Travelling to Bergamo and coming away with anything these days isn’t easy. Last night there was no doubt that the character and quality Atalanta displayed was enough to topple the Romans. The defeat asked even more questions of the Giallorossi, who have been in dismal form of late. As is seemingly inevitable in the Eternal City, enthusiasm for coaches has the longevity of a paper bag more than the Pantheon. Already there are question marks raised over Paulo Fonseca’s project and whether another overhaul is needed.
It is inarguable that 2020 has been a terrible year for the Giallorossi. It started with back-to-back home defeats; the teams from Turin did a number on them as both the Granata and the Old Lady emerged from the Stadio Olimpico with maximum points. It seemed as though wins against Parma and a poor Genoa may have stabilised them, but after a credible draw in the Derby Della Captitale, it seems things have deteriorated. Defeats to Sassuolo, Bologna and now Atalanta have seen them concede nine goals in their last three games and they look like a side with few ideas left.
La Gazzetta dello Sport were keen to point out that the defeat to Atalanta was fatal for Roma’s Champions League hopes. That is a little excessive, as six points (technically seven now they have the superior head-to-head record) is not impossible to claw back. Fonseca was not going to be critical of his team after the game, he made it clear that in his opinion, tactically they got it right and in the first half they didn’t allow Atalanta many chances. The team from Bergamo however, did come close in the first 45 minutes on three occasions, but when Roma went in at the break 1-0 up, it will have been a disappointment that they could not close it out again.
Fonseca claims he has to work on his team’s mental fragility, something Roma fans will have heard before. Even Edin Dzeko was not shy in coming forward recently, when he stated that some of his teammates were not playing at Serie A standard. The forward can claim this as he has arguably been one of their better performers, even though 11 goals in 22 rounds are perhaps not up to his own high standards. Chris Smalling, Aleksandar Kolarov, Lorenzo Pellegrini and before his injury, the very much missed, Nicolò Zaniolo, can come out of this season with credit.
The problem is that that whilst Fonseca has said his team played with courage, as they try to create a style that gives them an identity, this has also been a weakness. Not all of the players seem to have bought into this and there are certainly players who look fearful in this system. The jury is still out on Pau Lopez, Cengiz Under has ‘under’ performed, as have the likes of Leonardo Spinazzola, Gianluca Mancini and Bryan Cristante. There are certainly too many players who are either coasting with mediocre displays or are blowing incredibly hot and cold.
So where are Roma? Do they trust in what Paulo Fonseca is doing and wait for another transfer window so that they can get more players in who fit the system? It is certainly an argument that could be put forward, as if you employ a coach like Fonseca, it certainly feels like that it is for a long-term project and not a quick fix. Defensively, they need improving however, and this is the main criticism of his tenure. Hellas Verona for instance are behind them in sixth place, they have conceded eight fewer goals.
The Giallorossi now have a chance to re-group and take on the Europa League. Gent will not be an easy fixture, but in context of the draw, it is kind. A win at home against the Belgians will give them confidence before Lecce, Cagliari and Sampdoria all offer a possibility of maximum points.
Roma are at a crossroads, they need to ask the maximum of their players and as the coach said, look at the mental side of the game. He believes in the players, now do they believe in him?