Il Tempo (Alessandro Austini) Many are to blame for this result: in 45 minutes Roma went from being the only credible challenger to Juventus to ending up level with Milan and being sucked into a group of 5 teams separated by 2 points competing for 2nd place. The scudetto, once again, seems to be something that only Juventus can achieve.
It all happened in Bergamo. The first one to make a mistake was referee Rocchi – him again. Since that infamous Juventus-Roma in 2014, he only refereed the Giallorossi once (a draw at Bologna) until yesterday, when – with a vastly different interpretation of the rules – he decided not to send off Toloi when he pointed to the penalty spot, from which Perotti gave Roma the lead. It’s the first time a defender’s ‘save’ has only been punished by a yellow card and it clearly changed the course of the game.
But that’s where the mitigating circumstances for Dzeko and co. finish. Without dismissing the merits of a sensational, incredible Atalanta, the rest was down to a Roma team all too aware of their own limitation: a team that doesn’t know how to close out a game that it is dominating and is completely incapable of standing up to any team that puts up a competitive challenge. The first and second halves were worlds apart and ultimately, Rocchi’s influence apart, the Bergamaschi’s victory was completely deserved.
Once again, the stellar attack ground to a halt. Dzeko didn’t have a single shot on target and Salah wasted 3 chances that had a huge bearing on the final result, to the point where he deserved to be substituted with 30 minutes still to play. And this is where Spalletti’s faults come into it.
At the end of the day, his substitutions worsened the performance of a Roma team who were already on the ropes, unlike Gasperini who turned the course of the match with one move: introducing D’Alessandro on the left to support Gomez, who changed roles after a quiet first half. The Giallorossi coach tried to react by swapping Rudiger and Bruno Peres, then calling upon El Shaarawy in vain before finally asking Iturbe to limit the damage on that side of the pitch, where Atalanta had been rampant throughout the second half. To capping off the coach’s errors, in the 90th minute his other substitute Paredes committed a naive foul to give away a penalty.
These errors meant that, in just a few minutes, Roma’s prospects for this season changed completely. Right now, they would be wiser to watch Milan, to be wary of Napoli, and to be aware of other competitors like Lazio and Atalanta who have nothing to lose, rather than to hope to mount a challenge to Juventus who have raced ahead to +7. While they’ve been perfect at home so far, Roma’s performances away have been those of a mid-table side rather than a scudetto challenger: 2 wins in 7 games, and 3 defeats already.
Another alarming statistic is the fact that last season’s misfiring side had 1 point more after 13 games. This Thursday is the last home game of the Europa League group stage against Viktoria Plzen, then Pescara visit the Olimpico before a nightmare run of games: the derby, Milan and Juventus at the Juventus Stadium. The next month could see Roma’s dreams of challenging at the top snuffed out completely. Or, perhaps, they could be reignited.