Roma welcome Atletico Madrid to the Stadio Olimpico in a game that sees Lazio’s very own Diego Simeone return to his former hunting ground but more tellingly, it will act as a marker towards their progress this term. It’s a tough test for Eusebio Di Francesco and his men, who up until now have not managed to get into their stride.
It is hard to tell whether it would have been beneficial for the Romans to have faced Sampdoria this weekend, a game called off due to floods. It is true that they have managed to rest players and should, in theory, look sharp against a difficult Atleti team. They will certainly need all their industry to get a result, especially as they have looked inconsistent in their first two games.
Against Atalanta on the opening day they looked slow and laboured. It is true that Bergamo is never an easy place to go and play your football, but it had been anticipated that whilst Roma were without Mohamed Salah (after he moved to Liverpool), under Di Francesco they would be able to move the ball quickly and keep hold of that cavalier approach ingrained in them by ex-mister Luciano Spalletti. The game developed in to a turgid affair, but nevertheless the Romans won by a single goal and returned to the Capital with a clean sheet and the excuse it was the opening day.
The stars seemed to have aligned in the following game against Inter, when they came out of the block at a terrifying rate of knots. Edin Dzeko had given them an early lead and, if the woodwork had not intervened on more than one occasion, they could have been out of sight. The credit should go to Inter for the comeback, but even so Roma dropped off in the final 30 minutes and conceded three goals.
By the final whistle the fans were left with an early season conundrum: which team are we? Were they the dogged and hard to beat side that faced Atalanta? The three goals here suggested not. The answer was that it was too early to tell.
It is to this effect that it was perhaps a shame the match at Marassi was called off, as it would have given Di Francesco another chance to assess his side against a capable opposition. Sampdoria have started the season brightly and it would have been a good test before Atleti come to town. The group consists of the two mentioned teams, English champions Chelsea and tricky Qarabag, the Coach himself admitting that they cannot underestimate them.
Does Di Francesco set up with the intention of containing Atleti? The Spaniards have been energetic and the youthful squad has attacked their opponents from the off this season with ruthless effect, just look at the 1-5 demolition of Las Palmas for an example. Simeone himself has said this year that his team’s energy and dynamism ultimately should result in damage to other teams, but can Roma contain this? If the Giallorossi Coach decides to attack as he did against Inter, then he may well beat Simeone at his own game. Then again, the result also could be catastrophic.
Fans of Roma will flock to the Olimpico on Tuesday night in ponderous mood. Just exactly who are Roma this year? Will this set the benchmark for their future performances? Does this team have the right balance? Does it have the strength in depth?
After the Champions League draw, the Roma Coach said of Simeone’s teams that they do not play beautiful football, but he could appreciate why they have managed to get so far in the competition. This in his opinion was because the team worked hard for the Coach and for each other. He will have to expect this as a bare minimum from his team as they continue to search for their own identity. If those elements don’t come together quickly, the mood could quickly turn sour in the Capital.