It’s been a hectic couple of days in the Romaverse, with the news of Tiago Pinto’s decision to leave his role as General Manager resulting in a lot of digital ink being spilled. Yet, surprise, surprise, the Giallorossi still have football matches to play, and tomorrow’s game against sixth-place Atalanta will be a doozy. Only one point separates La Dea from I Lupi, and the sides’ practically identical offensive and defensive output so far this season further emphasizes that this will be a pretty even matchup at the Stadio Olimpico.
Parity is the theme of this season in Serie A, and there’s really no better match to showcase that parity than Atalanta - Roma. These are two sides that for a time were consistently making it into the Champions League, yet the resurgence of the Milan clubs, the long-term growth of sides like Fiorentina, and the shock emergence of Bologna has meant that what used to be practically assured European qualification now looks a lot less assured. As I’ve been saying for all of these major matches that have defined the gauntlet that is Roma’s current schedule, a win against Atalanta will go a long way toward pushing the Giallorossi closer to the top four (or five, depending on the country coefficient rules) finish the club so desperately needs.
What To Watch For
Do We See Dean Huijsen?
Roma’s first (and perhaps only) move of the January market is already closed, with the Giallorossi bringing in teenage center-back Dean Huijsen on a dry loan from Juventus. While I’m not entirely sure why the club gave him the #3 kit since he’ll only be here until June, it was clearly a necessary measure to bring in someone to fill the gaping hole left by Evan Ndicka as he represents Côte D’Ivoire in the African Cup of Nations.
Even still, Huijsen has barely played at the top-flight level in Serie A - one sub appearance and thirteen minutes total. I’m very curious to see how quickly José Mourinho integrates the Dutchman into Roma’s defensive rotation; he was reportedly a Mourinho “ask,” which is what enabled Roma to swoop in and gazump Frosinone’s nearly-completed deal. If Huijsen gets a sub appearance tomorrow against Atalanta, it’ll show why Mou was so keen on the Dutchman. And who knows — maybe we’ll be talking three months from now about trying to pry Huijsen away from Juve this summer. I have no idea what to expect from this kid, but at the very least, he’s an option in the defense.
Can A Weakened Roma Defense Contain Atalanta’s Forwards?
Roma’s defense needs to be ready tomorrow, regardless of whether or not Dean Huijsen sees the pitch. Atalanta may not have the flashiest names in Serie A in attack, but it’s a potent attack nevertheless. Adema Lookman and Gianluca Scamacca may not be superstars, but they have been getting the job done this season, and Charles De Ketelaere has looked reborn since moving to Bergamo from AC Milan. The three combined have scored 14 goals this season, and their nine combined assists show that they’re not afraid to pass the ball either.
The Giallorossi will need to be stout defenders, particularly on the wings; that’s where Atalanta’s attacks largely come from, as their attackers’ ability to win aerial duels then translates into goalscoring opportunities. That’s going to be a problem for Roma, as I don’t have the utmost confidence in any of Roma’s attacking wingbacks to defend convincingly. However, if they can make the defense look strong, particularly without the services of Evan Ndicka, I’ll have boatloads of confidence in this side going forward.
That’s a big if, though.
Date: Sunday, January 7th
Kickoff: 20:45 CET/2:45 EST
Venue: Stadio Olimpico, Roma