Fazio solid but Roma lack intensity in Atalanta draw as title hopes wither
Roma's last remaining hopes of the Serie A title wafted away with a frustrating 1-1 draw with Atalanta that allowed Juventus to extend their lead at the top to eight points and effectively seal their sixth straight Scudetto. Edin Dzeko's tap-in levelled the scores almost straight after half-time after Jasmin Kurtic's superb drilled opener -- Atalanta's only shot on target -- saw Gian Piero Gasperini's supremely well-organised side lead at the break.
For 20 minutes, Roma laid siege to the away side's goal, Daniele De Rossi hitting the post through an improbable bicycle kick and Radja Nainggolan almost snapping the bar in two with a missile of a shot. However, the Ninja's strike was Roma's last serious effort on goal, and with 25 minutes to go, their energy ran out, their dreams of mounting a comeback on Juve disappearing with it.
Luciano Spalletti's men now must hold off Napoli to maintain second place and automatic Champions League qualification. But with their five-point lead over the Partenopei likely to be down to two by the end on Saturday and matches with AC Milan, Lazio and Juventus on the horizon, that looks a much tougher task than it did a couple of weeks ago.
When Roma got their act together at the start of the second half, they looked like a truly formidable team. On another day, one of those shots that crashed out off the woodwork would have flown in instead. Franck Kessie's performance frustrated fans, but if the rumours of his transfer to Roma being done and dusted are true, that's great news for next season.
Roma threw away the first half, coming out with a total lack of intensity that allowed Atalanta to choke their static midfield with high pressing. Moves continually fizzled out with an aimless deep cross from Antonio Rudiger, and too often the ball was shuffled sideways without any plan of how to turn the away side's backline. Roma might have had chances to win the match, but 20 minutes played at the intensity is not enough.
Manager rating out of 10
5 -- Spalletti had the presence of mind to see that Rudiger was not working out at right-back, with the German's shaky attacking play allowing Atalanta to focus on snuffing out the midfield, and bringing on Bruno Peres balanced Roma's attack. However, fans were right to wonder why Francesco Totti wasn't given more than five minutes off the bench, given how tightly packed the away side's defence was in the second half and how hard a time Roma were having breaking them down.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Wojciech Szczesny, 6 -- Hardly had anything to do all game and could hardly be blamed for not stopping Kurtic's rocket.
DF Antonio Rudiger, 6 -- Was left to his own devices at right-back by Atalanta and didn't take advantage going forward, and he was cut to ribbons by Andrea Conti for the opener. Much better when shifted to the centre in the second half.
DF Kostas Manolas, 5 -- Subbed at half-time for Bruno Peres. A year ago, no one would have imagined that kind of ignominy.
DF Federico Fazio, 8 -- Very good for the second week in a row, shutting out Andrea Petagna and always keen to start attacks from the back.
DF Mario Rui, 6 -- His deflected cross led to Dzeko's equaliser, but otherwise he looked off the pace and way behind Emerson Palmieri.
MF Kevin Strootman, 5 -- The Dutchman's worst performance in ages. Countless misplaced passes and little creativity in the face of Atalanta's cold pressing.
MF Daniele De Rossi, 7 -- Extremely unlucky not to scissor kick in the winner and was the only one of the midfield three to play to their usual standard.
MF Radja Nainggolan, 6 -- Almost took the curva sud goal out of the turf with his second-half shot, which was the highlight of a lost battle with Kessie.
FW Mohamed Salah, 5 -- Cushioned Rui's cross beautifully down to Dzeko for the equaliser but struggled against Atalanta's solid and deep-sat backline.
FW Edin Dzeko, 5 -- His 25th league goal of the season doesn't cover up for the other 89.9 minutes of lethargy.
FW Diego Perotti, 5 -- Kept at it all game down the left, but despite having a tonne of the ball, barely created anything before being subbed for Totti.
DF Bruno Peres, 6 -- His introduction at half-time balanced Roma's formation and freed up the midfield from the close attention they were receiving. His individual display, however, was lacking.
FW Stephan El Shaarawy, N/R -- Buzzed around a bit but produced nothing of substance.
FW Francesco Totti, N/R -- Tried to create something with the few minutes he had but didn't have time to settle in and pick the pass.
Terry is based in Rome and is ESPN FC's AS Roma blogger. Twitter: @T_Daley