In life, context is everything. Too often, a sense of perspective is forgotten when a judgment is made and no industry is guiltier of it than football. While it’s true that Roma gave perhaps their worst performance of the season in Wednesday’s 2-0 defeat to Atletico Madrid, the result also had its fair share of positives.
Roma went into their clash with Atleti on the back of six straight wins – their best run of form in three years – and were flying high at the top of their Champions League group, needing only a point to book their place in the last 16 after Chelsea’s 4-0 victory over Qarabag earlier in the day.
Atleti, on the other hand, had no choice but to beat the Giallorossi in order to avoid their first group-stage elimination under Diego Simeone. Los Colchoneros had failed to score more than one goal in a match since mid-September, but the form book is thrown out the window on occasions such as these.
With a full Wanda Metropolitano lit up in red and white, Eusebio Di Francesco’s side were under the cosh as soon as they came out of the tunnel – not that the Coach should have expected anything else. His line-up rightly reflected that of a team playing for a draw, with three proactive central midfielders and Stephan El Shaarawy sacrificed.
Roma were faced by constant pressure, yet their plan worked for 70 minutes and they were only undone by moment of brilliance from Antoine Griezmann. A mix of Bruno Peres’s red card and two attackers being brought on, with the Lupi chasing an equaliser, then contributed to Kevin Gameiro rounding a helpless Alisson for the hosts’ second goal.
Therefore, when taking the context of Roma’s loss into account, it doesn’t seem so bad. They only need to beat Qarabag, still without a win in their five group games, to qualify for the knockout stages. Better yet, the result will serve as a reminder to the Giallorossi that they are very much still a work in progress at this early stage of the season.
“I would also remind people that anyone who faces Atletico Madrid is forced to play badly,” Di Francesco said after the game, acknowledging the sheer size of his team’s task against a side known for never giving up, even when the chips are down. “Atleti needed the victory, that was their only result available and they wanted it more than we did on the night.”
Roma have always been a side synonymous with attacking football, but not since the days of Fabio Capelllo in the early 2000s have they looked capable of going to places like the Metropolitano and digging deep enough for a point. However, Wednesday’s performance suggests the former Sassuolo boss is on his way towards pairing a shiny exterior with a tough interior.
Any defeat naturally breeds disappointment, but Wednesday’s was a necessary blip for Roma to learn from. Fortunately for the Lupi, Di Francesco has shown himself to be quick at not only getting what he wants from his players but also adapting to the demands of the top level. Their wings may have been clipped, but a dose of reality is just what’s needed.