Roma v Atalanta Preview

Marco Luzzani - Getty Images

German Denis brings his virtual one man Roma wrecking crew to the Olimpico on Sunday. The Argentine forward will look to continue his incredible run of goals against the Giallorossi, who are still reeling from an embarassing 4-1 defeat to Juventus. Roma will need to cast aside this season's disappointments and deliver a consistent stream of attacking football for a full 90 minutes if they are to capture what should be an easy 3 points at home.

Roma 4, Atalanta 5- that's the aggregate score of their last two encounters, but to put a finer point on it, it's Roma 4, German Denis 4. To put an even finer point on it, German Denis scored 25% of all his Serie A goals last year against Roma, which would be fine if he were a tall, Swedish mercenary type.

And it doesn't stop there, Denis is off to a flying start this term, scoring two goals and assisting on another, so a hot hand and a history of goals against them doesn't bode well for a Roma team seemingly headed toward a free fall. Following an ignominious defeat against Juventus and his own underwhelming performance, the requisite ‘De Rossi and Zeman are at loggerheads' rumors began. Not be outdone, the international press would have you believe that both Walter Sabatini and Franco Baldini were putting in their respective two weeks' notices as well. We even got word there might be dueling Argentines in our midst.

Fortunately, those rumors waned as the week wore on, but it's sort of ironic, one of the supposed benefits of the new American regime, touted by myself and others, was that they would bring some semblance of organizational stability to the club. While this might be true at the highest reaches, the lower rungs of the corporate ladder have not been immune to such rumors, substantiated and otherwise.

Needless to say, the transition from traditional Italian tactics to the Nouveau-Barcelona stylings of Luis Enrique to the YOLO ethos of Zednek Zeman has been hard enough, losing our top two front office lieutenants wouldn't help matters any.

It's been an interesting 24 months or so.

Such is Roma.

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Finding a rational Roma fan is akin to discovering a black hole. All rational belief indicates they exist (there's even formulas and stuff), but no matter how much you can describe their impact on the machinations of our universe, you can never seem to actually find one.

With that in mind, let's offer some perspective on the torpidity Roma displayed last week in Torino. Facing the Old Lady at Juventus Stadium, in the midst of what is currently the second-best unbeaten run in Serie A history, was always a formula for disaster. But the fine line between fourth and third doesn't rest on the matches against the Northern Elite, Champions League qualification is born and dies in matches against clubs like Atalanta, making the Bologna Blunder and the Sampdoria draw look even worse. Dropping points against mid table clubs does not book your ticket to the Champions League.

To wit: Point differential between the last CL/CL qualifying spot and 4th place (or 5th for the years prior to Italy's coefficient decline)

You get the point, while its cathartic to bitch and moan about Juventus, the fact of the matter is that match, given Juve's incredible form and their general superiority, was relatively inconsequential to Roma's hopes this season. Granted, three points is three points and that upset would have gone a long way to boosting morale (not to mention our place on the table), but fingers should be pointed and hands wrung to a greater degree when we drop points to the likes of Bologna, Catania and Sampdoria; victories against clubs of this stature are essential given the general parity between the top 8-10 clubs.

Simply put, it was a mistake to dream so big so soon.

So sayeth Daniele De Rossi:

In my view it would be bad for the fans to think about the Scudetto, which I have always said. Looking at the other sides in the top places, if we have a great campaign then we can finish in the top three. That would be a very impressive achievement considering the situation...Nonetheless, it is a very long season and we will be able to have our say. After all, you don't face Juventus every week.

Perspective

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I suppose you can, based on the sheer amount of words I just dedicated to the Juventus match, say I'm an enabler, but it serves my broader point. Roma must defeat the Atalanta's of the world if they are to have a shot at European football next year, so we should take losses against the larger clubs with a grain of salt; Roma is just not there yet.

In our most recent CDT office meeting, we crunched some numbers (seen way, way above) and by our best estimates German Denis, in his past 6 matches against Roma (3 starts, 3 substitutes totaling less than 40 minutes), has scored 5 goals in approximately 299 minutes, good for one goal an hour. Fortunately, it was Hawaiian shirt day in the office, so it was still fun despite those depressing statistics

So we can talk all we want about Atalanta's formation, their passing percentages, time of possession etc., but what it all boils down to is somehow, someway, German Denis will factor into this match. Six weeks in and the numbers back this up. Denis leads his club in goals, assists, shots per game and is even drawing the second most fouls per game for Atalanta. While football isn't generally the type of sport where you can isolate and effectively remove an opposing player from the match, Roma would be wise to monitor Denis' movements and keep him away from the back post. They would also be well served keeping an eye on both Luca Cigarini and Maximilliano Moralez, both of whom are keeping pace with Denis in the aforementioned statistical categories.

So while it's not necessary German Denis or bust, history suggests he'll put one (or three) past us.

As for Roma, the news (on the field anyway) is relatively light. Miralem Pjanic doesn't look like he'll be fit to play, Destro might start on the left in place of Totti, while the standard Ivan Piris warnings remain in effect. With Panagiotis Tachtsidis' (I think I have that spelling down pat, at long last) performance lagging lately and Michael Bradley raring to go, we might also see a change in midfield.

That's about it really-Zeman just has to hope his vision is carried out for a full 90 minutes and that De Rossi, Maarten Stekelenburg, and Erik Lamela can turn things around and rise to the occasion. Despite Denis' proclivity for scoring against Roma, The Wolves (again, permit my inner Ray Hudson to be unleashed) have won three of the past four against Atalanta Bergamasca Calcio and should be motivated to erase last week's debacle.

When they take the field, this is what it will probably look like:

Roma (4-3-3): 24 Stekelenburg, 23 Piris, 3 Marquinhos, 5 Castan, 42 Balzaretti, 4 Bradley, 16 De Rossi, 48 Florenzi, 22 Destro, 9 Osvaldo, 10 Totti

Atalanta (4-4-2): 47 Consigli; 77 Raimondi, 32 Ferri, 13 Peluso, 28 Brivio; 7 Schelotto, 21 Cigarini, 44 Cazzola, 10 Moralez; 91 De Luca, 19 Denis

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