My favorite non-Roma side in Serie A is Atalanta. Compared to the other clubs who consistently fight for European qualification, they’ve got a unique underdog quality; their trophy cabinet is more sparse than Roma’s. They’re from Bergamo, making them one of the only consistently top-flight clubs who don’t play in a regional capital. Their style of play is often far more entertaining than Juventus or A.C. Milan, and their emphasis on regularly trusting academy players in the senior team is something I’d like to see Roma appropriate sooner rather than later. In many ways, Atalanta is a smaller version of what I want Roma to become.
All of that praise for Gli Orobici goes out the window when the Giallorossi face them on match day, though, because ever since Gian Piero Gasperini turned them into a powerhouse, these games have been frustrating to watch. Everything that makes Atalanta an enjoyable club to watch from afar makes them infuriating to watch when they’re playing your favorite club; I’ve probably grumbled about Duvan Zapata’s play against the Giallorossi than I have about any Lazio player from the past decade. My first time experiencing a live Roma match at the Stadio Olimpico was against Atalanta in 2017, so I’ve seen La Dea up close and personal. Although it was incredible to be a part of Francesco Totti’s final season in an insignificant way, that match ending 1-1 left me a little gloomy, and it was apparent throughout the match that Atalanta might soon eclipse Roma’s level of talent.
There’s nothing as significant as my only time seeing Francesco Totti play football in-person riding on this match, but there’s still a whole lot riding on tomorrow’s Roma-Atalanta match. A victory for Mourinho’s men would technically put them level with I Nerazzurri in the Serie A table, albeit with Atalanta still having one match in hand over the Giallorossi. It would also put Roma in striking distance of fourth-place Juventus, or at least allow them to keep pace. Meanwhile, Atalanta’s dreadful form in 2022 (4-0 shellacking of Sampdoria aside) means that this match is just as important for their Champions League hopes as it is for Roma’s. Another loss will only give Roma, Lazio, and Fiorentina a chance to overtake them in the table, and considering Atalanta’s aspirations at the beginning of the year, that should be unacceptable for Gasperini’s side. If you’re tired of the Giallorossi playing down to their competition, tomorrow’s match might be the perfect antidote.
December 18, 2021: Atalanta 1, Roma 4
If Roma’s last match against Atalanta is any indicator, tomorrow’s match will definitely be an antidote to Roma’s mediocre form. The Giallorossi’s beatdown of Atalanta back in late December was without a doubt the best of the Mourinho Era; it was a match where Romanisti got a glimpse of the tantalizing offensive firepower in Roma’s squad, and it was a match where the defense just clicked.
The goals came from Tammy “Two Goals” Abraham, Nicolò Zaniolo, and Chris Smalling, with Atalanta’s only goal coming off a deflection from former La Dea man Bryan Cristante. Here’s what Brandon had to say in the post-match wrap-up:
To Roma’s credit, they for all intents and purposes shut down Atalanta, limiting the much-vaunted attack to a lone, deflected, goal. Smalling was the man of the match for me, harassing and locking down Duvan Zapata all afternoon, in addition to the vital goal he scored. Roma seemed beyond gassed at the end of the match, a testament to the threat that Atalanta pose, especially with the context that there was no midweek fixture to recover from.
What To Watch For
Looney Teuns: Back In Action
Teun Koopmeiners, who has an excellent name, has also been quite impressive for Atalanta as of late. He received an 8.9 WhoScored rating in Atalanta’s 4-0 beatdown of Sampdoria last week, and his 7.01 average rating places him as La Dea’s fifth-best player this season. You might remember that the Giallorossi were in the hunt for his services last summer, and looking back, it sure would’ve been nice if we had beaten Atalanta to the punch.
You always have to worry about players you nearly signed when they come up against you; not nearly as much as you do when you’re facing Roma Primavera graduates, but still, you have to worry. Koopmeiners has the passing ability and skill with long shots that has so often made Roma fall apart this season; it will take some serious defending on the part of Bryan Cristante, Gianluca Mancini, and Roger Ibañez to quiet a midfield that on its day can be one of the best in Italy, if not Europe.
Can the Senior Squad Show Some Grinta?
That brings us to my next point. You might notice that “will the senior squad members step up” was one of my comments for last weekend’s Spezia-Roma pre-match review, and it will be a comment until those players actually improve their form. The Giallorossi simply can’t survive on goals from Primavera players and last-second penalties; Totti knows they really can’t survive on penalties, considering how much the referees have worked against the club this season. If the Giallorossi wants to pounce on the newly-found weaknesses of Atalanta, Juventus, and the other clubs in the top half of the table, players who are supposedly central to the project need to show their good form again.
Jordan Veretout, Rick Karsdorp, Bryan Cristante, Gianluca Mancini, Matías Viña. They’ve been seen as key players for Roma, or they’ve been signed to directly replace key players on long injury layoffs. Yet they’ve looked lackadaisical and uninterested for the past couple months, to the detriment of the club’s results. Clearly, there’s still a deep level of investment in José Mourinho’s plans from players like Nicolò Zaniolo and upper management, but if Roma is serious about making Juventus and Atalanta sweat for European qualification, we need to see more buy-in from the players in the senior squad who are consistent starters but not superstars.
If we see that commitment to the shirt tomorrow from the likes of Veretout, Karsdorp, and Cristante, Roma might just be able to run away with this match like they did in December. If they don’t show commitment? Well, don’t be surprised if the pitchforks come out yet again.