With everything and nothing to play for yesterday, Roma chose the middle ground; playing pacifist in the war for space on the pitch, doing just enough to mount a credible threat, while leaving the door open wide enough for Antoine Griezmann to bust it open like the frosted tip, faux-hawked Kool Aid man that he is.
And despite that lack of direction and the imprecision in attack, Roma was only a few moments away from advancing to the knockout stages of the Champions League. For the first hour or so of the match, it looked like Roma was going to hold on for a scoreless draw, making clinical tackles when they were needed most, bending but not breaking to the advancing Atletico attack.
But then something objectively wonderful and provincially perverse happened.
Griezmann’s wonderful side-volley/bicycle kick was the perfect punctuation to Atletico’s victory, but when you run it back a few times, despite that beautiful individual effort from Griezmann, this goal looks more the result of poor space and positioning from Roma, and Kolarov in particular, than a completely undressing at the hands of Antoine Griezmann.
Let’s start from the beginning, the lob over the top from Fernando Torres.
While Roma had even numbers in defense at the outset of this play, with Kostas Manolas closing down on Torres, Atletico gained the numerical advantage at the edge of the 18 yard box. Moreover, with Fazio sliding over to cover Kevin Gameiro on the right, both Correa and Griezmann had open channels to make runs to the near and far posts, respectively.
There’s nothing terribly wrong with what Roma did there, it’s just an illustrative example of how Atletico’s passing, space and movement created numerical/opportunistic advantages in the final third. The payoff, as you’ll see, came a split second later when they made use of that odd-man rush, to borrow a hockey term.
First, the goal in gif form:
Following from our prior point, you can see how Torres sprung Correa into acres of space on the left, while at the same time Griezmann was able to ride Kolarov’s coattails towards the far post, eventually finding enough space to at least temporarily crush Roma’s Group C ambitions.
But let’s dissect that clip a bit further, freezing on a couple key moments, and you’ll see how Griezmann’s change of direction, combined with some ball watching from Kolarov, resulted in this match winner.
First up, the pivot seen ‘round the world.
With Fazio and Kolarov each with their backs turned to him and focused on Gameiro’s near post run, Griezmann planted his feet about ten to twelve yards from the goal line and then immediately shaded towards the far post, creating sufficient space to execute that audacious attempt, leaving Kolarov twisting in the wind and keeping Atletico’s Champions League hopes alive in the process.
Watch the clip in totality and you’ll see just how poor the marking and defensive spacing was on this play...
Just look at how, the moment Correa catches up to the ball, Griezmann plants his feet, halting his momentum and then completely changes direction, peeling out to the right, fading towards the far post, a move made worse by Kolarov’s ball watching and positioning.
Given the height and pace of Torres pass, the only chance Correa had to settle it was with this diving attempt—there was simply too much forward momentum on the ball and his legs to make any other play—so Fazio made the correct play by staying close to Gameiro, the closest Atletico outlet, but why on earth was Kolarov shadowing Fazio’s movement so closely?
By following Fazio, and keeping his back turned to Griezmann in the process, Kolarov created the circumstances in which Griezmann was able to exploit Roma’s spacing. Had Kolarov stayed home, shoulder to shoulder with him, Griezmann wouldn’t have had the chance to make that pivot and escape towards the far post. Now, he may very well have gotten an attempt off, but with Kolarov so intently focused on Correa/Gameiro, and so completely ignorant to his mere existence, Griezmann was able to turn the match with his deft change of direction and his booming side volley.
Given all that he’s contributed to Roma this season, we can forgive Kolarov for this momentary slip up, and one can even argue it was more a case of Atletico forcing Roma into an error than genuine neglect causing this goal, but it was proof of one thing—Atletico executed where Roma did not.
Let’s hope this isn’t a moment Roma comes to rue, but for this evening it was enough to stall our hopes.