While they say it generally takes a few seasons for a new stadium to engender a reputation or develop an aura of any sort, the Wanda Metropolitano, despite barely being out of the package, was quite raucous ahead of kickoff in tonight’s Champions League encounter between Roma and Atletico Madrid. The gleaming adboards and pristine stands didn’t belie the passion of the Madrid faithful. Hmm, maybe Roma should get their own Wanda?? Nah, that’s just crazy talk.
To counter the thrill in the stands, not to mention the foe on the pitch, Eusebio Di Francesco went with a fresh legged lineup against the Spanish opposition, fielding Maxime Gonalons (his third Champions League start oddly enough), Gerson and Lorenzo Pellegrini in place of Daniele De Rossi, Stephan El Shaarawy and Kevin Strootman, respectively, and the results, at least in the early minutes, were less than stellar.
Roma mirrored their approach to the derby over the weekend, focusing on the left flank, working through Diego Perotti and Aleksandar Kolarov before pumping the ball back to Nainggolan or Pellegrini at the point. While the movement from Perotti and Kolarov was relatively unfettered, Atleti was able to close down on the center of the 18, blocking a few attempts in the first half and generally closing down on loose balls, as both Gerson and Pellegrini had put back attempts thwarted in the first half.
All in the all the first half was a pretty even, open affair, with neither side really threatening (save for an Atleti goal that was disallowed due to a handball), though Atletico was a bit more precise in their shot selection. With Roma only one point away from advancing, you could sort of sense that they were a bit more restrained in their approach, resulting in a slightly more conservative approach in attack.
The second half carried on where the first left off, with each side trading half-chances and Roma’s penchant for attacking down the left flank working well enough, but ultimately coming up wanting.
Atletico would break the deadlock thanks to a bit of sublime skill from Antoine Griezmann and some poor marking from Roma’s defense.
As you can see, with Atletico driving the ball towards the endline on the right hand side, along with the entirety of Roma’s defense, Griezmann was left wide open on the far post, but full marks to Griezmann, that was a fantastic bit of skill.
The remainder of the second half is hardly worth recapping. Even after falling a goal down, there was simply very little by way of urgency in the Roma attack. This half-stepping would do Roma in once more as Atletico was able to stretch the back four in the 85th minute as Kevin Gameiro was able to slip past the defense and maneuver around an on-rushing Alisson. Credit to Alisson for at least changing Gameiro’s path, but the back four was just picked apart by an inch-perfect pass, one that was as well timed as they come.
In the end, Atletico did what they had to do while Roma, seemingly content with playing for a draw, were lacking the incisive play we’ve seen on the domestic side for the past several weeks. When you play not to lose, you do just that. Lose.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a ton to glean from this match. Roma was simply outworked and outmaneuvered by Atletico Madrid. In the end, this match came down to shot selection and quality, if not quantity. Atletico managed 16 total shots, five of which were on goal, to Roma’s seven, only one of which found the target. At the other end, Atleti was swarming in their defensive third, blocking 16 shots, a full six of which came in the penalty area.
Bottom line, Roma simply failed to execute when and where it mattered most, which isn’t a profound discovery, that’s generally how all teams lose, but just happened to occur on a grander stage this evening.
As it stands right now, with Chelsea wiping Qarabag off the bottom of their boots and advancing out of the group stage, Roma remains in second place, two points ahead of Atletico, setting up a positively panic attack inducing matchday six, one in which Roma is essentially facing a must-win at home versus Qarabag.
While there are other advancement permutations, don’t get it twisted; Roma’s fate is in their hands, and unlike today, they can’t rest on their laurels. EDFs tactics and selections must be purposeful and on-point.
Earlier in the week we discussed this new Roma, one which seems to have been imbued with a greater level of intestinal fortitude, a collective character trait they’ll need to call upon when they face Qarabag on December 5th. With Chelsea’s job done and dusted, one has to wonder how much of a fight they’ll put up against Atletico at the Bridge on that same date, so the onus is on Roma.
No waiting or hoping Chelsea holds firm, they need to come right out knock their Azerbaijani guests on their asses from minute one. Anything less will see them potentially ushered out of this most glamorous and profitable competition.
EDFs renaissance notwithstanding, this is Roma we’re talking about. You knew...you just fucking knew...that this would come down to the death.
It’s the Roma way. Love it or leave it.