Roma coach Luciano Spalletti tactically outsmarted by Atalanta’s Gian Piero Gasperini

La Repubblica (Luigi Bolognini) How good were Atalanta. How bad were Roma. It wasn’t going to be an easy game for Spalletti, he knew that, given that the opposition were coming off 6 wins and a draw. But the Bergamaschi’s 2-1 win doesn’t reflect just how they battered Roma after half time: the Giallorossi sank after wave after wave of attacks led by the fantastic Kessié and Galgliardini (and Gomez, Freuler, Spinazzola and the others) in the second half, and Kessié’s penalty was the just reward for a game in which he was everywhere. Credit to Gasperini as well, as he was the clear winner against Spalletti in their tactical battle.

In the first half Atalanta were timid, overwhelmed by the directness of De Rossi and Nainggolan, and Perotti’s penalty (for a handball by Toloi) gave Roma the lead. The Giallorossi were so dominant they deserved to be at least a couple of goals ahead, but an out of sorts Salah spurned at least 3 clear chances to score. Then Gasperini reacted, first bringing on D’Alessandro for Masiello, then Freuler (who hit the post) for Kurtic. The 5-3-2 gave way to the Piemontese coach’s favoured 3-4-3, based more on aggressiveness and competitivity rather than technical ability (though there was no lack of that either). The real Gagliardini (who will receive his first proper call up to the national team before long) was on show: energy, creativity, dynamism.

The new formation allowed Kessié to exploit his incredible physique, making him unplayable. Roma tried to react straight away, but out wide Peres showed his limitations both on the right and the left, and the midfield wilted as Atalanta’s replacements came on. The second half was an assault on the away side, Atalanta playing more like an English or even Scottish team, and the fiery atmosphere in the ground played its role as well. Put to one side the fact that Caldara’s goal was the result of a coming together with Manolas that saw the ball loop over the line off his body: it was a deserved equaliser, and the 2-1 score at full time was even more so.

Although it wasn’t the reason why Roma lost, Spalletti definitely showed less clarity of mind than Gasperini as his substitutions meant Roma could no longer play on the break, which was more than a possibility given how unbalanced the opposition was. Salah had been unfortunate not to score, but is always a fine outlet, but he was replaced for an ineffective El Shaarawy. The choice to bring on Paredes (Spalletti first thought to bring him on for De Rossi or Strootman before replacing Perotti instead) was doubly unfortunate, as it was he who gave away the crucial penalty, tripping Gomez in the box right in front of Rocchi.

“I wasn’t expecting that second half,” Luciano Spalletti admitted, “especially after a first half in which we were annoyed we finished only one goal ahead. It was a complete collapse, we let our guard down when we needed to fight.” And that is the best way to lose not only matches but scudetti as well: Juventus are now at +7, and it has now become much harder to argue they are a challenger.

But we shouldn’t dismiss Atalanta’s qualities, as right now they are quite simply the best team in Italy. “I’m astounded myself at our second half,” revealed Gian Piero Gasperini. “At the moment I don’t know what the limit is for us. We want to keep our feet on the ground, but if we’re up there at the end of the season then we’ll keep fighting like my Genoa team did.” But try not to talk to him about being the new Leicester. “That’s going too far, even if the performances and the situation are similar.” He’s also aware that Kessié won’t be in Bergamo for long with this sort of form: the pull of the top clubs and their money will soon outweigh what he can get at Atalanta. Will he even leave in January? The coach skirted the issue, saying “If we sell then that would allow us to bring in new players, [president] Percassi is ambitious.”

Finally, the game saw the return of Romanisti to Bergamo after 3 years away. Not even 450 police officers and carabinieri and their meticulous (so they say) searches of around 1,300 Giallorossi fans could prevent them from throwing smoke bombs and firecrackers during the game. At the end the security forces positioned themselves between the two sets of fans; it isn’t clear which of the two tried to provoke trouble, maybe both, but that will be cleared up once the CCTV footage has been analysed. In the end 4 stewards and 1 police officer sustained light injuries, 500 Romanisti were identified. Ultimately there weren’t many problems, compared to what some feared may happen.

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