Per usual, Roma entered this match in a fog of uncertainty, having dropped points in two of their previous three matches, and with players missing and the executives speaking cryptically about “mentality”, that haze showed no signs of abating. Roma’s frustrations were punctuated by the absurd suspension of Radja Nainggolan, who had the unmitigated gaul to get drunk on New Year’s Eve. It was, in a word, typical Roma. Why enter a critical match with clarity and purpose when you can sprinkle your tactical struggles with rumor and innuendo?
The team that toppled Chelsea in the Champions League is suddenly struggling to match wits with midtable Serie A sides, making this match a must win. Unfortunately for Roma, the fates (and the gods) conspire against them whenever Atalanta enters the equation. With only one victory in their past six matches, Atalanta has been the veritable thorn in Roma’s paw, making the wolves look like blind new born puppies more often than not.
Nevertheless, even with Nainggolan removed from the equation, Roma cuts the more impressive figure than Atalanta, which is all well and good until you realize that they play these matches on grass.
While Roma had a couple of nice forward runs in the first ten minutes or so, Atalanta struck first after only 14 minutes.
Andreas Cornelius: 14th Minute
GOOOAAAL: @Atalanta_BC take full advantage of a @ASRomaEN mistake, and a smooth Cornelius finish puts them in front! #RomaAtalanta pic.twitter.com/p3tO84v7Su— beIN SPORTS USA (@beINSPORTSUSA) January 6, 2018
Cornelius, leader of the apes, draws first blood— Chiesa di Totti (@chiesaditotti) January 6, 2018
I have nothing further to add to that goal than that, I just really love the Apes franchise. Besides, any dissection of this goal was rendered moot six minutes later when Atalanta doubled their lead.
Marten de Roon: 20th Minute
GOOOAAAL: It's a shocker in the capital! @Atalanta_BC open a 2-0 lead over @ASRomaEN inside of 20 minutes! #RomaAtalanta pic.twitter.com/SsZeH6GjkI— beIN SPORTS USA (@beINSPORTSUSA) January 6, 2018
Taking advantage of a porous midfield, Atalanta managed start a mini-counter attack in the neutral zone, quickly finding Alejandro Gomez down the left flank. After nearly losing the ball, Papu made a fool out of Alessandro Florenzi before reversing the ball back to the point to find de Roo, who was completely and utterly unmarked—there were six Roma players in the box, not a one managed to cover the top of the 18—leaving Alisson with precious little chance at smothering that one. This goal completely deflated Roma, who looked absolutely clueless and dispirited after only 20 minutes.
Roma would continue to flail desperately for the remaining 25 minutes of the first half, but no image encapsulated Roma’s struggles better than the sight of Diego Perotti dribbling headlong into eight Atalanta players, with nary a red shirt in sight. At this point, it would be incredibly generous (naive, more like it) to even call these tactics.
EDF is struggling at this point, a fact never more apparent than in the first 45 minutes of this match. Roma were granted a bit of a reprieve late in the first half as de Roon was sent off in the 45th minute for accumulated yellows.
So, would this one-man advantage be enough to spur Roma to victory?
EDF’s quixotic second half substitution pattern continued today, as he brought Patrick Schick on in the 50th minute-—I mean, what was the point of keeping Lorenzo Pellegrini on for five more minutes? It’s a small quibble, but it seems to happen pretty frequently.
But I digress, Roma would strike ten minutes into the second half thanks to Edin Dzeko’s first goal in over a month.
Edin Dzeko: 56th Minute
GOOOOAAAALLLLL!!!! Edinnnnnn #Dzeko cuts the lead in half. Comeback is on!!!! 1-2 | 56' #RomaAtalantapic.twitter.com/SbTV1y6jfM— SerieAchannel (@SerieAchannel) January 6, 2018
Roma took about ten minutes to take advantage of ten-man Atalanta, but it was well worth the wait, as this play was executed to perfection from start to finish. I’m not quite sure how Stephan El Shaarawy got so deep into midfield, but let’s thank god he did, because he served this ball up on a platter for Dzeko, catching him right in stride. From there, the Bosnian Batistuta slotted it home like it was 2017; calm, cool and decisive.
Roma would keep peppering Atalanta with shots, as Aleksandar Kolarov nearly cracked one form 20+ yards out in the 60th minute. It’s a shame it took a man advantage for Roma to stir the echoes, but they pulled a complete 180 from their punchless performance in the first half.
I could describe in great detail the final 30 minutes of this match—the harried attacks, the great ground crosses from Kolarov and the general sense of urgency—but I’m just going to leave this here....
Prediction: Roma pulls one back then bombards Atalanta with shots for the final 15 minutes, only to lose 2-1— Chiesa di Totti (@chiesaditotti) January 6, 2018
At this point, if I were so inclined, I could dip into our archive and take a look at any one of our match reviews from the fall of 2015 (the nadir of the Rudi Garcia era) and copy and paste it here, changing a few names to protect the innocent, and it would work just as well. We’ve reached that point I’m afraid.
Case in point: Roma had a man-advantage for the entire second half, and while they dominated possession and look far livelier than they did in the first half, it still amounted to fuck all, as they were only able to cobble together three shots on target...three...in 45 minutes...against 10 men.
Eusebio Di Francesco has been figured out; there are no ifs, ands or buts about it—nothing he is trying is working correctly—not his tactics, his in-match changes or his substitutions—and making matters worse, his once staunch defense appears to have some massive cracks in its dyke. And rather than trying something new, he keeps relying on the same formation and the same premise—work it wide through Kolarov and let him figure it out.
Once again the 32-year-old Serbian led the match in touches by a wide margin, attempting 13 crosses and five long balls in the process, and while he was once again the club’s best player, his heavy usage was emblematic of everything that’s wrong with EDF’s side at the moment; they’re too one dimensional.
But, that's what happens when you hire a manager so slavishly devoted to one particular tactic; when things go sour, he has no remedy. Roma are in a horrible way right now, falling to fifth place behind Lazio, who also have a game in hand on the rest of the league like Roma, and it’s starting to look as if EDF’s return to Roma won’t be a long one.
Why must the winter always be so bleak for this club?