As we discussed in our Q&A with our colleagues at Into the Calderon, Roma was always up against it in this match. Led by Antoine Griezmann, and with the better record in Europe as of late, both in form and reputation, Atletico Madrid was the odds on favorite heading into this match. In order for Roma to extract a single point from this match, much less win it, EDFs side would have to be resolute defensively, frustrating in the midfield and clinical with whatever opportunity they managed to generate in the front.
For much of the first half it appeared as though Roma had mastered part of this equation, as they kept Atletico at bay while creating a few chances between Radja Nainggolan and Gregoire Defrel. Despite that lack of accuracy up front, Roma turned things on a bit as the first half waned, looking like the better side as the clock inched closer to the 45 minute mark.
However, as the first half gave way to the second, Di Francesco’s side began to look out of energy and ideas. Between Juanfran and Saul Rodriguez, Atletico nearly opened up their Champions League account but where snuffed by Alisson Becker, who looked every bit as sharp as his Brazilian Don Draper nickname would suggest. But by and large, Roma was simply lacked energy in the second half, both creative and literal.
Accordingly, it became a matter of riding out the clock and not conceding a late goal to the Spaniards. And once again, Alisson was top of the mark, denying Atletico from point blank range. At that point, as the match crossed the 80 minute mark Roma became, well, desperate, with Perotti and Aleksandar Kolarov flopping to the ground attempting to earn a late penalty call to no avail.
But that was nothing compared to the sight of Kostas Manolas throwing his hands up in exasperation, looking for a call, WHILE THE BALL WAS IN PLAY! He was extremely fortunate Atletico didn’t capitalize on his laziness.
Alisson would save Roma’s ass once again in stoppage time, stopping a shot at the near post, parrying the ball right back to Saul, who immediately began to celebrate, not realizing his rebounded attempt clanged off the post, sparing Roma yet another moment of Champions League ignominy.
Brazilian Don Draper MOTM pic.twitter.com/qNgRWdxrco— Chiesa di Totti (@chiesaditotti) September 12, 2017
Full disclosure, I wasn’t able to see the entirety of this match, but from what I witnessed in the second half, Roma was typically Roma. Di Francesco’s side looked absolutely gassed in the second half, particularly the midfield trio of Daniele De Rossi, Kevin Strootman and Nainggolan, so it wasn’t a total shock to see EDFs side once more bereft of creativity in the middle of the park.
And as is often the case in situations like these, the onus falls on Diego Perotti. While Perotti was able to waltz around Atleti’s defenders on the left flank, he was left wanting once he managed to reach the penalty area, opting instead to look for a foul rather than a teammate. There was precious little direction action from anyone in a red shirt in the second half, leaving Edin Dzeko to twist in the wind.
It’s easy to forget given how much time has passed since the start of the season (thanks to the international break and this weekend’s washout), but this was only Eusebio Di Francesco’s third competitive match in charge of Roma, and it most definitely shows. Sluggish, listless, confused, ineffective. These are all apt adjectives to describe EDFs Roma across that trio of matches.
However, the silver lining was the man between the pipes, Alisson Becker. Without his second half heroics, Roma would have assuredly walked away two or three-nil losers. And at the end of the day, a point is a point, and thanks to Alisson, Roma held Atletico in check, putting them in a positive position in Group C. Not ideal, but far from a worst case scenario.
Roma’s next Champions League tilt features their first ever trip to Azerbaijan when they take on Qarabag FK on September 27th.
Until then, keep your chins up, Roma is still alive.