First things first, let me apologize for my assessment of Atalanta in yesterday’s match preview, I may have sold them short. Despite not overwhelming the league in any single statistical category, this club can play. Between Franck Kessie, Roberto Gagliardini, Jasmin Kurtic and Alejandro Gomez, Atalanta has quite a foundation on which to build. You know, assuming Juventus doesn’t pluck Kessie and Gagliardini this summer.
Anyway, how to describe the first half of this match? On the surface it looked like a disaster; a road match in inclement weather against an overlooked but surprisingly strong side, I think we’ve all seen that movie before.
And outside of an extremely early—like the first 30 seconds—flourish, Roma was rather frustrated by Atalanta for much of the first half, as they haplessly tried to find Edin Dzeko in scoring position. Time and again, Roma would swing the ball out wide to the left, desperately flinging in crosses for Dzeko, Antonio Rüdiger and even Federico Fazio, and while Dzeko came close in one instance, more often than not Atalanta’s back line bodied them up, denying them a clean look at the ball.
This frustration was further exacerbated when Roma, on the few occasions they played through balls in the final third, were turned away by Etrit Berisha, who either denied or benefitted from Mohamed Salah’s lack of precision not once, not twice, but thrice. It seemed as though they were careening headlong into an 89th minute match winner from a substitute, until Edin Dzeko struck again...sort of.
Despite all the goals he’s provided this year, Dzeko’s holdup play has been perhaps the most transformative aspect of Roma’s attack this season. Without a genuine creative spark in the middle, Dzeko’s ability to body up defenders and slow down the match, enabling his teammates to come forward, has covered up a lot of cracks in the Giallorossi’s attack. And it would be that subtle yet crucial facet of the game that gave Roma her first goal.
After holding up the play and connecting with Salah in the box, Rafael Toloi committed the cardinal sin of defending, putting his hand on the ball in the area, gifting Roma a penalty kick, which Diego Perotti seemingly has mastered nowadays, despite his agony inducing walk up:
Diego Perotti: 40th Minute
And that was the only difference in an excruciatingly close first half, but the match would turn once again on a penalty call.
Luciano Spalletti opted for no immediate changes when the second half opened, though he did bring on Stephan El Shaarawy for Salah shortly thereafter, who looked out of sorts all afternoon, missing two to three genuine scoring chances, which had an immediate impact because this is Roma we’re talking about.
It’s hard to say exactly how that one went in from this clip—did Woj flub it, did the diving defender alter the path of the ball—but either way, it’s a horrible goal to concede; nine times out of ten, that ball deflects the other way.
Here’s a second look
GOAL Caldara!! Atalanta 1-1 Roma pic.twitter.com/vaqBoHqBSV— Serie A News (@TransfersCalcio) November 20, 2016
It’s still difficult to discern what actually happened with the ball, but the real culprit was Roma’s defense out wide; you simply can’t let them get behind you like that, bad things happen.
The rest of the second half played on just like you’d expect. Atalanta, spurred on by their home crowd (I know, how novel, right?) surged ahead, pushing and stretching the Roma defense, creating chances at the ready, leaving the Giallorossi slack jawed and plum out of ideas.
Roma's defense doing the rare in-match Mannequin Challenge. Impressive in a way— Chiesa Di Totti (@chiesaditotti) November 20, 2016
Despite the imbalance of attacking play in the second half—and really throughout the whole match—the outcome turned on the referee’s whistle.
I mean, what can you say? Despite our pleas for Leandro Paredes to enter the match, he screwed the proverbial pooch on this one; just a horrific piece of defending, and in the 90th minute no less. There was absolutely no need for Paredes to do anything other than stand there with his hands in the air, yet his foolish challenge cost Roma two points, as Kessie slotted home the ensuing penalty with no issues.
Hey, speaking of issues, this club has them in spades!
Let's amend Spalletti's comments: Talk like Juventus, play like Bologna— Chiesa Di Totti (@chiesaditotti) November 20, 2016
Despite all their tough talk about the Scudetto not being a one-horse race, Roma came out and Roma’d in the worst possible way. Yes, this isn’t your grandmother’s Atalanta, but out of the two clubs on the pitch today, only one had a payroll approaching €100 million, and it wasn’t the guys dressed in black.
I’ve been at this for over four years and over 1,000 stories later, I’m still no closer to find a prescription to this club’s pernicious disease. They simply cannot get out of their own way, and they simply cannot shut their fucking mouths and just play; all week they spew garbage about catching Juventus,about closing the gap, about asserting themselves, then they come out and play like this. I’d be more shocked if I wasn’t expecting this nearly every week, yet here we are.
Yes, if Salah had converted his first half chances they would have had a larger cushion to blow, and yes, had the ball bounced a slightly different way, Atalanta’s first goal may have dribbled harmlessly over the endline, but that’s not the point; they keep putting themselves in these situations, and unlike last year, they don’t have Francesco Totti or Miralem Pjanic to bail them out.
Roma talks a good one, that’s for sure, but as we cautioned yesterday, there’s a world of difference between sounding like Juventus and looking like Juventus.
That’s a formula Roma has yet to solve.