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Roma 3, Atalanta 3: Francesco Totti is The Sword in the Darkness

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He did it. He did what he always does. Cast aside as spare parts, Francesco Totti came on late in the match and pulled Roma from the fire.

Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

If you chose to keep dancing with the sandman rather than watching this match, good on ya. With a chance to cut the second half gap to three points, thanks to Inter's takedown of a Gonzalo Higuain-less Napoli side yesterday, Roma came out and, well, Roma'd to the best of their ability. After rushing out to a 2-0 lead, Roma did their best to play like it was 2015. We're talking sloppy passing, lazy runs, defensive miscues, and yes, Dzeko missing sitters--it was almost as if Rudi Garcia had never left town.

So, if you can stomach it, let's run this one back blow-by-blow.

First Half

I can't lie, I was still rubbing the sleep out of my eyes and missed the first ten minutes of the match, so you'll have to bear with me, but upon waking I noticed something strange. With nearly his full squad at his disposal, Luciano Spalletti did some seemingly unnecessary tinkering, shifting to a 4-3-1-2 with Diego Perotti in the hole and Miralem Pjanic on the bench. While Perotti was decent enough in the first half, why mess with success? The frontline of Perotti, Stephan El Shaarawy and Mohamed Salah had brought Spalletti so much success during this unbeaten streak, it seems strange to mess with fate.

In any event, the middle stages of the first half were all about Lucas Digne. Roma's resident Parisian hipster bailed out Roma one minute, heading away a sure fire goal, then opening up the scorer's ledger by finishing a lovely give and go, take a look:

Lucas Digne: 23rd Minute

This one was really Digne from start to finish. After settling the cross, Digne heads it to Dzeko--who miraculously didn't fuck it up--then €”takes the touch back from Dzeko and swiftly pings it to Perotti before sneaking behind and splitting two Atalanta defenders and scores a goal with, get this, his right foot! Digne is far from a finished product, but for my money, along with wrapping up El Shaarawy, he's priority number one this summer.

However, as they say, there is no lead as dangerous as 1-0, so Roma had found anything but safe harbor. Cue Radja Nainggolan

Radja Nainggolan: 27th Minute

Radja put the finishing touch on a four-pass counter, narrowly beating Marco Sportiello at the short post. Nothing terribly spectacular about this one, but credit Antonio Rüdiger with starting this sequence--his athleticism really makes him the total package, as he can practically outrun any midfielder--and Nainggolan for hustling and sticking with the play.

Now, a two-nil lead on the road is far from a sure thing, but it at least gives you some breathing room, unless you happen to play for Roma. Shoddy marking once again did Roma in, as Marco D'Alessandro pulled one back less than ten minutes later.

Marco D'Alessandro: 33rd Minute

Looking for a scapegoat on this goal, take your pick. Do we begin with the seemingly benign pass that still somehow picked apart Roma's defense from midfield, effortlessly skirting around Kostas Manolas, or how about the fact that Marco Borriello was left wide open as Manolas, Rüdiger and Ervin Zukanovic each inexplicably had their backs turned to him? Or perhaps maybe, just maybe, we can lay the blame at the lazy feet of Wojciech Szczesny, who was once again woefully slow and dreadfully passive in the area?

Whatever the case may be, it was cockup from start to finish and precisely the sort of sequence that has kept, and will continue to keep, Roma from truly making the leap.

Oh, but they weren't done.

A mere four minutes later Roma acquiesced to the sexiest man on the planet, Marco Borriello.

Marco Borriello: 37th Minute

Roma was once again exposed by some lax marking, but can you really blame them? Borriello is like a walking Mona Lisa, you don't dare touch it, only admire it from a distance. That's presumably what Manolas was thinking as he avoided Borriello like the kid who was "it" during a game of tag.

With all of Edin Dzeko's struggles this season, and really with Roma's deplorable lack of depth at striker over the past few years, why they let this guy go is a mystery--€”he just gets it done, amirite ladies?

Hey, speaking of which, Dzeko missed...again!

While this wasn't his most egregious miss of the season, Dzeko had ample time to collect himself rather than trying to take out one of the stadiums flood lights. I'm done with this guy, #DaretoDzeko is dead to me.

Roma managed not to fuck up for the next eight minutes and entered the locker room level at 2-2, but this match only got stranger.

Second Half

Spalletti, as is his want, elected for no second half changes, despite his backline's boneheaded play in the first half. A decision that would prove costly a mere five minutes into the second frame.

Marco Borriello: 50th Minute

In terms of defensive lapses, this was almost a carbon copy of the first goal Roma conceded. After being picked apart by one long pass, Rüdiger played the fool as Alejandro Gomez danced around him twice before finding Borriello at the far post, who once again managed to outmaneuver a Roma defender, this time in the form of Zukanovic, who was begging to be pulled off after the first half--Poor marking, poor managing.

While Roma managed to cough up a 2-0 lead to a virtual bottom dweller, the next 30 minutes or so played on without incident--the passing was careless, the defense was stretched and Dzeko missed another one, which I can't even find it because a "Dzeko Miss" Google search produces too many results.

Spalletti attempted to correct course by swapping off Zukanovic for El Shaarawy, but the subtle change in formation didn't really do much for Roma's chances. However, as he so often does, Francesco Totti bailed out Roma once more.

Francesco Totti: 85th Minute

Never let it be said that we don't give credit where it's due; full marks to Dzeko for keeping this play alive with that lovely little backheel, ditto to Diego Perrotti who wisely remained on his feet rather than diving. From there, it was all hustle, as Emerson, El Shaarawy and Alessandro Florenzi all threw themselves at the ball, keeping the play alive long enough for Totti to finish it off as only he could.

So while this was a team goal in the truest sense, it's hard to imagine anyone else on the pitch being able to slot that one home on the short post while facing two oncoming defenders.

Conclusions

Where there's Totti, there's hope, need we say more? It's practically incalculable at this point, but Totti pulled Roma from the fire again, giving the Giallorossi one point they probably didn't deserve. While we entered the day dreaming of second place, the reality is that Roma's grasp on third is tenuous at best. With Inter's victory over Napoli yesterday, Roma's hold on third place was in danger of shrinking to a mere three points, but thanks to Totti they now have one more point of breathing room.

So spare me the "he's too old or too slow to play", Francesco Totti has a clearly defined role on this club, one which he should resume next season, one which we've seen on display in successive matches now. When the match, and this instance the season, is on the line and there are 20-30 minutes to play, Totti remains what he's always been--€”a game changer.

Roma in no way shape or form deserved a point today. The defense was atrocious, the passing lacked decision and the club was plagued with individual errors, but there was Totti, ever at the ready.

So you can deduce him, you can dissect him and you can disparage him, but Francesco Totti is always there. He is, to paraphrase the Night's Watch oath, Roma's sword in the darkness, the watcher on the walls, the shield that protects the realm of men.

Francesco Totti's watch isn't over yet.