Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

Bologna rotate to free Calafiori

Bologna’s rotations are unique. Defender Riccardo Calafiori likes to carry forward, and Roma knew this; they closed him down. To deter Roma from pressing Calafiori, they rotated midfielders out with defenders in an unpredictable way. And it worked.

Figure 1.1 - Riccardo Calafiori is closed down.
Figure 1.2 - Roma win the ball.
Figure 2.1 - Riccardo Calafiori is closed down.

Roma gave Calafiori a lot of space to receive initially, before the pass, when the goalkeeper or Lucumi had the ball, but the pressing trigger was the pass into Calafiori. They forced Calafiori into a mistake early in the game from this pressure.

Bologna had to free Calafiori and open that space wide.

Figure 3.1 - Bologna prepare to move when Roma pressure Riccardo Calafiori.
Figure 3.2 - Bologna's finished movement when Riccardo Calafiori is closed down. He is forced to pass back.

Their first attempt was this. An elaborate movement with Lucumi moving wide left, Aebischer dropping, and El Azzouzi filling the space Lucumi moved from. Calafiori was forced to pass back to the goalkeeper due to a lack of space and passing options forward.

Figure 4.1 - Riccardo Calafiori moves into the midfield.
Figure 4.2 - Michel Aebischer moves back to the position Jhon Lucumi took up.
Figure 4.3 - Jhon Lucumi moves wide left, and Michel Aebischer receives the ball.

The second attempt was this. Instead of having Calafiori stay wide left, he inverted into the midfield, while Aebischer moved back to the back-line, and Lucumi moved wide left again. You can see Bologna manager Thiago Motta motioning to Calafiori to move into the midfield.

Figure 4.4 - Michel Aebischer passes central.
Figure 4.5 - Riccardo Calafiori intercepts the pass near the half-way line.

Calafiori lost possession here but Roma are wide open. Look how much space he has if he takes that touch towards the half-way line. Roma will now have to think twice before placing all their chips on pressuring Calafiori because before you know it, he’ll be playing left-wing, or center-forward. Positions don’t matter in Thiago Motta’s system.

Figure 5.1 - Riccardo Calafiori has more space the next time he receives the ball, but is still pressured by Roma. Jhon Lucumi rotated wide left to create space.
Figure 5.2 - Riccardo Calafiori closed down.
Figure 6.1 - Riccardo Calafiori with tons of space to carry into on the third opportunity to receive from the back.

Thereafter, with each possession and touch, Roma are forced to back off and divert their attention elsewhere.

This constant unpredictability is a tool most teams in Europe do not have. It’s one of the reasons why I think Bologna is so solid defensively. The opponent’s forwards are frequently out of their position because they’re chasing their marker, the Bologna players, around the pitch, into other zones.

When Roma win the ball, their players are out of sorts, while every Bologna player is ready to defend in all situations.

Midfielder Lewis Ferguson started all 31 of Bologna’s matches this season in Serie A, but he suffered a season-ending injury the match prior. Thiago Motta before the match on if he will have to change the way they play to compensate:

It won’t certainly change the characteristics of the players who will enter their role. It is not the time to touch anything. It’s time to continue on the path that we have done up to today. I repeat, respecting the Roma teams as we have respected all the teams up to today, but playing and trying to put our game into practice.

Oussama El Azzouzi took Ferguson’s place in the midfield, and Bologna didn’t miss a beat. You see in those examples he stepped right into that role on the right and Bologna looked just as robust and true to themselves. El Azzouzi in only his second start of the season nabbed a goal and assist, a tremendous bicycle kick goal at that.

This is just one small example of Bologna rotating to disrupt the opponent. I would need to write a book to cover all the significant movements in one match.

Match: Roma 1-3 Bologna, 22 April 2024

Players: Riccardo Calafiori

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