Aurelio Andreazzoli's first two matches have been measured in extremes, a humiliating defeat to a lesser Sampdoria squad and a surprising victory against first place Juventus, so attempting to predict the outcome of this match might be a fool's errand.
Following last week's surprising turn against Juventus, the good feelings in Rome are back and, according to Nicolas Burdisso, must serve as a launching point for the remainder of the season, "The Juventus game needs to be a point of departure for us...We need to add a bit of consistency to our results. If we don't do that then the win against Juventus will have no sense...We can't afford to stop now."
Burdisso is absolutely correct, if Andreazzoli has any shot of turning this thing around, let alone making this a full time gig, he needs to carry over the success from last week's second half into Sunday's away match against Atalanta, the third encounter between these two sides this season.
If you need a rehash of German Denis' scoring record against Roma, read the preview from the first match. Fortunately, neither Denis nor his teammates found the back of the net, as Roma cruised to a relatively easy 2-0 victory at the Olimpico.
I say relatively because Atalanta had their chances, particularly in the early stages of the match. Luca Cigarini threatened in the 11th minute, but was turned away by Maarten Stekelenburg, who kept a clean sheet, facing 15 shots on goal, turning away all four on target. Within the first half hour, Stek parried away shots from Ezequiel Schelotto and Denis, while Maximiliano Moralez's volley struck the woodwork, but that was really the extent of the Atalanta attack.
The match was all but signed, sealed, and delivered in the 30th minute, as Francesco Totti and Erik Lamela teamed up on a beautiful give-and-go, with The Apple slithering his way past the defender and poking it past Andrea Consigli.
Michael Bradley put the finishing touches on Roma's Hall of Fame Induction weekend, pouncing on Mattia Destro's rebound. Destro's shot was no small feat either; notice how he created space amidst three defenders in the first place.
Denis almost continued his goal scoring streak against Roma in the 76th minute with a goal that was ultimately disallowed on an offside call. But it was not meant to be and Roma would continue to muster through an inconsistent period, splitting their next four matches.
While the shape of Andreazzoli's team has differed greatly from Zeman, the results on the field haven't been all that dissimilar, as Roma have shot, possessed, and created chances at nearly the same level as previous matches, while still being buoyed by the performances of Totti, Lamela, Pjanic and Marquinhos, among others.
Nevertheless, the story of Andreazzoli era, thus far, has been the shape of the team, including last week's unique 3-4-2-1, which sort of looks like a gigantic diamond. That diamond didn't hold possession very well last week (44%), but did manage to keep Juve to only three shots on target, while firing off 14 of their own, five of which were on target.
With only two matches under his belt, it may be a bit early to make such proclamations, but looking at the marked difference between the first and second halves last week, Andreazzoli appears to have the makings of an effective in- match manager. Look no further than the action areas of the pitch, which was largely stagnated in the center of the park in the first 45 minutes, with over 20% of the action occurring within the closest reaches of midfield, with Roma venturing into the Juve box less than 2% of the time. Fast forward to the second half and those numbers were drastically different, with Roma spending nearly 7% of the second half in the attacking zone, with Torosidis, Totti and Lamela pushing up and out to a greater extent than they did in the first half. Small sample size, I'll grant you, but, if nothing else, AA appears to have a feel for the game as its happening, but more importantly a willingness to make changes.
However, with the absence of Roma's two proudest sons, AA will have to do a bit of tinkering with this week's 3-4-2-1. Following his performance last week, there is little doubt that Vassilas Torosidis won't be seeing the sidelines anytime soon. Starting on the right flank of the ‘4' portion of that formation, our newest Greek import had a whale of a match, intercepting three passes, tallying four clearances, completing 50% of his crosses, threading two long balls and completing four tackles; an impressive starting debut.
Following his man of the match performance, Stekelenburg will once again man the posts and certainly looks like a man reborn under the new regime. Protecting Stek will be Ivan Piris, Nicolas Burdisso and Marquinhos; the three man defense certainly seemed more comfortable and in sync versus Juve than against Sampdoria.
Joining Torosidis in the four man midfield will most likely be Michael Bradley, Miralem Pjanic and, in a more forward role, Federico Balzaretti. Though, with Pjanic dealing with a late week muscle strain, Marquinho The Singular remains a possibility, leaving the attack in the hands of Lamela, Pablo Osvaldo and the triumphant return of Alessandro Florenzi.
Welcoming Roma to Bergamo is 15th place Atalanta, winners of only one of their past six, coincidentally the same as Roma, though this particular group of Nerazzurri's sit a full 10 points behind Roma.
To say Atalanta has trouble scoring goals is an understatement, as their 22 goals ranks second to last, with nearly half of those coming from German Denis. Their woeful goal total can be attributed to their inability to both hold and pass the ball, as they only hold possession 47% of the time, while completing 78.5% of their passes, which is 4th worst in the league. Similarly, their 11 shots per game is fifth worst in all of Italy. You get the idea, on the few occasions they have the ball, they don't move it well, when they do move it well, they don't create quality chances, nor do they get productive shots on goal.
Defensively speaking, matters aren't much better, as Atalanta ranks in the leagues lower reaches in terms of shots conceded, tackles and interceptions per game, resulting in their 35 goals conceded, 5th worst in the league. Atalanta sits six points out of the drop zone, so they won't be lacking motivation.
However, the numbers and history are stacked against Atalanta, as Roma have won five of their past six matches against the Bergamo outfit, including the first leg in this fixture and the 3-0 drubbing in the Coppa Italia in December.
Roma remains six points out of Europa League qualification with matches against Genoa and Udinese awaiting, the latter being one point behind Roma. Not to sound like a broken record, but all hope is not lost. While the Europa League may be the participation trophy of European competitions, it's better than nothing and certainly provides extra motivation for a team still teetering on the verge of tumult.
With Roma still being, shall we say, wallet conscious, Andreazzoli leading the team to European qualification would certainly force the board's hands, while providing a far cheaper option than some of the names being bandied about. A point not lost on Twitter:
Aurelio Andreazzoli is the Roma coach and there is every reason to believe he will continue in that role for the coming seasons #ASR— A.S. Roma (@OfficialASRoma) February 22, 2013
So shall it be Tweeted, so shall it be done?