Today’s match was brought to me by the pitchside mics, behind both Pau Lopez and Pierluigi Gollini’s goalframes. Roma spent the opening quarter of the game LOOKING like a unit. As Lopez shouted “senza fallo”, Ibanez followed instruction by simply pushing up on Atalanta players but not flying into a wild tackle. Lopez’s “sale!” (push up) was met with all 10 Roma teammates immediately pushing upfield in unison, to take away time from Atalanta on the ball. And then one build-up from the back went wrong, and so went Roma’s unity out the window along with that error.
Jordan Veretout’s outstretched leg couldn’t prevent Roma’s possession from going out of play on the left flank, and a dead silence ensued for 10 minutes. Roma’s inhibitions suddenly swallowed the Giallorossi whole, as they gave in to the inevitable Malinovskyi 25th-minute opening goal for Atalanta. The away side would also have plenty of chances to build on their lead until half-time, and even well into the second half, but it was always Pau Lopez throwing an audible out there to give his teammates solutions.
“Raga’, non capisco perché non giriamo il gioco?” came Pau’s suggestion, accurate in his assessment that Roma weren’t spreading the play across flanks often enough. Villar’s possession-play helped the home side almost exclusively build down the right, and the half-time heatmap showed that Riccardo Calafiori either couldn’t impose himself (or wasn’t trusted to do so by teammates) down that left side.
Paulo Fonseca addressed the issue at half-time by subbing on Bruno Peres, but Atalanta could have easily scored two or three more goals (including a shocking miss from Luis Muriel) before Robin Gosens’ 68th-minute sending off confirmed the ever-so-subtle change in the game’s balance, with momentum increasingly favoring the home side. The confirmation of Roma’s resurgence came from a Bryan Cristante stunner in the 75th minute that brought the game level at 1-1.
There was plenty more to this game (including an Ibanez sending off at the very end), but ultimately it was another close-but-no-cigar match against Serie A’s top sides from Paulo Fonseca’s team; a very strange team where arguably the least-naturally skilled players for their role (Pau Lopez and Bryan Cristante) show never-say-die confidence and infectious positive attitude, whereas the dead silence between Roma’s front three players said it all in terms of how the most accomplished talents struggled to impose their own character on the match.
Rest assured there will be plenty of heads chopped in the summer to take the blame to that end. In the meantime, Roma travels to Sardegna this Sunday, where they face a Cagliari side battling for their Serie A lives.