AS Roma falter in first of a series of Champions League qualification tests

AS Roma saw a three-match winning run come crashing to a halt against Atalanta, denting their Champions League hopes ahead of matches against AC Milan and Inter.

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AS Roma‘s hopes of securing a return to the Champions League via a top four finish in Serie A took a hit as they fell to a 3-1 defeat to Atalanta, in the first of a number of upcoming tests for the Giallorossi.

In a congested battle to join Napoli in the Champions League next term, a much-changed Roma side were undone at the Gewiss Stadium, thanks to goals either side of half time from Mario Pasalic and Rafael Toloi, and a late Teun Koopmeiners goal.

Roma came into the match in Bergamo off the back of a gruelling 4-1 win over Feyenoord in the Europa League on Thursday, in a match that pushed them all the way in extra-time, and the required rotation backfired on coach Jose Mourinho. A bad night was made even worse as star man Paulo Dybala was left hobbling by a dreadful Jose Luis Palomino tackle.

Roma’s daunting run-in

A clash against an Atalanta side who started the game in seventh place was the first of a series of crunch matches for Roma, with the visit of AC Milan at the weekend and then Inter in early May.

Whilst the Lupi have improved their record against the teams around them under Mourinho, a tough fixture list could see their top four hopes crumble and a positive result against Atalanta would have given them confidence for the run-in.

Despite some decent build up play in midfield, with captain Lorenzo Pellegrini intelligent in moving the ball around and striking the post late on, the Giallorossi lacked a cutting edge in attack. Ola Solbakken was handed a start after a recent injury but appeared to be short of fitness, whilst Tammy Abraham was wayward in his shooting.

Indeed, it wasn’t until Dybala was introduced from the bench that the Lupi looked threatening, but even when Pellegrini had drilled in a low goal, goalkeeper Rui Patricio produced a howler just seconds later to allow Koopmeiners to seal the win for Atalanta.

Atalanta’s Teun Koopmeiners and AS Roma’s Gianluca Mancini contest possession. (@officialasroma)

Smalling absence exposes defensive frailties

Roma came into the match on the back of a three-match winning run in Serie A, during which they had not conceded a single goal, and were looking for a fourth consecutive clean sheet victory for the first time since October 2013.

Missing the influential Chris Smalling at centre-back through injury, Mourinho‘s side were undone in the first half by a fine Pasalic strike after Duvan Zapata found him with a cross, whilst Toloi and Koopmeiners were also able to find a way through.

With nine clean sheets in the league in 2023, the Lupi have built their Champions League qualification hopes on an excellent defensive structure, but once this is breached Roma have shown an ability to focus on attack and turn matches around.

After Smalling was injured against Feyenoord, Mourinho‘s defensive options are further limited as Diego Llorente pulled up late on with a hamstring injury, leaving Roma short at the back.

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