Despite all their successes over the past 18 months, there's still a small part of you that thinks the wool is being pulled over our eyes, that this new Roma is somehow the result of a glitch in the Matrix; we can't bend spoons, dodge bullets and we certainly don't know Kung-Fu. Admit it, somewhere in the deepest recesses of our subconscious, we're all still waiting for the other shoe to drop on our new existence, and Atalanta was certainly willing to add fuel to our nightmares.
A mere 60 seconds into the match, Maximiliano Moralez took advantage of Ashley Cole's amateurish defending to give Atalanta an extremely early lead; no small feat when you consider they've only scored four goals all season.
This was certainly not the start Roma needed, not with a trip to Moscow on the horizon, and not with a jam packed domestic dancecard between now and New Year's. But, thanks to a heaping helping of Nutella, Roma were able to survive their Alpine adventure with three points in tact.
So, let's run it back...
Moralez Goal: First Minute
I'd hesitate to call this a pure nutmeg, but Cristian Raimondi most definitely turned Cole around before centering the ball back to Moralez, who buried it under the crossbar to give Atalanta a shocking early lead. Cole may have saved some face as the first half wore on, but brainfarts like that should see his rumored MLS banishment come to fruition sooner rather than later. I'd say his Roma career would end so fast it'd make his head spin, but that would just be mean.
Cole rebounded well enough, finishing the match with three interceptions and 90% completion, but fucking hell, he simply can't be beaten by scrubs like Raimondi, not when Roma doesn't have a viable option B at leftback.
Ljajic Goal: 22nd Minute
With every passing week and every passing goal, Adem Ljajic reminds us what he is now and what he may yet become. Apart from Francesco Totti, there is simply no other player on this roster who possesses that same unique balance of powers. Atalanta may be the Goddess, but Ljajic is both creator and destroyer, gifting and taking chances as he pleases.
However, before we get to Nutella, we must heap some praise upon his Balkan brother, Miralem Pjanic.
Mira charged headlong through the Atalanta defense from the center circle, out running several defenders and staving off several more challenges as he approached the edge of the 18. Pjanic then calmly steered the ball to the left, leading Ljajic into open space, but what happened next was all Nutella; creamy, delicious, and, in large doses, bad for your health.
Ljajic cut in from the left and drifted away from the goal, evading three defenders in the process, before finally unleashing a low angled, bending shot from the edge of the 18. Ljajic's shot, which blew past five defenders, looks all the more amazing when you consider his momentum was carrying him in the exact opposite direction, beating the keeper in the only possible way; low and away.
Fantastic goal from a fantastic player. We cannot let this kid walk away.
Radja Nainggolan: 42nd Minute
While not quite as intricate as Ljajic's goal, Radja Nainggolan put Roma ahead thanks to a lovely one-two with Ljajic just before the stroke of halftime. Credit Nainggolan with having the presence of mind to lay off the ball in the first place; running from midfield, Nainggolan realized he no longer had the angle or the space to beat the defense head on, and smartly dished it off to Ljajic.
Ljajic, in a move that almost mirrored his own goal, cut back from the left wing to set up Nainggolan, who wasted no time slotting the ball in the lower right hand corner.
Strong arguments can be made that these two young men are Roma's best and brightest this season, and you won't catch me refuting that claim, probably because I'm the one typing it, right?
While the second half didn't produce any goals, Atalanta, thanks to several fouls from Roma, had a few genuine chances to level the match, most notably when Moralez inexplicably pushed a sitter wide right of Morgan De Sanctis' goal, sparing Roma an ancient ignominy. Instead of the excitement of free flowing football, the second half was replete with clutching, grabbing, bitching and moaning, as Atalanta did everything in their power to chide Roma into gifting them an equalizer.
Fortunately, Roma were able to weather the storm, not to mention second half knocks to Ljajic and Nainggolan, to say nothing of five additional minutes, a full 50% of which was probably due to the aforementioned grousing from the boys in black and blue.
All in all, it was a solid performance, albeit one marred by a horrid opening 15 minutes. While Roma didn't exactly run circles around Atalanta--they were outshot, created less chances and barely edged out the Goddess in passing and possession--but thanks to Ljajic's stellar performance, they effectively won the match between the 20th and 45th minute.
Not a match to hang your hat on, but this was a victory Roma needed and one she delivered.
See you in Moscow, bring your best mittens.