In the 23rd game week of Serie A, Atalanta and Roma locked horns with a difference of three points on the league table. Atalanta had two wins, two draws and one loss in the last five matches. A 7-0 away win at Torino compensated well enough for the defeat at home against SPAL. Roma came into the game with poor form. They managed only one win in last five games in Serie A. A win for Roma would have brought them level to Atalanta who is currently their contender for the Champions League spot. In this tactical analysis, we will assess Atalanta’s tactics in the match.
Atalanta featured a usual 3-4-1-2 making two changes from their previous game. Marten De Roon came in place of Mario Pašalić and the right midfielder Timothy Castagne was replaced by Hans Hateboer. The front three were eventually substituted. Pašalić came in for Duván Zapata. After getting the lead, Jopsip Iličić and Papu Gomez were both replaced by Ukrainian midfielder Ruslan Malinovskiy and forward Luis Muriel.
Roma moved to a 4-1-4-1 from a 4-2-3-1. Henrikh Mkhitaryan who generally operates as a No.10 was unexpectedly put into the midfield three as a left central midfielder. Roma made several changes from their previous game against Bologna which was a 3-2 defeat at home. Bryan Cristante’s direct red card against Bologna gave way to Federico Fazio in the first 11 and pushed Gianluca Mancini further up into the midfield role. Roma tried to turn around things after going behind by replacing Justin Kluivert with Charles Perez in the 62nd minute. Mancini and Diego Perotti gave way to Jordan Veretout and Gonzalo Villar later on.
Atalanta in possession (Attacking)
Atalanta tried to build their play from the back. Pierluigi Gollini preferred to distribute the ball to one of his three centre-backs. Remo Freuler and Marten De Roon would look to occupy space between the three defenders to increase the width, stretch the opposition and push the wing-backs Hans Hateboer and Robin Gosens forward.
Gomez has a free role in the build-up. He generally drops right in front of his defence since Mancini won’t track him back till there hence acting as a spare man. Gomez is significant in the build-up play; he possesses the ability to not just spot runs from Iličić and Zapata and play a direct long ball to them but also switching the play from one side to the other. He had the best passing accuracy of all the players in the game with 93%. This outstretching semi-circular shape in the build-up made it difficult for Roma to stay compact. Atalanta used left and right corridor more than the central corridor to get the ball up into the offensive half.
Zapata and Iličić made runs on the outside in space behind the Roma fullbacks Bruno Peres and Leonardo Spinazzola. They dragged the Roma centre-backs Chris Smalling and Fazio wide along with them. This created space between the defenders was exploited by not just the wing-backs Hateboer and Gosens but also by defenders Rafael Tolói and Berat Djimsiti by making robust under-lapping runs. These runs were met by penetrating passes from Gomez who created three big chances and also managed to get two shots in the game.
Zapata and Iličić both have a strong aerial presence. Also playing with two strikers up front has an advantage on having crosses delivered in the box. Atalanta put 20 crosses against Roma. The highlight of launching so many balls into the box is the unpredictability of where it’s coming from. The crosses did not just come from Hateboer and Gosens but also came from midfielders Marten De Roon and Gomez and defender Tolói who got two in his name too.
Atalanta out of possession (Defending)
Against Roma’s build-up
In Roma’s build-up play, Atalanta moved to a 5-3-2 formation. Atalanta followed a strict man to man-mark in the central channel against Roma’s players. Hence Smalling and Fazio were marked by Zapata and Iličić respectively. When the ball is in Roma’s defensive half Mancini is the pivot in the build-up since he sits in the centre hole of Roma’s defence line and Midfield line, Gian Piero Gasperini pinned Gomez onto him to make sure Roma can’t do much from the central corridor. Freuler and De Roon man marked Mkhitaryan and Lorenzo Pellegrini respectively.
This forced Roma to play wide to their full-backs if the ball goes right to Peres the Gosens presses aggressively leaving the responsibly to man-mark Roma’s right midfielder Kluivert to Djimsiti. Meanwhile, Hateboer tucks in to form a back-line of four defenders. Because of this strong man-marking strategy, it doesn’t leave Roma with a lot of options but to either go long or go wide to their full-backs. The similar press is seen by Hateboer if the ball is played left to Spinazzola.
Roma had a lot of their long passes directed towards Edin Džeko who is good at winning aerial duels and in space behind defenders for Kluivert and Perotti to run into. Unfortunately, they couldn’t capitalise on it because Gollini was always aware to come off his line to gather or clear the ball.
Atalanta devised a rotational triangular system between the RCB Tolói, RCM Freuler and RM Hateboer. A similar pattern on the left with LCB Djimsiti, LCM De Roon and LM Gosens. If Kluivert starts wide when the ball is in Atalanta’s defensive half, De Roon pressed Roma’s fullback, Peres. This resulted in having Pellegrini being free in the centre, to close that option Djimsiti would cover for De Roon in midfield by pressing Pellegrini. To cover for space left by Djimsiti, Gosens tucks inside next to José Luis Palomino to cut the space for Kluivert to run into. This rotational triangle forces Roma to play the ball back and also retains Atalanta’s shape.
Djimsiti marked Kluivert when he was close to Džeko in the central corridor. In this case, Gosens pressed Peres and De Roon stayed close to Pellegrini. This highlights the understanding amongst the players and how to execute to a well-coordinated timely press.
The first reaction on losing the ball would start with an individual press from the nearest player growing into a collective press. The midfielders were the first to jump to try and win the ball. While the wide midfielders Gosens and Hateboer looked to retreat. Their idea was to provide cover to the pressing players and track the runners.
Defence to Attack
Atalanta committed several players behind to establish numerical superiority. Hence, on winning the ball back the first idea was to go long to either Iličić or Zapata (whoever is the furthest). The strikers would look to hold the ball to look for support and then effectively counter. An early chance for Gomez came in a similar fashion where Pau Lopez pulled a brilliant one on one save against him.
Roma got the advantage in the last minute of the first half; Spinazzola was quick to rush close to Hateboer forcing him to play behind. Džeko positioned himself in between Palomino and Freuler which led to Hateboer avoiding a short pass to Freuler instead going all the back to the last man Palomino. Palomino’s poor first touch allowed Džeko to pick the loose ball and rush towards the goal. Džeko’s physical prowess out muscled recovering Palomino. Džeko finished it calmly into the right bottom corner.
Atalanta was not afraid to commit men forward in set pieces. The corner won in the 49th minute of second-half saw five Atalanta players in Roma’s box with three players waiting just outside the box. On the other hand, Roma had all of their 11 men in the box and still failed to defend it. A fine delivery by Gomez and a first-time header won by Djimsiti allowed Palomino to make a blindside run at the far post and nudge the ball into the left bottom corner. Poor marking and awareness from Roma players led to the goal for Atalanta in a 10 v 5 situation in the box.
Zapata was having a difficult game because Smalling was matching his feet on every instance. Zapata failed to establish his aerial presence against Smalling. Gasperini decided to move him out for Pašalić in the 58th minute. The Chelsea loanee had an immediate impact with a curling shot into the right top corner. Gosens provided the key assist. Atalanta’s principle play of runs in the space from deep was again imminent to the goal.
Given the above analysis, Atalanta tried to establish numerical superiority at every moment in the game with their centre-backs getting higher up on the pitch to support the attack and the forwards dropping in behind to defend as close to as the 18-yard box.
Precise penetrating passes to the centre-backs and wide midfielders who made under-lapping runs created numerous chances for them.
Triangular rotations in the defence was a mechanically effective tactic to force the play the ball back for Roma.
Atalanta won the game 2-1 with their style of play and tactics dominating Roma’s.