Eusebio Di Francesco bangs his head against that same glass ceiling, and no amount of combing over substitutions, new January signings, etc. will help DiFra move to that next level in man management until he gets out of his own way.
Roma’s coach was left claiming he was “mad” and “driven crazy” in the post-match interviews. I watched the second half minute-for-minute over again to try and get where he’s coming from.
By now, EDF has delivered this “it drives me crazy” post-match promo enough times that his limitations are exposed. Whether he will find character growth within the time Roma can afford is anyone’s guess. I certainly don’t have the answer.
But if you choose to take EDF’s criticism of the team performance in Bergamo at face value (I did) then you’ve got a picture of a coach who left himself too many problems, before the game, to solve by kick off.
EDF Gripe #1: No One Defending the Left Wing
It’s fashionable right now to say “Rick Karsdorp: good passer, can’t defend.” You should be able to dine out on this ice-breaker in football-talk for the next month if not more. But whether Karsdorp can grow into Roma’s defence or not, Atalanta didn’t care.
An overwhelming 50% of Atalanta’s attack came down Roma’s and Kolarov’s left flank yesterday. To be fair, that reflects on Karsdorp in the sense that the Oribici clearly fancied their chances in the air against both him and Manolas inside the box (in both cases they’d be proven right). But EDF was left fuming at Roma’s inability to cut the problem off at the source. Both SES and Kluivert came under scrutiny for paying nothing more than lip service to defending their wing.
Of Kluivert’s performance, Sky Italia’s touchline reporter overheard EDF fire back at his coaching staff: “I’m going to chew him out in the dressing room.”
Kluivert and SES had 34 touches of the ball between them all game. SES made 1 interception in the 50th minute of the game, and that’s all you could say about the Italian’s defending in the second half. The rest of it was made up of either idly running alongside Hateboer to admire the Atalanta man’s delivery into the box, or just getting bypassed by the Oribici’s teamplay entirely.
To top off Roma’s left wing problems, Kolarov gifted Atalanta their equalizer just 40 seconds after Zapata skied a penalty. Piero Torri summed it up best after the match on Il Romanista Radio when he said: “only with this Roma side can I see an opponent missing a penalty somehow working out as a mental boost for the opponent themselves.”
It just seems like when Roma really set their mind to throwing a match away, they’re in a hurry to get the job done. And the second half numbers from yesterday don’t tell a nuanced story here either.
In the second half, Roma had zero shots on Atalanta’s goal and zero touches inside Atalanta’s penalty area. 36% of the possession took place inside Roma’s defensive third of the pitch over 90 minutes. Compare that against Inter’s thrashing earlier in the season through Atalanta ruthlessly exploiting Danilo D’Ambrosio and it gives you room for thought.
Inter started off their game in Bergamo predictably defending deep from the start, and looking like Spalletti’s men were welcoming a thrashing because of it. Yet, despite that, Atalanta still saw less action in the final third of the pitch against Inter (30%) than against Roma. And Atalanta still had to vary their attack more than just targeting D’Ambrosio (36% of Atalanta’s attack down his flank on that day), whereas against Roma they were knew they were solid in just running down Roma’s left flank time and again.
There is no merit to Roma’s high-press when, in EDF’s own words, “the team was constantly second best in individual duels” and - in my own view - Roma’s midfield fails to protect their defence. Where Inter have (an increasingly tired) Marcelo Brozovic and Atalanta have Marten de Roon, Roma have no one consistently shielding the backline. It’s one of the reasons Atalanta felt increasingly confident to commit numbers into Roma’s box.
Djimsiti, Hateboer, Pasalic... they all ran into Roma’s penalty area in the second 45 to win headers and try their chance at glory after Castagne found success just before half-time. And then Rafael Toloi rolled the dice in Roma’s box to great effect for Atalanta’s second goal.
I’ll give it to you that Atalanta are a tough side. Tough stadium to go and pick up a result. Before the game, I was happy with just picking up a point. But this was one way traffic. And that brings us to EDF another complaint...
EDF Gripe #2: No Game Management From Senior Players
Aleksandar Kolarov gifting Atalanta their equalizer. Kostas Manolas - for the second week in a row - charging out from the back just before stoppage time to present Musa Barrow with a clear-cut chance on a silver plate. Steven Nzonzi letting Papu Gomez rack up a game-leading 94 touches in Nzonzi’s area of the pitch. You could go on, but the theme is the same: the supposedly “wiser” Giallorossi heads show no awareness of how to steady the ship when the match calls for it.
Again EDF was questioned about this after the game, and again he lamented it.
But how can your senior international players still be found wanting for mental preparation 21 matchdays into the season? This alone is cause for EDF to look in the mirror.
Another Captain’s Performance from Edin Dzeko
If there is one exception to EDF’s gripes, it’s stand-in captain Edin Dzeko. Dzeko once again put in a very balanced performance to serve as the reference for bringing his young strike partners into the game.
Roma’s number nine lost possession 3 times inside the opening 21 minutes of the match, but cut out the errors from then on in. Dzeko took 46 touches of the ball, evenly spread out over all areas of the pitch and of course contributed with a brace that will keep the critics of his scoring record satisfied for the time being.
It remains to be seen how EDF will rotate Schick and Dzeko. After all, Patrik Schick has done plenty right in the last couple of weeks and you can only think EDF left Schick out the side with a view to rotating through this 5-game sequence of make-or-break matches that will define Roma’s season in all three competitions.
The next stop comes away in the cup to Fiorentina, where thankfully Nzonzi and Cristante will be available before they have to sit out a suspension at home to AC Milan in the league. Signing Wilmar Barrios - who Boca Juniors just confirmed last night will forceably leave because of their foreign player quota - would go down very nicely right about now.