In our match preview, we warned of the potential for distraction ahead of this match. With the always present Franck Kessie-to-Roma rumors picking up steam throughout the week, culminating in reports Friday that a €28 million deal was reached, coupled with the fact that Atalanta was without their best player, Alejandro Gomez, coupled with the fact that Roma absolutely needed all three of these points, the potential for disappointment was practically assured.
To counter this possibility, Luciano Spalletti rolled out his de facto A-team, a 4-3-3 headed by an Edin Dzeko, Mohamed Salah and Diego Perotti frontline, which, at this point in the season, may be his best bet, though one could certainly argue that Stephan El Shaarawy is preferable to Perotti given their recent form.
In the early goings it looked like this revamped 4-3-3 was taking a different attacking approach:
Roma's trying to one touch their way past the Atalanta defense deep in the area...its, umm, not working— Chiesa di Totti (@chiesaditotti) April 15, 2017
And that really was the case, they were working the ball centrally throughout the first ten to fifteen minutes of the match, the problem was simply that the passes were quite “pingy” enough; that is to say, the touch and move was lacking some touch. They couldn’t find the goldilocks zone; the touch passes were either too heavy, leading to poor first touches, or too soft, leading to easy interceptions for the Atalanta defense--the idea was there, it was lacking execution.
Naturally, then, this approach—which was tactically correct—gave way to the fuck it, let’s cross it and see what happens tactic. To say this was ineffective is a gross miscarriage of the word itself. Desperate cross after desperate cross was flung in by everyone from Antonio Rüdiger to Mario Rui to Kevin Strootman, but no matter whose boot it came off, the crosses were fruitless.
Of course, given Roma’s inability to draw blood, Atalanta naturally scored a rather easy goal.
Jasmin Kurtic: 21st Minute
Not much we can say about that one; just horrific spacing/marking all the way around, which led to a rather clean look at goal for Kurtic, though he certainly executed the shot perfectly, so let’s give him proper credit. But this exactly the sort of preventable goal that has done in Roma time and time again.
Roma wouldn’t really threaten for the remainder of the first half, but wasted little time in levelling affairs in the second half.
Edin Dzeko: 50th Minute
After a lovely swooping, left to right cross from Rui, Salah got his curly mop to it, heading it over to Dzeko for the simple tap-in. The chemistry these two have developed this season has been remarkable, and in this instance, it provided Dzeko with his league leading 25th goal of the season.
Roma wouldn’t stop there, however. In the ensuing ten to fifteen minutes, the Giallorossi very nearly grabbed the lead, as Radja Nainggolan fired one off the crossbar and Daniele De Rossi almost scored a goal of the year candidate, as his flying, heels-over-head volley missed the near post by a few inches.
Despite those near misses, Roma flipped the match on its ear, completely seizing the initiative in the second half, a change for which we can and should give full credit to Spalletti. By swapping out the ineffective Kostas Manolas for Bruno Peres, and by extension pushing Rüdiger back to centerback, Roma was much more balanced, as Peres is far more effective going forward from the fullback spot than is Rudiger. This swap had the added bonus of allowing Tonit to focus more on stifling attacks than creating them. This baseball-style double switch by Spalletti was a masterstroke, which begs the question, why not roll with this from the start?
Spalletti opted for another seismic shift for the final 15 minutes, swapping out De Rossi for Stephan El Shaarawy, giving him effectively four forwards on the pitch for the waning minutes of the match.
SES nearly made an impact as he was taken down (sort of) in the box, though his attempt at baiting the ref to draw a card was laudable. Federico Fazio nearly made it 2-1 on the very next play, as Roma won a corner, one that was swung right towards Captain Caveman, who very nearly kneed it home, but couldn’t get a clean shot at it and the ball skipped harmlessly out of danger.
Spaletti’s final change of the match, one made probably ten minutes too late, was Francesco Totti for Diego Perotti, and while Totti wasn’t ultimately able to save the day, his passing and creativity was evident in his measly five minute cameo, certainly enough to make you believe he deserved at least 15 minutes in this match.
Ultimately, it wasn’t meant to be, Roma’s putrid performance in the first half doomed them. And while we should credit Spalletti with some shrewd second half moves, in particular the double switch of Peres and Rüdiger, it was simply too little too late. Having said that, sports, much like life, swing on miniscule moments, and in this instance Roma had two legitimate chances to win this match—the Nainggolan crossbar shot and DDR’s near-miraculous volley—but it simply wasn’t meant to be this afternoon.
So how do we digest this? Can we be rational and realize that, were it not for a few millimeters in either direction, Roma would have won this 2-1, or will we use this match to run Spalletti out of town? His first half choices were well off the mark, but has Peres really done anything lately to warrant starting over an out-of-position Rüdiger?
It’s testament to how maddening this club has been this season, they’re perpetually damned if they do, damned if they don’t. Start Peres and people will bitch about not using a three-man backline, but when you start Rudiger, this is what sometimes happens; you lose that creativity and crossing from the right back spot. Spalletti was, in some ways, in a no-win situation.
No matter how we swallow this, the fact remains, Roma has taken only one point from Atalanta this season, and that alone speaks volumes for this club’s current state. We’ve said it several times over the past two seasons or so, but Roma’s Scudetto chances are far more dependent on how they do versus the Atalantas of the world than their actual record against Juventus. They can survive and compete taking only one point from Juve, but failing to defeat Atalanta and dropping points against the likes of Cagliari, Fiorentina and Torino are the margins in which championships are lost.
And that’s a riddle Roma has yet to solve. But fret not, even if Napoli takes down Udinese later today, Roma will have, at worst, a two point lead, which, tenuous though it might be, is a lead nonetheless.
With yet another disappointing performance in the books, seek shelter, the Spalletti-is-leaving rumor cycle will hit full gear this week.
Man of the disappointing match?
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Daniele De Rossi
Other (leave your choice in the comments)