As we discussed earlier today, reports are circulating that Roma have landed Atalanta midfielder Franck Kessie for a cool €28 million, pending, you know, an official statement from either club. And while it is perfectly understandable that this move steals all the headlines, let’s not forget one thing: Roma has an incredibly tough home fixture to attend to first.
Throughout this season, Atalanta has surprised Serie A pundits by sticking around the upper echelons of the league, making regular appearances in the top five or six, and, well, here we are: after 31 weeks of play, the Goddess is perched in fifth place, two points clear of the newly minted AC Milan for Italy’s final European qualification slot. Roma, as you’re well aware, are staving off Napoli, who are a mere four points behind the Giallorossi for Italy’s final automatic berth into the Champions League.
Roma v. Atalanta: April 15th, 15:00 CET/9:00 EDT. Stadio Olimpico, Roma.
Point being, Kessie rumors aside, both clubs have a myriad of reasons to play it to the hilt to tomorrow. However, before we delve into that, a look back at one Roma’s more disappointing turns this season.
November 20, 2016: Atalanta 2, Roma 1
Things started off well enough for Roma in this match, as Edin Dzeko and Mohamed Salah each had decent cracks at Atalanta’s goal, only to be denied by a Herculean effort from Etrit Berisha, who was playing the role of super keeper vs Roma. Diego Perotti would seize the initiative, however, after Rafael Toloi was nailed for a red card in the 40th minute.
In the end, it wasn’t meant to be, though, as two of Atalanta’s young un’s, Mattia Caldara and Kessie, stepped up to give the Goddess a victory, one that would be the death knell to Roma’s pursuit of Juventus. But onward and upward, right?
Be Kind to Kessie
This match has the potential to be all kinds of awkward. Now that Roberto Gagliardini has been shipped off to Inter, and with Alejandro Gomez suspended for this match, Kessie will be front and center for Atalanta. Gomez has the advantage in the present tense, but Kessie is far and away the most talented player on this squad, and with the Goddess short staffed this weekend, he’ll need to carry the load against Roma. So will Radja and the boys take it easy on Kessie, kindly and politely stripping him of the ball, or will Kevin Strootman unhinge his jaw and swallow the kid whole?
Considering that this remains a rumor, these are probably academic concerns, so let’s shift the discussion to Spalletti’s always contentious lineup selections. It’s looking increasingly likely that Emerson Palmieri is out for the remainder of the season, putting the onus on Mario Rui, who has alternatively looked enticing and lost at the left back/wingback spot, while Daniele De Rossi remains a late week uncertainty.
Without Danielino in tow, the Romasphere is collectively predicting a 4-2-3-1 with a Leandro Paredes and Kevin Strootman double pivot, one which would seem well suited to both men’s respective capabilities. Paredes’ future in Rome has been in doubt all season long, and figures to only get more tenuous if Kessie is indeed brought aboard, but they’ve been doing him a disservice by playing him out of position all season long, but the offensive half of a double pivot isn’t the worst spot for him, so we’ll see how he stacks up against Kessie toe-to-toe tomorrow.
If Luciano Spalletti does indeed opt for the 4-2-3-1 it features what is, in my opinion, Roma’s best attacking frontline—Deko supported by Stephan El Shaarawy, Radja Nainggolan and Mohamed Salah. You get Dzeko’s force of gravity up top, Nainggolan’s relentless pursuit of the ball in the middle and the Egyptian’s pace and agility out wide, it’s damn near perfect, and if it doesn’t work, you have Perotti and, dare I say it, Francesco Totti, available off the bench to change the point of attack.
The attack and midfield have long had several subtle variations throughout the season, but if Emerson truly is out for the remainder of the year, the backline has suddenly become rather fixed. With Rui lining up on the left, the remainder of the backline fills in thusly: Federico Fazio, Kostas Manolas and Antonio Rüdiger on the right. It is, minus Rui, an incredibly tall backline, one that is exceedingly athletic and blisteringly fast.
The downside, as we saw last week, was their penchant to cross the ball, cross the ball and cross the ball until all other non-existent options were exhausted. Fortunately, Roma turned it on in the second half, and while a cross in and of itself has value insofar as it threatens the defense, for a stretch last week it looked like Roma had reverted to their Rudi Garcia tendencies, relying too heavily upon wing play, pumping in aimless crosses, and with Rüdiger playing out of position, this is something we’ll have to keep an eye on going forward.
No matter what lineup Spalletti chooses, this has trap match written all over it. The media and fanbase are distracted by the Franck Kessie news, Atalanta is missing a few key players, Berish has a history of playing well against us and Roma’s emotional leader, DDR, is sidelined. We’ve seen this horror show before and it seldom ends well.
In order to prevent this calamity, Roma must (at the very least) establish a two goal lead before the 60th minute. To do otherwise is to flirt with disaster. Atalanta already got the best of Roma once this season, it can’t happen again.