Roma kicked off their Serie A opener with an ‘ugly win’ over last year’s surprise package Atalanta.
A new season has started but will it be the same old Roma? Their first game against Atalanta created as many questions as they answered as Eusebio Di Francesco looked to bounce back from an average pre-season with his new tactics. Intending to play the same attractive football he produced while at Sassuolo, this Roma side struggled to replicate that even with two of his former stars in his side. Roma utilised the 4-3-3 formation but were often found wanting defensively as Gasperini looked to guide Atalanta to strong start with a win.
Atalanta to their credit showed they have not lost any their ability to challenge a top side, despite the slew of key player departures over the summer which included Conti, Kessi, and Gagliardini to name but a few. Like last year Gasperini seems to have found the right blend of youth and experience to ensure his outfit is capable of challenging for a top ten spot and showed plenty of attacking verve to cause Roma problems at the back. Peres looked uncomfortable, while Juan Jesus and Manolas struggled to contain Gomez, Kurtic & Petegna.
Despite such a solid backline only Kolarov stood out, and his superbly taken goal capped off a decent debut. Roma were less the brilliant attacking side that epitomized Spalletti’s creative attacking displays and more a squad still assimilating to new tactics. Granted they have lost many key players in the off season including Antonio Rudiger, Salah and the legendary Totti, they have managed to retain the core of their squad. Monchi has attempted to give Di Francesco plenty of potential youth for him to work with and help flourish as he did during his time at Sassuolo. Berardi and Pellegrini are prime examples of this during their time at the Neroverdi. None of the aforementioned youth players featured today and it was the same core of players who turned out bar Defrel, Pellegrini and Kolarov.
New coach same approach?
Eusebio Di Francesco promised in various interviews to return Roma to is more attacking past. However, one wonders if the team struggled to fully embrace his ideas despite featuring two players who worked under EDF previously. Roma absorbed plenty of pressure throughout the game, with Alisson often having to make a number of key saves as his defence left him open to a number of shots and crosses. Gomez was a constant thorn in their side, as he often harried and put Roma under pressure.
Conversely it took till the 22nd minute for Roma to finally have a decent opportunity at goals, with Defrel hitting the side of the netting after some decent build up play. After which Roma began to look more like contenders as they piled enough pressure to attain a free kick. It was this free kick opportunity that the former Manchester City and Lazio star saved his team’s blushes by expertly placing his free kick into the bottom hand corner, scoring on his debut. This was to be one of the very rare positives from Roma. Sides seemed to balance out, as Atalanta attempted to equalise in front of a packed home crowd and Roma attempted to defend their scant lead.
The trio of Nianggolan, De Rossi and Strootman were solid if not spectacular, and more creativity is needed if Roma are to contend for the Scudetto this season. They managed to grind out the result with De Rossi showing his typical grit and tenacity to protect his defence, as well as dominate the middle of the park. Roma struggled to really carve out any solid chances up front and their best opportunity of the second half arrived when substitute El Shaarawy came on for Defrel, and seemed to spark energy into Roma’s final third. He came close to setting up Dzeko but to no avail. Pellegrini came on for the last 8 minutes of the game for Perrotti but didn’t have enough time to display his quality.
Roma are still missing key players in Florenzi and Emerson, and are eyeing up replacements for Salah. Salah’s loss has been keenly felt throughout the squad, as his speed, pace and creativity often gave Roma the edge in a number of matches last season. Leicester City’s Mahrez, and now Cuadrado have been linked with potential moves which would surely add the extra spark this team needs to fully implement Di Francesco’s tactics.
Di Francesco described this as an ‘ugly win’ despite the side showing plenty of character to grind out the result, fans and coach alike would be disappointed with this performance. He;s not wrong, and a few transfers are needed for the final third. They will be looking to improve as they progress throughout the campaign, as time will show more of EDF’s tactics and less Spalletti’s.
However, Di Francesco must be wary of the shadow that Spalletti created, for all of his nuances he was wildly successful at the club able to give the fans goals and brilliant performances alike. Roma have taken a gamble with Di Francesco, despite his success at Sassuolo he has never coached a big club. Time will tell how successful that gamble will be.