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Atalanta Preview: Dancing with La Dea

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Roma welcome Atalanta aka Papu’s Army to town on Saturday

SSC Napoli v Atalanta BC - TIM Cup Photo Franco Romano/Nurphoto

First some history lessons! The name Atalanta is taken from the female athlete of Greek mythology. Atalanta was a virgin huntress and the daughter of Iacus. She became a fierce hunter and was always happy. She took an oath of virginity to the goddess Artemis. Ahem.

Note: Don’t confuse with Atlanta, the biggest city in Georgia, USA and birthplace of Julia Roberts, Martin Luther King and Kanye West. Also, go Braves!

Which then leads us back to the brave Greek woman Atalanta. Or better yet, her Italian counterpart: Atalanta Bergamo FC. Coming off a surprise win in Napoli this week, La Dea (The Goddess) now visit a second tough trip in the space of five days. Atlanta-Roma was the very first game of the season back in August so that means we’re basically halfway through Serie A right now (bar the postponed match in Sampdoria). Roma narrowly and unconvincingly won thanks to Kolarov who would later turn into one of Monchi’s best (of not THE best transfer of the Summer of Roma).

A lot has happened since then, but let’s focus on Saturday. Overall Atalanta has been less impressive than last season. They have gone 7-6-6 in the league so far, sitting in ninth place. However, they still are in the race for the Coppa Italia and, yes, Europa League. Your typical tournament team, quoi. Papu Gomez still is their most lethal weapon and doesn’t feel too old for this shit (spot the movie reference). His 4 Serie A goals in ‘17-’18 are not impressive but when in form he’s one of Italy’s most dangerous hitmen.

Other than Gomez, La Dea boast some other fine talents like Cristante, Caldara, Kurtic and even a Belgian one: rightback Castagne. There’s one familiar face: defender Toloi who had a short but sweet,.... well, no only a short career in Rome, somewhere in the Rudi Garcia era. He had to compete with Benatia and Castan, both in their prime, so yeah, very few appearances in red and yellow for poor Rafael.

Atalanta have beaten both Milan and Napoli on their own turf in recent weeks so they clearly don’t care about home advantages. They’re a tough opponent. Always, everywhere. Lovely.

Now enter Roma, a side which seems a bit lost nowadays. Two goals in four games, including only one win. For the first time under DiFra they’re struggling for a ‘long’ period (which is still relative, I know). Even their own Olimpico doesn’t do the trick anymore, with a frustrating draw against Sassuolo and a narrow hard fought win against Cagliari. Atalanta is without a doubt a higher caliber than those two. Perfect. This doesn’t look good, does it?

Luckily Roma’s players got more rest than Atalanta’s ones, due to the midweek Coppa Italia round. Gasperini probably won’t rotate though, so expect all of Kurtic, Gomez, Berisha, Toloi, Massiello, Caldara, Ilicic, Cristante and co to play on Saturday. They’re no world beaters but damn, they have a respectable and trustworthy roster that can cause problems to any side in Serie A. The Roman injured and crippled are still the same names like in 2017: Karsdorp and Defrel.

Curiously, Eusebio decided to drop Nainggolan for this one, as punishment for his excesses during New Year’s Eve, which you all have read by now. Boy, if he knew how I celebrated New Year, then I’d be suspended for five months! In all seriousness, losing a fighter like Radja is always a blow, but this does give Pellegrini another start so yeah, every cloud has a silver lining I guess.

Le question du jour will be this one: Will Schick start or not? Is a frontline of Schick-Dzeko in some kind of weird 4-2-4 a realistic option? Or will they suffocate against Atalanta’s packed defence? Will Eusebo stick to his beloved 4-3-3 with SES and Perotti on the wings? During his press conference Eusebio revealed both won’t start so either one will be dropped to the bench. Flip a coin.

I just have this particular feeling that this won’t turn into a goalfest like SPAL or Fiorentina. A narrow 1-0 or dull 0-0/1-1 seems almost written in the starts. Unless... Unless Roma finds its groove again. If Roma finally grows some balls and sends out a message to the rest. The Roma we saw against Chelsea, Lazio, Fiorentina or Milan.

Simply put: To beat La Dea, the Giallorossi must put up a divine performance. And for God’s sake, keep an eye on Gomez, will ya?