Fresh from an impressive Europa League quarter-final turnaround against Feyenoord which saw them progress to the semi-finals, AS Roma travelled to Bergamo to face Atalanta. The home side sat in seventh position ahead of kick-off – a win would leave them two points behind Inter Milan in sixth as the race for European football heats up. Both sides boasted strong options from the bench, with Atalanta top scorer Rasmus Højlund and Roma’s World Cup winner Paulo Dybala available.
ATA: Sportiello, Toloi, Djimsiti, Scalvini, Mæhle, de Roon, Éderson, Zappacosta, Koopmeiners, Pašalić, Zapata
ROM: Rui Patricio; Mancini, Llorente, Ibañez; Çelik, Zalewski, Cristante, Pellegrini; Solbakken, Abraham
A stop-start first thirty minutes saw both defences remain firmly in control. Selfless running from both Zapata and Abraham went unrewarded, as neither midfield managed to create any meaningful openings or settle into their usual patterns of play.
The opening goal came in the 38th minute, as Pašalić smashed the hosts in front. A ball into the feet of Zapata was held up superbly – the Colombian forward turned and was met with little Roma resistance in the box before clipping a ball across which was finished on the volley by Pašalić into the top left hand corner, giving Rui Patricio no chance. It was the first moment of quality that either side had shown in the first half.
Roma looked to respond and a surging run through the heart of the Atalanta defense from Solbakken resulted in an Abraham shot from the edge of the box which sailed harmlessly over Sportiello’s crossbar. Frustration was evident from the Roma players and management – Pašalić’s sweet volley was the difference between the sides in the first half as referee Massimiliano Irrati brought the first period to a close.
There was a clear change in tempo from Roma after the interval – Abraham went close with a flicked header in the 47th minute. Atalanta provided a threat on the counter through the pace of Éderson – and the Brazilian’s strong running on the right wing led to a cut back for the goal scorer Pašalić, though his shot was fired wide. The introductions of Dybala, El Shaarawy and Spinazzola injected life into the away side who had looked unconvincing in the final third.
Despite Roma’s domination of possession, it was Atalanta who doubled their lead in the 73rd minute. A wicked corner into the box was headed straight at Rui Patricio, who saved instinctively at close range. The Portuguese goalkeeper was unfortunate to see the rebound fall to Toloi, whose powerful drive deflected off Cristante and into the bottom corner.
Roma looked to respond and they found themselves back in with a shout in the 82nd minute. A swift move forward saw captain Pellegrini stride through the middle before placing a precise shot into the bottom corner past Sportiello. Roma’s stand-out player on the night had dragged his side back into the contest with eight minutes left to play.
Roma’s hopes of a grandstand finish looked to have been ended rather abruptly, as Atalanta replied instantly to regain their two goal advantage. A routine ball forward was fumbled horribly by Rui Patricio, who served the ball up on a plate for the tireless Koopmeiners to tap into an empty net putting the home side 3-1 up.
The game had well and truly burst into life. The influential Pellegrini was centimeters away from giving Roma a way back into the match, as his exquisite free kick from 25 yards struck the inside of Sportiello’s left hand post before spinning across goal and behind for a goal kick. Atalanta handled Roma’s plethora of attacking talent well, seeing out the closing stages with relative comfort. The home side’s third goal seemed to break the resolve of the visitors.
It was an important three points for Atalanta who are well in the hunt for Europa League football next season. They travel to 11th place Torino on Saturday looking to make it back-to-back wins. Roma host AC Milan in a game that could have huge ramifications on the race for a top four finish.