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Breaking Down Roma’s Second Half Collapse Against Atalanta

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So what happened on Sunday? Bad luck or was Roma outwitted?

Atalanta BC v AS Roma - Serie A
I feel ya, Manolas... what can you do?
Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

On the morning of November 11th I woke up with a post-wedding hangover, reeking of late-night Taco Bell and cheap whiskey. Outside, the dawn revealed the perpetual grey of Seattle. Nirvana came to mind as I turned on the game—what would be the match’s soundtrack? “Smells like Teen Team Spirit,” I hoped. However, it turned out to be a cacophony of “Come as you Are.” I should have known. This Roma hasn’t changed in a decade. Their ability to disappoint fans is mind-boggling. We hear it all the time: Roma has a mentality issue. And I’m not sure anyone knows how to fix it.

So what exactly happened? How could Roma look so sturdy defensively in the first half only to collapse in the second? While there were many aspects of the game that led to Roma’s demise, it all can be summed up in this sentence: Gasperini out-classed Spalletti with a tactical shift and a mentality that his team could and would win the match.

Come As You Are

Roma led the first half in shots, passes, touches, and tackles. They were structured in the back with Spalletti’s new four-to-three shift with Peres moving forward in the attack. Moreover, they pressed Atalanta’s back three ruthlessly, causing multiple giveaways (see 15 loss of possession). Atalanta seemed to give Roma more respect than they deserved, sitting back and allowing Salah to run rampant. Our old friend Toloi would eventually give us a hand, leading to a cool Perotti penalty. Roma surely could’ve sealed the game if Salah decided to actually shoot, rather than meekly toe-poke the ball at the goalkeeper (three times?). At the end of halftime, Roma went into the tunnel with a 1-0 lead and a false sense of security.

The Best (better) of Halves. Roma represented in Blue. Via WhoScored.com
whoscored.com

Come As You Were

Bren had “a bad feeling.” Man, was he right. I mean, what the hell happened in that locker room? Did Spalletti pass around shots of NyQuil? The team came out for the second half lethargic with no sense of attack. The fierce pressing from the first half disappeared while Gasperini wisely made a change, subbing in D’Allesandro who somehow looked like Eden Hazard on the left-flank. Just look at the statistics:

The Worst of Halves. Roma represented in blue. Via WhoScored.com

While numbers can be misleading, anyone who watched the match could see a shift in mentality for both teams. 16 to one on shots. Eight to three on interceptions. Atalanta was hungrier. The goal, as sloppy as it was, turned Roma’s brains to mush. (Side note: if you want to see a team with grit see Sevilla F.C.). Spalletti tried shifting players around but it seemed to make matters worse.

Gasperini made some shrewd changes while Spalletti made some questionable ones. Salah and Perotti were arguably our most dangerous players in the first half, but Spalletti took them out (fatigue?). At one point of the match I was sure Iturbe had skinned SES, wearing his face and jersey, sneaking his way onto the pitch for some minutes. A later substitution proved this theory false. Paredes also made a cameo as a weak breath of wind blowing down a feathered Gomez.

As I Want You To Be

This one hurt. It’s one thing to lose, another to play as if you don’t care. In his post-match conference, Spalletti stated the obvious:

Damn, Spalletti, that’s deep. But true, nonetheless. Atalanta was the better team, and their tenacity should be applauded. They fought with great intensity, and their coach bestowed them with belief. Roma need to do some soul searching at the moment, and most likely they will rebound in the next fixture, but any talk of the S word is fruitless now. It was premature anyways. While the pain from this loss will linger, another match is on the horizon. But the truth is there. Roma is Roma, for better and for worse. At times they display beautiful football, at times they look like a mid-table team with grit. We all want them to be something they are not (yet). So I sing: Come as you are, as you were, as I want you to be. As a friend, as a friend, as an old enemy. Take your time, hurry up, the choice is yours, don't be late.