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Midweek Recap: Takeaways from Roma vs. Atalanta

Bringing you the post-match reaction of Roma’s goalfest with Atalanta, in the cold light of day.

AS Roma v Atalanta BC - Serie A Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

Communication, Communication, Comm...

Since his arrival in Rome, Steven Nzonzi has gone out of his way to put himself forward as Daniele De Rossi’s teammate and not his replacement. Which made it all the more interesting when the two looked like they were arguing on the pitch last night, during Nzonzi’s remarkable debut.

However, hashing it out between teammates is rarely a bad thing. You frankly wish some Roma players would do more of it.

“It’s easy to play alongside [Daniele De Rossi],” Nzonzi said in the mixed zone after the game. “He’s a player with experience and one who’s intelligent tactically. On the positive side: he talks a lot. On the pitch, he’s talked to me and helped me. That makes it easier to adapt.”

Meanwhile EDF blamed his own angry reaction - one that left him needing a visit to Villa Stuart this morning to fix his wrist - on the lack of communication throughout the game.

“What gets me angry is how easily they can fall into not communicating,” Di Francesco told Roma’s official club channel. “I especially lost it in the last ten minutes because we lost our balance. We have to be better at holding our position on the pitch and instead we got stretched. If we want to be an important team, we cannot allow that.”

EDF Starting To Notice Life Without Alisson

“In the first half we gave our keeper 50 backpasses without any sense to them,” Di Francesco continued to Sky Italia after the game. It turned out to be 77 backpasses in the full 90 minutes from Roma. For the second week running, you’d have to put responsibility on EDF for pointing out problems of his own making.

If you know the guy between the sticks is still finding his confidence on the ball right now, why tell the team to bring him into the game as a key tactical part of Roma’s offence?

On the other hand- as far as the players’ responsibility goes - for an experienced backline like Florenzi, Manolas, Fazio, Kolarov and even De Rossi to rely so heavily on the new guy is mentally weaksauce.

Rather than working their way into finding a second goal after taking the lead, Roma were all too happy to let Atalanta flood forward. La Dea found a man advantage all over the pitch almost at will. It made for a number of peculiar stats:

  • Every Atalanta outfield player in the starting lineup had at least one shot on Roma’s goal - (Squawka).
  • The record 16 shots on Roma’s goal in one half was the highest since OptaPaolo’s football history since it began recording match stats in 2004 - (OptaPaolo).
  • Roma rallied back to finish the game with 25 shots on Atalanta’s goal to Atalanta’s 23 attempts. The 48 total attempts from both sides was the highest in a Serie A game since Parma vs Livorno in 2010 - (OptaPaolo).

A lot of Roma’s success will depend on Roma’s senior players not going another season passing the buck so heavily. Equally, EDF himself can do better to put his most experienced players in the best position to focus on what they do best. Speaking of which...

The Return of El Flaco

The good, bad and sublime of Javier Pastore’s debut brought out the most banal kind of football debate living on the internet today: which formation is best? And should we even care?

AS Roma v Atalanta BC - Serie A Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

If Pastore isn’t fielded at left wing for the game’s start, then he never finds himself on the end of Cengiz’s cross into the box to score that beautiful backheel. Does that make EDF’s decision to start Pastore on the left wing a stroke of tactical genius? Of course not. And no one really wants to see Pastore playing on the wing.

So it’s as much about player attitude, as it is about formation.

What brings out the best in Pastore goes hand in hand with the attitude of the players around him. Sure, that’s not the most shocking truism in football worth repeating, but it’s a hell of a lot more interesting to watch play out in front of our screens.

Daniele De Rossi can’t find the confidence to play the ball through the middle of the pitch in a 3-man midfield. We saw the best of him on the ball against Barcelona and we’ve seen it again yesterday when Roma shifted to using four (and later five) bodies in the middle of the park. Meanwhile, Steven Nzonzi just looks confident regardless.

EDF himself rebuked Pastore for “disappearing after the goal” in the first half, before praising the very same player for delivering the kind of quality asked in the second. That Pastore did and then some. The sight of El Flaco in a Roma shirt, just waiting in the cut between the lines, looking to unleash another high-quality ball into the box is something I’d personally dreamt of some eight or so years ago. It was a dream repressed, then made real for 45 second-half minutes of last night’s game.

Pastore’s mixed performance brought about one conclusion: it looks far easier to find your rhythm when you know your teammates are looking to control the game behind you, even better when they actually keep their head up and their lanes open to feed you the ball.

Squad Depth or No Squad Depth?

If no one is around to hear Kevin Strootman’s protests in the middle of Monchi’s woods, does a transfer really make a sound? And if we’re looking at De Rossi-Nzonzi-Pastore as the irreplaceable midfield combo to finally make Roma’s entire team chemistry work, can we really call this squad depth?

Well, there’s the counter argument that Di Francesco truly has a large margin of error to spend at the start of any Serie A game now. Even Gasperini reflected after the match that Atalanta “struggled” with Roma’s substitutions. For the second week in a row, Roma’s impact subs off the bench helped to turn the tide of the game and keep the Lupi’s 8-game undefeated league streak intact - making Roma the longest running unbeaten side in Serie A right now.

Psychologically weak they may be in some match situations yes, but ultimately this Roma squad is still carrying on the momentum found at the end of last season - turning what was once draws into wins, and losses into draws. Of course, if you’re Juventus, then you go one better and turn everything into wins... but squad-depth-beggars can’t be choosers.

Alessandro Florenzi: The First Contract Renewal To Go Well?

Another ‘Class of Sabatini’ player shot out of Rome this week, but take a look at it from James Pallotta’s point of view.

Radja Nainggolan, Kevin Strootman, Kostas Manolas. Whatever we think of these guys personally, the contract extensions didn’t lead to better sporting performance on the pitch. Shelling out more money to keep “key” players at the club has - so far - backfired on Pallotta’s watch.

FC Barcelona v AS Roma - International Champions Cup 2018 Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

Radja got smart and saw the biggest raise of his career came from assists and goals, then slavishly focused himself on more of the same at the expense of his box-to-box glory days. Strootman simply wasn’t able to replicate his all-too-brief peak form in a Roma shirt. Manolas has become increasingly singled out by opposing sides for his limitations on the ball.

Now there is Alessandro Florenzi, fresh from signing the last big contract of his career signed this summer and... so far, so good. The right-back used his intelligent read of the game to help shift momentum in Roma’s favour for the second Serie A week running.

Yesterday, he validated Edin Dzeko’s unselfish leadership upfront by running 70 yards up the pitch non-stop, exploiting the space beyond Dzeko and carrying the ball forward to slot it under the Atalanta’s keeper for Roma’s second goal.

Luckily for the Giallorossi, Florenzi’s initial post-match diagnosis on his left knee was confirmed in further tests this morning. As it’s merely an impact injury, Roma’s vice-captain shouldn’t be out of action for long at all.