Albion Analytics: Roma

What do the numbers look like behind our upcoming European opponents?

By Liam Tharme • 06 March 2024

By AS Roma
Roma boss Daniele De Rossi.

Albion take on Italian giants Roma in the Europa League last 16 on Thursday.

It will be the third capital club Albion take on this Europa League campaign, having won in Athens (1-0) against AEK and in Amsterdam against Ajax (2-0).

On paper, it is as big as European ties come. Since Brighton’s debut Premier League season, Roma have played in all three European competitions (Champions League, Europa League, Conference League). Combined, they have won 43 out of 79 games, drawing 16 and losing 20. Roma have not missed a European campaign since the 2013-14 season.

They won the inaugural Conference League in 2021-22 beating Feyenoord in the final. But specifically within the Europa League, were runners-up last season, beaten on penalties by Sevilla. Roma reached the semi-finals in 2020-21 too, when they were knocked out by Manchester United.

Then you compare the squads. 18 different Roma players have 40-plus appearances in continental club tournaments (beyond Europe’s three tournaments, also including the UEFA Youth League, CAF Champions League, Copa Libertadores and AFC Champions League). In James Milner (179), Danny Welbeck (70), Joel Veltman (63) and Adam Lallana (56), Brighton have four.

However, that is the history, not the present. Roma sacked Jose Mourinho 20 games into this Serie A season, in mid January, ending his 138-game tenure — he had given Roma their first major European title in over 60 years when they lifted the Conference League in 2022, and was the longest-serving coach since Lucian Spalletti (224 games between 2005 and 2009). It was Roma’s worst opening 20 games of a league season, in terms of fewest points (29), fewest wins (8), and lowest league position (9th) since 2002-03 (27 points, 7 wins, 10th place).

Roma were pragmatic under Mourinho. They finished fifth last season playing a 3-5-2, averaged 48.6% possession, and scored the fewest goals of any team in the top nine (50), boasting the fourth-best defence in the league (38 goals conceded).

Former player Daniele De Rossi is their interim coach, and has switched to a more attack-minded 4-3-3; the 41-year-old has only had eight games in charge (prior to Saturday's match against Monza), including the two legs against Feyenoord in the knockout round, but was blessed with a favourable league fixture schedule.

They have played four of the current bottom six, as well as league leaders Inter, who beat them 4-2 at the Stadio Olimpico. Barring that Inter game, Roma have had the majority of possession in all their matches.

While their group stage performances now offer a limited prediction of style with a different head coach, it is worth noting that they had the most points of any runner-up, winning four of their six games. Of the eight runners-up, including knockout round games, they have the best defence.

Opta’s power rankings, an objective measurement for all teams across the world, has this as the second-biggest round of 16 tie in terms of team quality. Brighton rank 23rd and Roma 32nd, with only Atalanta vs Sporting a tie containing two higher-ranked sides.

There is a noticeable difference in Roma’s off-ball intensity. They average the fewest interceptions of any team in Serie A this season, but made their most in any game this season away to Feyenoord (17) in the first leg. They are crossing less, though partially due to facing worse defences (particularly centrally) and not needing to go around. Four of their top five Serie A games for offside this season have been under De Rossi, indicating a team who want to play in-behind defences early.

With the first leg away from home, there is a chance for De Zerbi to vanquish some demons. He has never won in four visits to the Olimpico, losing three, though notably coached lesser teams (relative to Roma) in Sassuolo, Benevento and Palermo.