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Roma Blows Three-Goal Lead, Draws Atalanta 3-3

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Two words; Roma Happened

Atalanta BC v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images

Since we credited Betty Bavagnoli for her excellent personnel rotations yesterday, it's only right we pay the same compliment to Eusebio Di Francesco, who made a couple big, ballsy changes today. Faced with the challenge of corralling the league's best attack, Di Francesco made two key changes to his defense, opting for the more athletic Ivan Marcano ahead of Federico Fazio and giving Rick Karsdorp his second straight start in place of Alessandro Florenzi. They were moves that both paid off and ultimately doomed Roma in the end. You now, standard operating procedure.

However, before we focus on the fall, let's bask in the glory that was the first half.

One simply never knows what to expect from this Roma side. They can just as easily come out and score two quick goals as they could manage one shot in 75 minutes. If they can't figure out who they are, how can we hope to?

So, if I told you that Edin Dzeko, a man who hasn't scored since October, hit the woodwork eight times in the first half or scored a hat trick in fifteen minutes, neither would be surprising, right?

Well, fortunately for Roma, it was more the latter than the former...

Edin Dzeko: 3rd Minute (Atalanta 0, Roma 1)

We talked a lot last week about Atalanta's potent attack, and for good reason, it's among the best in the league, so striking early and putting them on the back foot was really the best case scenario for Roma. And Edin Dzeko being the man to score that goal was really, really the best case scenario for Roma. Not only did this goal give them the early lead, it was Dzeko's first goal since...the Reagan Administration, I think. Whatever the case may be, give a heaping helping of credit to The Kid, Nicolo Zaniolo, for a pinpoint chested assisted—I just simply cannot believe how good he's gotten so quickly, and how important he's become to anything Roma does.

Dzeko's goal would kick off perhaps the most intense stretch of football we've seen in months. Not one's to sit by idly, Atalanta came right back at Roma, with Papu Gomez, Duvan Zapata and Josip Ilicic each threatening in quick succession. They may not have beat Robin Olsen, but they certainly got the home crowd off their feet—the Stadio Atleti Azzurri was kicking off.

In a measure of how open ended this match was, Roma not only thwarted those three attempts, they had a full four blocked shots in their own penalty area within the first 18 minutes of the match. Maybe open ended isn't the right word—Atalanta was attacking with more ferocity that Roma—but Di Francesco's new look back line was up to the task in the early goings, bending but not breaking and beating Atalanta to loose balls left and right.

However, Atalanta would just not stop coming; this had an uncanny resemblance to a Roma-Barcelona match where every defensive step Roma took had to be perfect otherwise Barcelona (or in this case Atalanta) would blow the barn doors off. With Kostas Manolas and Ivan Marcano doing veritable shuttle runs every few minutes, desperately trying to slow down Gomez, Zupata and Ilicic, Roma looked worn out after only barely half an hour on the pitch; that they managed to keep Atalanta off the score sheet that long was a miracle.{FORESHADOWING ALERT!}

Edin Dzeko: 33rd Minute (Atalanta 0, Roma 2)

First off, great pass from Steven Nzonzi—he caught Dzeko right in stride—but, in a course correction from the last goal, we have to give Dzeko full marks here. Not only did he show some impressive speed (relatively speaking) to keep Rafael Toloi in his rear view, but look at that touch to skirt around the keeper, and that shot...that was perfect...to put that in the furthest reaches of the far corner from an almost parallel, 180 degree angle is remarkable.

And Roma nearly made it three-nil moments later when Aleksandar Kolarov found a streaking Nicolo Zaniolo through the middle, while The Kid gave it a good effort, Berisha simply had too much time and space to close out Zaniolo, but Roma really flipped the table in the latter stages of the first half; they sat back after the first goal, absorbing Atalanta's body blows, but then completely opened up the flood gates from the 30th minute onward.

And the floods kept coming...

Stephan El Shaarawy: 40th Minute (Atalanta 0, Roma 3)

Zaniolo was in the thick of it again, setting up this El Shaarawy goal late in the first half. The Kid had acres of space himself, and one couldn't blame him if he charged ahead on his own, but Zaniolo made the smart play, finding SES on the left flank in space with a lovely, looping chipped cross. From there, El Shaarawy took a touch (and don't sell that short, he was REALLY close to the keeper), got the ball on this right foot and beat Berisha rather easily.

Roma was absolutely ruthless from the 25th minute through the 44th minute, picking apart the Atalanta defense with through ball after through ball, but this is still Roma we're talking about, so you knew they were bound for a bad moment, and that moment came just before the stroke of half time when Timothy Castagne beat Robin Olsen at the near post on an imminently save-able shot—it just short of fell like a wounded duck at the near post but Olsen was slow to react, giving Atalanta a lifeline heading into half time. {FORESHADOWING ALERT NUMBER TWO!}

Nevertheless, this was the best half we've seen from Roma in a long time, especially when you consider they only had 40% possession, but they were clinical when it mattered most, converting three of their eight shots into goals.

Second Half

No changes for either side at the half, unless you count Roma's sudden sloppiness. In literally their first touch of the second half, Rick Karsdorp dribbled it right into an Atalanta defender, giving the ball away like it was a yellow starburst. Karsdorp's turnover led to an immediate attacking move from Atalanta, one that Manolas (again) snuffed out thanks to his speed and anticipation.

Atalanta, looking to seize the initiative in the second half, nearly grabbed another, but, well...

Roma should consider themselves lucky because Ilicic missed an absolute sitter within the first five minutes of the fresh half. Despite that miss, the early minutes of the second half were a perfect replica of the first; Atalanta pressing and Roma adapting/countering.

And much like the first half, Atalanta would eventually find a breakthrough, as former Roma defender (one who should have been retained, btw) Rafael Toloi absolutely smoked Manolas at the near post, rising above him and snapping a header past the suddenly clueless Robin Olsen.

The match commentators were spot on though. Not only are Atalanta tough to defeat at home, but the first fixture in the fall played out nearly identically, where Roma erased a 3-1 lead to draw the match. {FORESHADOWING ALERT NUMBER THREE}

With Roma at the very least needing a goal to make things more comfortable, EDF swapped out Stephan El Shaarawy and Lorenzo Pellegrini for Justin Kluivert and Alessandro Florenzi, respectively. Ale playing further up the pitch is always an intriguing proposition while Kluivert, on athleticism alone, can swing a match, so the moves made perfect sense in the context of this match...for the time being.

I'd like to say things calmed down after that, but this is fucking Roma, isn't it?

After drawing a yellow card for taking down Ilicic in the box, the VAR gods correctly reversed the call, giving Atalanta a penalty kick. Roma seemed doom until Zupata cleared the cross bar by a good five feet—the Giallorossi were extremely luck to maintain their lead...for all of a minute.

Zapata would strike moments later, beating Robin Olsen on a shot your three-year-old niece could have saved. If you count the last minute goal in the first half, Roma pissed away a three-goal lead in about 27 minutes or so—pathetic. As much as we should blame Olsen, Manolas and Karsdorp for their missteps in the second half, we have to lay equal blame at the feet of Monchi, for literally DOING NOTHING to reinforce a defense that so desperately needed help during the winter transfer window.

Roma's penchant for unbuckling came home to roost in this match, and with a golden opportunity to leapfrog Milan into fourth place as well; a side they face next week minus Bryan Cristante and Steven Nzonzi now thanks to accumulated cards.

Di Francesco would combat Atalanta's sudden surge by bringing on Federico Fazio, a signal that Roma were content to settle for the draw rather than gunning for the win. An interesting call by EDF, and perhaps one that should have been made 15 minutes earlier—once Atalanta cut the lead to one, why not shore things up then? By being so late to react, and doing absolutely nothing to press for that fourth goal, EDF completely capitulated on an evening when his attack did look sharp.

It's moments like these that make you question whether or not he's the right man for the job. He’s seemingly stuck in a perpetual two steps forward and two steps backwards existence; he simply cannot seem to get out of his own way, and he was badly outclassed by Giampiero Gasperini this afternoon.

So bad were Roma in the second half that, through 87 minutes or so, they didn't have a SINGLE ATTEMPT on goal. Pathetic. Absolutely pathetic. Neither of EDF's second half attacking subs (Kluivert and Florenzi) had an impact on the match, while Patrik Schick remaining on the bench speaks volumes about the state of this club at the moment.

Conclusions

Roma happened. Do I really need to say more? Everything that possibly could have gone wrong for Roma in the second half did—they stopped attacking, they committed rash challenges, Olsen looked like the average-at-best keeper he truly is, and Di Francesco got completely schooled by Gasperini. And in the process, they blew a chance to claim fourth place all their own.

As it stands right now, Roma remain in fifth place, one point behind AC Milan and only two points ahead of Atalanta. As we discussed last week, the fight for fourth place is going to be an absolute blood bath throughout the spring, and based on today's performance, who would you put your money on—the precisely drilled and well conditioned team that stormed back from three goals down or the confused and weak willed club that still can't seem to figure out who they are?

It will be interesting to see how they explain this one away—this was horrific performance and yet another example of a worrying trend we've borne witness to for nearly two years now.