Don’t look now, but Atalanta...yes Atalanta...is somehow, inexplicably, in fifth place, currently only four points behind Roma. Through some combination of the dark arts, blind luck and his 3-4-3, Gian Piero Gasperini has willed the Goddesses to the precipice of European play, although the final determination on that his still several months away. Nevertheless, Atalanta’s run thus far has to be one of the surprises of the Serie A season, one to which Roma can fall prey.
Atalanta v. Roma: November 20, 15:00 CET/9:00 EST, Stadio Atleti Azzurri d'Italia, Bergamo
So, yes, even though it’s still only November, and yes, even though it's "only" Atalanta, this is very much a six pointer. If Roma drops points, or even the entire match, things will get supremely uncomfortable for the Giallorossi on the table.
Welcome to Atalanta, Where the Players Play
I’m quite certain I’ve embedded that video before, but any chance I can get to embed some early ‘00 hip hop, I’ll take it. However, the title doesn’t quite fit in this instance because, although they’re in fifth place, Atalanta hasn’t exactly made Bergamo a fortress, as they’ve only taken 12 points from six home matches, which, though still pretty solid, is a far cry from the perfect record thrown up by Roma and Juventus. Ironically, Atalanta is the league’s second best away side, so we’ll watch out for that on the return fixture.
So, how exactly have the Goddesses risen to such great heights? Well, to be quite frank, I’m not sure; they don’t rank in the top five in any major statistical category and they’ve "only" ran up a +3 goal differential, so it’s not as if they’ve blinded the league with science, but what they have done is spread the ball around.
Atalanta’s 19 goals have come from eight different players, paced by their 19-year-old Ivorian midfield Franck Kessie, whose four goals put him top of the heap, though he’s closely followed by Alejandro Gomez, Andrea Petagna and Jasmin Kurtic, each of whom has netted three goals. Point being, it's hard to key upon any one player, particularly as their leading scorer is a midfielder.
So, while this is a good story, Atalanta has all the makings of a team primed for a second half collapse; there is simply no one player, or one tactic/trait, upon which they can lean. They’re not exactly a house of cards, but I have a hard time imagining Atalanta keeping Napoli or Torino out of the top five before all is said and done.
Roma: ‘Member Them?
As an unabashed South Park fan, I have to admit that the current geopolitical situation should, at the very least, give them cannon fodder for years to come, and if P.C. Principal and the ‘Member Berries are any indication, Matt and Trey and up for the job. I’d love to see a Roma version of the member berries...member the Scudetto? member Batistuta? member the Curva Sud...yeah, I member!
Anyway, back to football....
When last we left the Giallorossi, they were putting the horrors of a scoreless draw against Empoli behind them by waxing Bologna three-nil way back on November 6th, you know, before a reality show host became the most powerful man in the world. The good news, however, is that no one has torn an ACL since then, so, win-win, right?
Speaking of anterior cruciate ligaments, Antonio Rüdiger will put his to the test once again, as he seems a safe bet to start at right back tomorrow afternoon. No, your eyes don’t deceive you, given the dearth of other options, Luciano Spalletti may have no choice but to throw Toni in at right back, forcing Bruno Peres into the left back spot, where he is far, far less effective. Why this man has refused to use a three man backline consistently is beyond my mental capacity; the team seems tailor made for it, but, bar one or two spot appearances, Spalletti hasn’t really experimented with it, but I digress.
It’s not all bad news, though. Juan Jesus is fit and ready to play, yet most publications show him firmly planted on the bench, so we’re already a step ahead! However, that does not mean Roma won’t be leaning on a player woefully miscast. Roma’s walking misnomer—Radja Nainggolan as the trequartista—seems set for another week in an awkward and uncomfortable role, meaning the club will rely even more upon Mohamed Salah and Edin Dzeko to provide the offensive spark.
Considering that the pair has teamed up for 18 domestic goals, that wouldn’t seem like a problem, but Dzeko needs consistent service, while Salah needs open space and/or pinpoint passes to spring him loose to be effective, and without a creative spark behind them, Roma may be primed for a frustrating afternoon.
All of which leads me to believe that this will be a nailbiter, one which may come down to Roma’s counter attack. For all the merits Gasperini’s 3-4-3 may have, it is susceptible to the counter attack, and there are few teams more equipped to exploit that than Roma, thanks in large part to Salah, which, of course, makes you fraught with even more anxiety at the prospect of him leaving for AFCON. Such is the life of a Roma fan; peace is a commodity in short supply.
But that’s a concern for another day, in the here and now, Roma must, as Spalletti claimed earlier in the week, "think like Juventus and win like Juventus" when they travel to Bergamo tomorrow. Yes, Atalanta are stronger than usual and are not to be trifled with, but there is no reason on God’s green earth that Roma shouldn’t walk away with a win.
But talking about the Juve mentality and replicating it, actually living it, are two entirely different things, a fact Roma fans are all too familiar with.