Feature Photo: @OfficialASRoma, Twitter
Only a few days ago, Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea twice took the lead over Arsenal, seeing the Gunners come back each time, but still managed to win 3-2. In his post-match remarks, Napoli’s former coach argued that when a team goes 2-0 up in Italy, the score tends not to change, implying the English Premier League is therefore more entertaining. Well, Roma and Atalanta proved him wrong last night, drawing their game 3-3 and providing an excellent example of champagne football, better than a 1980 Dom Perignon.
Roma and Atalanta closed Round 2 of Serie A 2018-19, and fans from both sides couldn’t have asked for more. The home side were looking for a victory to befit their seasonal debut at the Stadio Olimpico, but the Bergamaschi – traditionally a nemesis for Roma – were determined to trip them up.
Javier Pastore set the match on fire just a few minutes after the first whistle, scoring Roma’s opening goal with a ballistic gem – a backheeled kick that took everyone by surprise, including TV commentators.
But during the first half, the Giallorossi’s approach was the exact opposite of what was shown by their Argentinian newcomer. Roma were soft, confused and frightened. Coach Eusebio Di Francesco realized this, and must have made himself heard during the break, as Roma returned to the pitch with a different attitude – one filled with pride.
The clash of Roma’s renewed bravery and Atalanta’s audacity produced an epic battle, featuring no fewer than 48 shooting attempts, multiple counter-attacks, defenders turning into attackers, and center backs acting as playmakers. It ended in a tie that probably left both clubs unhappy, as the Giallorossi dropped two points that leaders Juventus and Napoli did not, meanwhile the Nerazzurri consumed much of their energy ahead of their second leg Europa League play-off.
Indeed, the atmosphere was gloomy at the Stadio Olimpico, especially on the Roma side. The Wolves’ supporters had just received news of yet another player having been sold in silence, with Kevin Strootman leaving the capital city to join Olympique Marseille after five years with the Giallorossi. Good for them that Pastore was in the zone last night, as he found inspiration, aimed, and – voilà! A slo-mo backheel to make Roma’s fans forget their anxiety for a few minutes. However, those who were predicting an easy game for the home side were left disappointed, as not only were Gian Piero Gasperini’s Atalanta alive and kicking – they wanted the three points too!
The early lead didn’t boost Roma. On the contrary, it allowed them to fade, their motivation seemingly lacking. Defender Kostas Manolas was unrecognizable, and quickly became the favores victim of Duvan Zapata’s runs. Gian Piero Gasperini, despite leaving seven of his regular starters on the bench – including his captain Alejandro Gomez – could enjoy his side’s mental and physical predominance, which led them to equalize after a few failed attempts. Atalanta’s first goal was gently scored by Timothy Castagne, who tapped in the ball after an unstoppable Zapata had hit the post.
The Bergamaschi kept striking until the iron was hot, and took Roma over three minutes later, when Emiliano Rigoni converted an assist by Zapata again. Coach Di Francesco tried to shake his boys up, captain Daniele De Rossi shouted and yelled at his teammates, but the pattern didn’t change. The absence of Strootman seemed to have left a huge gap in midfield. In the 38th minute, Mario Pasalic dashed past Manolas and assisted Rigoni, who put the ball past Robin Olsen to score his first Serie A brace and bring Atalanta to 3-1. Roma still didn’t react, and when referee Michael Fabbri called time on the first half, the Giallorossi were welcomed by a barrage of whistles as they made their way to the changing rooms.
Yet, the second half followed a different script. Di Francesco, aside from giving his boys a good tongue-lashing, reshaped his line-up, reinforcing his midfield with Steven Nzonzi and the young Dutch talent Justin Kluivert, and switching to a more balanced 4-2-3-1 formation. And the show was on. Roma made themselves dangerous with Cengiz Under, and then again with Javier Pastore – but it took somebody who was born and raised wearing a Giallorossi jersey, home-grown midfielder Alessandro Florenzi, to beat keeper Pierluigi Gollini and reduce the margin.
The Wolves smelled blood and kept vainly looking for an equalizer with all their attacking troops – Nzonzi, Under, Dzeko. Di Francesco lost Florenzi due to an injury, and replaced him with Patrick Shick, finding himself with five offensive players on the pitch at the same time: Pastore, Under, Kluivert, Dzeko and Schick himself. Still, it was defender Kostas Manolas who make it three for the home side, converting from a free kick in the 82nd minute.
Atalanta tried to strike again taking advantage of Roma’s imbalance, but left themselves open to the Giallorossi’s counter attacks: Gollini and Castagne had to work hard to prevent an incredible fourth goal for Di Francesco’s squad.
When Fabbri blew the final whistle with the score tied at 3-3, applause from both sets of supporters were equaled only by the disappointment of seeing an incredibly entertaining match coming to an end. Well, thank you very much Eusebio Di Francesco and Gian Piero Gasperini…and see you in January in Bergamo for the return leg!
August 27, 2018 – Serie A 2018-19 Round 2
SCORERS: 2’ Pastore (R), 19’ Castagne (A), 22’ Rigoni (A), 38’ Rigoni (A), 60′ Florenzi (R), 82’ Manolas (R)
|ROMA (4-3-3): Olsen; Florenzi (73’ Schick), Manolas, Fazio, Kolarov; Cristante (46’ Nzonzi), De Rossi, Lo. Pellegrini (46’ Kluivert); Under, Dzeko, Pastore (Mirante, Fuzato, Juan Jesus, Marcano, Karsdorp, Lu. Pellegrini, Santon, Coric, El Shaarawy) Coach: Di Francesco|
|ATALANTA (3-4-1-2): Gollini; Mancini (64’ Toloi), Djimsiti, Palomino; Castagne, Valzania (53’ De Roon), Pessina (51’ Hateboer), Ali Adnan; Pasalic; Rigoni, Zapata (Berisha, Rossi, Masiello, Reca, Gosens, Freuler, Cornelius, Barrow, Gomez) Coach: Gasperini|
REFEREE: Mr. Fabbri from Faenza
NOTES: Attendance: 41725; Yellow Cards: Nzonzi (R), Djimsiti, Toloi (A); Extra Time: 1st Half 0′, 2nd Half 4′