In the wake of yesterday's defeat to Atalanta, Roma's third straight loss and sixth defeat in their past nine matches, manager Paulo Fonseca seemed content with his squad's attitude and effort, but didn't hesitate to point out a “mental issue” present in his squad when they go down a goal. It's difficult to quantify that statement, but the moment Palomino leveled the match in the 50th minute, it was almost a fait accompli; Roma were sapped for energy and you just knew that Atalanta would prevail sooner or later.
In his post match press conference, Fonseca was quick to praise his club's defensive effort, so let's start our traditional day after look there.
Through 24 rounds of play, Atalanta has averaged 19.9 shots and 2.63 goals per game, so keeping them below both of those marks was a victory in and of itself. With 13 attempts on goal, nearly half of which were on target, Atalanta were still remarkably efficient in attack, and keeping the scoreline as tight as they did was due in large part to Smalling's effort and energy last night.
In 90 minutes, Smalling managed three interceptions and seven clearances, both of which were tops among Roma players. It wasn't his most prolific match of the season, but he was far and away Roma's best defender against Atalanta.
Edin Dzeko's Goal
By and large, Dzeko turned in 90 relatively benign minutes, but his goal just before half-time was a beautiful exhibition of strength and skill. Granted, Dzeko was simply in the right place at the right time when Palomino coughed up the ball, but to shield the defender, dribble more than 20 yards towards the goal, and then beat the oncoming keeper at the far post required a tremendous amount of awareness, strength and touch.
In an effort to shake things up yesterday, Fonseca slotted Mkhitaryan into Lorenzo Pellegrini's advanced play-making role; a decision that didn’t produce...anything. Miki went the full 90 yesterday and was largely absent for the entire match, mustering only one shot and hitting on two of five long balls. There were no key passes, no assists and no dribbles; he just sort of existed yesterday. It's tough for the club to mount a credible attack when your chief play-maker is so ineffective.
Take everything we just said about Miki and paint it with a defensive brush and you have Fazio's 90 minutes yesterday. While he won three aerials, that was about the extent of his day, as he managed one tackle, one interception and one clearance. He wasn't bad, per se, just not terribly active, but we'll cut him some slack because it was his first match in weeks.
We're almost two years into Roma's Justin Kluivert experience and I still have no idea what to make of this kid; Is he a play-maker? A goal scorer? Neither? Both? One thing is for sure, Kluivert's athleticism makes him a threat at any moment in any match, something that was patently obvious as he was blasting past Atalanta's wide defenders.
Unfortunately, all that sound and fury amounted to nothing. We'll give him a bit of leeway since he needs Roma's other component parts (Dzeko, Perotti and Mkhitaryan in this instance) to be doing their jobs in order for him to do his job properly, but his 60 minutes yesterday produced one successful dribble and three fouls drawn.
He's still just 20-years-old, but it's becoming difficult to tell if his struggles are the symptom or the cause. Between Kluivert and Cengiz Ünder, Roma have arguably the two most agile wingers in the league, and it feels like they should be doing more damage than they are, so is that lack of punch a tactical or personal problem?
A greater degree of intensity is required when playing a club as organized and as efficient as Atalanta, and through the first 45 minutes, Roma were, at the very least, able to keep them in check. However, as Fonseca pointed out after the match, it all went downhill the moment Atalanta leveled the match.
Roma didn't need to win this match with aplomb, they just needed to win. The bend but don't break approach coupled with a fortunate bounce on Dzeko's goal seemed to set Roma on that path, but when the road got rocky, Roma went to hell and all hope was lost.
I'm not sure how Fonseca can or will fix that, but he needs to find a solution quickly or we could be facing another summer reset in Rome.