Eusebio Di Francesco might not be the most well-known name for football fans outside of Italy but he soon will be as he will be the man leading AS Roma in the Champions League next season. Di Francesco played for Roma in the late 90’s and early 00’s, making 129 appearances and scoring 16 goals as a central midfielder who also won 13 caps for Italy and, crucially, the Scudetto with Roma in 2001. Di Francesco has made a name for himself as a coach due to his fantastic work at Sassuolo over the last five years and now finally gets a crack at a big club. Here we take a look at his tactical philosophy at Sassuolo and what his appointment will mean at Roma.
Di Francesco has mostly used a very flexible defensive system where his 4-3-3-formation becomes 4-5-1 when defending deep. The team defends positionally when defending deep and therefore moves according to the position of the ball, their teammates and the space behind and in front. There’s little space between the lines of midfield and defence and oppositions are forced wide. When defending higher up the pitch and using a high press though, Di Francesco implements man-orientated pressing schemes. As you understand, the coach sees the value of different defensive systems and is prepared to change based on the opposition and the players at his disposal.
Below we see a video of Sassuolo’s man-orientated pressing scheme away at Juventus last year which sees them stop the effective build up of Massimiliano Allegri’s men to regain the ball.
Below is another example where the man-orientated pressing forces Juventus into a long pass which is dealt with by the centre-back Francesco Acerbi which then sees Sassuolo counterattack,
Below is an example of deep defending of Di Francesco’s men as they deny Juventus space to play through them and force them wide. Note the space between the lines which is minimal and the positions picked up when Juve look to put a cross into the box. They push their team up quickly to maintain a compact team shape.
It’s also been a regular sight to see Sassuolo apply counterpressing under Di Francesco. As soon as the ball is lost the two or three closest players quickly press the opposition’s ball-carrier, as can be seen in the two examples below.
Di Francesco has been very consistent in his use of a 4-3-3 formation which has one defensive midfielder and two attacking midfielders. Di Francesco wants his side to construct their attacking play down the sides through the wingers and the attacking full-backs or by finding the wingers in central positions where they can combine with the midfielders and the central striker.
A main part of his strategy sees rotation between players as they change positions. Below we see a few examples of the rotation between central midfielder and winger to find the winger in the half-space from where they can have a bigger effect on the team’s possession play.
The last clip is a great example of how effective this can be when it’s executed properly. The midfielder Matteo Brighi’s movement shakes off his marker and Domenico Berardi’s movement opens up the space the midfielder can attack after the quick layoff.
With a player like Berardi, but also other wingers such as Matteo Politano and Nicola Sansone, who thrives when given responsibility to create has reached impressive heights under Di Francesco who’s adapted his system to his players. Below we see an example of Sassuolo building attack where they find Berardi in the right half-space from where he assists the goal.
The movement of both wingers is extremely fluid as they find positions behind the opposition’s midfield in either half-space from where they can create chances. Below we see an example of the combination play between Berardi, Sansone and Gregoire Defrel to create an attack against AC Milan.
And below is a goal where Berardi moves inside with the ball before giving it to left winger Politano who has moved all the way across to the right half-space.
The creativity of these attackers sees Sassuolo score a lot of goals from central combination play, and in the video below you see a few of these strikes.
The main source for Sassuolo’s attacking play though is wing play. I’ve already highlighted the movement inside from the wingers to find central positions and this obviously means the flanks are vacated. The space wide is therefore filled by the attacking full-backs Di Francesco sends out. Last season he had Sime Vrsaljko as his right-back while it’s been Pol Lirola this term and on the left Federico Peluso has been almost ever-present. These full-backs have been given license to bomb on down either wing, but not simultaneously. If the right-back goes, the left-back stays to guard against a potential counterattack. The scenarios where full-backs push up down the side following the inside movement of the winger must have been rehearsed thousands of times as the movements come naturally for the players. This is a testament to Di Francesco’s work on the training ground.
Sassuolo also score quite a few goals on the counterattack, where they can quickly counter from a low block due to the movements and combination play between the front three in particular. Due to the verticality of Di Francesco’s setup, the players look for the forward pass first, which sees them try to break through the opposition as soon as the ball is won.
What does Di Francesco mean for Roma?
First of all, Roma will get a dedicated coach who will implement a methodical system where movement off the ball and rotation between players and positions will be vitally important. If he intends to use the same 4-3-3 shape at Roma as he has with Sassuolo, full-backs Bruno Peres and Emerson will be perfect for the roles Di Francesco wants his full-backs to fulfil. Daniele De Rossi will be a perfect anchor while Radja Nainggolan and Kevin Strootman should enjoy the more attacking midfield positions. Edin Dzeko fits the bill as Di Francesco’s striker and it will be interesting to see how Diego Perotti and Stephan El Shaarawy can adapt to the freedom of being a Di Francesco-winger. It’s rumoured that Di Francesco will bring supertalent Lorenzo Pellegrini and winger Matteo Politano with him to the Olimpico and both makes sense given both players joined Sassuolo from Roma. Pellegrini in particular is ready to shine at a bigger club, and what better way to do this than following with the coach who’s already shown his trust in him?
With new sporting director Monchi also settling into his new club, we can expect quite a few transfers too. With a new coach, sporting director, some new players and a new style AS Roma will be exciting to follow next season. Eusebio Di Francesco still has a lot to prove since his never worked in a big club, but he might turn out to be a perfect coach for this new Roma. The passionate fans hopes he becomes the first coach since Fabio Capello to bring the Scudetto to Rome, just like the one he helped clinch as a player in 2001.