There was a time, not that long ago, when an Atalanta fixture was an afterthought for Roma. While the Giallorossi didn't exactly make the Goddesses look mortal, Roma had a pretty steady run of success against their Bergamo counterparts through the late 00s and early ‘10s, but that all changed once Gian Piero Gasperini took the reins in 2016. Since GPG took over in Bergamo, Roma have managed only one victory over Atalanta...one!, and that was in the fall of 2017.
Needless to say, this isn't your grandfather's Atalanta side. Despite Roma's lack of points against their northern neighbors over the past few years, when these two sides square off, goals flow like so much chocolate milk in a primary school cafeteria. In their last four league fixtures, Roma and Atalanta have found the back of the net 14 times, with Atalanta winning two of those matches and two more ending in 3-3 draws.
Atalanta v. Roma: February 15th. 20:45 CET/2:45 EST. Gewiss Stadium, Bergamo.
As we discussed with our friends at Atalanta News earlier this week, when La Dea take the pitch, you can expect a wild affair. In 23 rounds of domestic play, Atalanta matches have produced 92 goals, with an astounding 61% of their matches averaging more than 3.5 total goals scored.
Clearly the order of the day will be to score goals, but how can Paulo Fonseca ensure his side has more?
#1: Hit Atalanta on the Counter Attack
When pressed about his favorite club's most glaring weakness, Nigel from Atalanta News was quick to call-out Atalanta's susceptibility on the counter attack, particularly forcing Robin Gosens—Atalanta’s left-wingback—to spend more time defending than attacking. The problem with this is two-fold: Roma have managed only two goals on the counter this season while their right wing, the side that would be exploiting Gosens, hasn't exactly been a well spring of consistency lately, with Cengiz Ünder, Davide Santon and/or Bruno Peres struggling to establish and maintain a consistent presence going forward.
Roma certainly have the athletes to spark a dangerous counter attacking initiative, but it just hasn't been in the cards too often this season, particularly since the calendar turned to 2020, but catching Gosens napping could be their best bet to reversing that trend.
#2: Stop Josip Iličić at All Costs
With 14 goals and three assists in 19 league appearances, the 32-year-old Slovenian attacker is in the midst of a career season, while his 2020 performance has been the polar opposite of Roma's. With eight goals since New Year’s Day, including a hat trick against Torino, Iličić has arguably been the hottest player in the league. Iličić spends most of his time as the tip on Gasperini's spear, but he's as complete a player as you'll find in the league.
However, when we look at his goal and shot charts, Roma might have a slim shot at stopping this guy:
While Iličić has plenty of room to roam, you'll notice that his goals (green), saved shots (blue) and even his blocked shots (purple) all tend to trend towards the right side of the attacking area, a/k/a the left side of Roma’s defense, where Aleksandar Kolarov, Chris Smalling and Jordan Veretout usually lineup.
There's no real way to quantify or predict what will happen here, but the circumstantial evidence does at least give Roma a shred of hope at stopping one of the league's best players. It'll all start with Veretout; if he can cut the tether between Iličić and Papu Gomez, who has set-up three of the Slovenian's goals, then the task gets a bit more manageable for Kolarov, Smalling and even Pau Lopez.
#3: Play Fast, Play Direct
As we've been discussing all week, Atalanta live life on the extremes; scoring and conceding like a sailor on shore leave. Through 23 matches, Atalanta have conceded 31 total goals, including 18 in the run of play. While these figures don't exactly put them on par with Lecce, they are by far the worst marks among any team currently fighting for a Champions League place.
It may seem like Atalanta are ripe for the plucking, but we have to consider the other half of the equation—Roma's offensive struggles, particularly in the run of play. If it seems like Roma have been stuck in quicksand in 2020, you're right...but you're also wrong. We're nearly two-thirds of the way through the season and Fonseca Football ® has mustered only 19 goals in the run of play; the league's 10th best (or worst) mark, depending on how you look at it.
Certainly the loss of Nicolo Zaniolo has slowed things down a bit, but this has been a season-long problem, one made even worse by the injuries and inconsistent play of Lorenzo Pellegrini, Justin Kluivert, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Edin Dzeko.
Playing fast, aggressive, and direct football should be priority number one every week, but seldom will you see a top-level opponent as susceptible to that most fundamental tactic as Atalanta.
This sort of ties into point number one, but the quicker Roma can play, the more decisive they can be with their passing, and the more they exploit their athletic advantage, the greater chance they have at scoring an upset. And yes, this would be an upset; Atalanta are the decidedly superior side here.
Chances are this match will yield at least four goals, but if Roma can focus on the transition game, they might have a chance of coming out on top tomorrow.