Don’t look now, but as we outlined this week, Atalanta is a serious threat for a top four finish. While Milan and Lazio may be the two obstacles on everyone’s mind when it comes to Roma’s quest to qualify for next season’s Champions League, Atalanta can’t be overlooked. La Dea is in good form and sits in seventh place on 31 points. That’s just three points behind fourth place Milan and only two points behind Roma in fifth; making this a very important head-to-head match up.
August 27, 2018: Roma 3, Atalanta 3
Back on match day two, Atalanta came to the Olimpico and all looked like it would go according to plan when Javier Pastore’s cheeky backheel goal put Roma up after just two minutes. That didn’t quite play out, as the Bergameschi bum rushed the Giallorossi just a short time later, scoring three goals between the 19th and 38th minutes. EDF made some changes at half and Roma was able to claw its way back.
However, that match should’ve taught us two things early in the season.
- Atalanta were again going to be a force to be reckoned with, despite important player sales in the summer.
- Roma’s defense wasn’t going to be nearly as water tight as the previous year.
In a sense, that very early season match has become a microcosm for Roma’s campaign thus far: An attack with plenty of firepower, but a defense that has let in way too many goals. Roma will have to improve on the second part of the equation if it is to ward off competition from Milan, Lazio, and Atalanta for a top four finish; starting Sunday in Bergamo.
The Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia has become one of the toughest places to play on the peninsula in recent months, especially for the big boys of Serie A. In Bergamo, Atalanta defeated Inter 4-1, drew Juve 2-2, beat Lazio 1-0, and lost to Napoli 2-1 (on a very late goal). Atalanta seems to be one of those squads that plays up to its competition (they also drew Milan 2-2 at the San Siro), making them 2-3-1 (9 points) against top six teams. With this in mind, they’ll be ready for the Giallorossi on Sunday.
Atalanta vs. Roma: January 27th. 15:00 CET/9:00 EST. Stadio Atleti Azzurro d’Italia, Bergamo
Atalanta has scored a combined 11 goals in its last two Serie A meetings with Sassuolo (6-2) and Frosinone (5-0). Those outbursts have made La Dea the top scoring team in the league (44 goals); overtaking both Juve (41) and Napoli (39) in the process. The attack has been led by a scorching hot Duvan Zapata, who found the back of the net an astounding four times against Frosinone on Sunday.
The big Colombian now has 14 goals on the season, which leaves him tied atop the capocannoniere race with Fabio Quagliarella and Cristiano Ronaldo. It has been a breakout campaign for Zapata, who had never scored more than 13 goals in a domestic campaign in his career. Zapata certainly will be the focus for Roma's defense, after Atalanta recently turned down a £40 million offer for his services from West Ham. Stopping the Colombian could be a tall order for a Roma defense struggling to keep the ball out of the back of the net.
Roma’s defensive woes were again exposed last weekend against Torino when the Granata were able to fight back from a 2-0 deficit to level the score. However, unlike in past collapses, Roma were able to bounce back and find a winner through its leading scoring: Stephan El Shaarawy.
El Shaarawy currently leads a diverse Giallorossi attack with five goals, which will have to be clicking on all cylinders if Roma is to outgun Atalanta and win its fourth straight match. With the combination of Atalanta’s hot attack and Roma’s defensive faults, the Giallorossi will likely need a few goals to win this one. Roma will have limited options on the wings with both Cengiz Ünder and Diego Perotti sidelined, which means the Italian contingent (El Sharaawy, Pellegrini, and Zaniolo) will likely he relied on to support whoever starts at striker.
This match could go a long way in shaping the race for fourth place and a Champions League place. Milan and Lazio face off with Napoli and Juventus respectively, meaning there’s good chance that the winner of this match could be sitting in fourth by the end of Sunday.