past five years. There have been some highlights with that shape. But even if De Rossi decides to stick with a back four from here on out, it might still require some tactical investigating into what was going wrong with the back three.

De Rossi is building a Roma team that will aim to get the best out of his players. If he gets the chance to stay as manager into next season, it will be interesting to see how Roma construct their squad to suit a new system. Adding more wingers would be a start, even if it has been easier than expected to fill those positions.

But it is credit to De Rossi’s perception, even if it was an error in the first place of how Roma set up against Fiorentina, that he has noticed when his formation needs to adapt.

4-3-3 it should be, then, for the rest of De Rossi’s debut season in the dugout – and it seems he knows it. Obviously, if he needs to adjust within games, he will need to, but Roma have inherited a new identity away from the back three and it seems to have them looking up again.

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