The first match of the Eusebio Di Francesco era started off as one would expect, with a 4-3-3, though it included one small wrinkle. Rather than Federico Fazio or Hector Moreno lining up alongside Kostas Manolas, it was Juan Jesus who received the start at left center-back. Everything, or everyone, else was as we predicted, the midfield was stacked while Gregoire Defrel served as an ad hoc right winger.
And through the first 25 minutes or so of the match, the flow and tempo was also what we expected. Sure, there was some overlapping and interweaving in Roma’s middle third, but by and large, there was nothing incisive and very little direct play, save for one beautiful sequence in which Bruno Peres sprung Gregoire Defrel on the right flank, though the Frenchman’s final touch let him down.
Despite the lack of precision in the run of play, Roma was up to snuff from the spot.
Aleksandar Kolarov: 31st Minute
If you had to draw up Roma’s first goal of the season, you never would have picked this one. With Miralem Pjanic, Francesco Totti and even Leandro Paredes all long gone, we sort of glossed over the fact that Roma had no top dog set piece specialist; well, it’s safe to say that’s been settled. After a rather stagnant first half hour, Roma was rescued by one of their newest signings, as Kolarov put a little magic into the mix, sending a worm burner under the wall and past a helpless Etrit Berisha.
Just a lovely bit of skill from Kolarov; you have to have big ole brass ones to attempt that in your first ever match for your new club. Bravo.
Despite Kolarov’s heroics, Roma was pretty stilted in the first 45 minutes, with 60% of their passes headed in the wrong direction. The sense that new tactics and new players were being integrated was palpable.
While EDF opted for no changes in the second half, his side definitely played with a greater sense of urgency; the passes were quicker and more incisive and the spacing was far better than the first half, with Radja Nainggolan and Edin Dzeko each threatening within the first quarter of the second half. Not perfect, but much better than the first frame.
Nainggolan in particular seemed more animated in the second half, as he was frequently seen bursting into wide open spaces, and while he didn’t make much of his chances, it was a welcome development from the hesitant #4 we saw in the first 45 minutes; an attacking Radja is the best Radja.
Still, despite that veritable B-12 shot, Roma was susceptible to Atalanta’s attacking moves, particularly when Alejandro Gomez was involved. The would be Roma player was menacing the Giallorossi midfield and defense, to the tune of seven key passes and seven successful dribbles.
Roma’s first change of the match, which came after the 70th minute, was an odd one. With a slim 1-0 lead, and with Gomez wreaking havoc, you would have expected a lock ‘em down type of move, someone like Maxime Gonalons, but EDF opted for Stephan El Shaarawy to replace Defrel, pushing Diego Perotti to the right in the process.
EDF’s hand would be forced again later in the half after Bruno Peres went down twice in the span of five minutes, forcing Di Francesco to bring on Federio Fazio, pushing Manolas to a makeshift right back.
Atalanta would attempt to exploit that weakness almost immediately. Although they attacked down the opposite flank, the Goddess was definitely pressing Roma in the final ten minutes of match, launching attack after attack at Roma’s patchwork back line, and were it not for the good graces of the goal post, Josip Ilicic would have levelled this match, as he beat all of Roma’s defense at the far post before clanging one off the upright.
The final five to ten minutes were absolutely chaotic as Atalanta seemingly threw everyone forward, nearly levelling the match...again...in stoppage time. With some 30 seconds left on the clock, Papu Gomez blew past Pellegrini and played a dangerous cross into the middle that was nearly converted twice, but Roma somehow managed to clear the ball out and free from harm.
In the end, Roma was able to ride out the clock to earn the 1-0 victory, but it would be a stretch to call this a resounding victory. There were praise worthy performances for sure, namely Kolarov, Alisson Becker and even Juan Jesus, but by and large Roma had the look of a club in transition. There were plenty of nervy and frustrating moments for fans and players alike—Atalanta could have leveled and even won this match—so, standouts aside, it’s hard to feel good, let alone comfortable, about Roma’s performance today.
However, set pieces exist for a reason, and Roma seems to have a valuable weapon in that regard with Kolarov. At the end of the day, a win is a win. So whether they blew the doors off the barn or barely squeaked by, they still got three points. We’ll save the hand wringing for another day. For now, Roma are undefeated!
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Daniele De Rossi