Analysing how and why Roma are struggling in big games under Fonseca

Roma suffered another defeat against one of their rivals for the European places at the weekend, this time to Atalanta.

Negative results against the teams fighting for similar targets has been a common theme under the reign of Paulo Fonseca. It has at times looked like they are making progress in the bigger games, but Sunday’s defeat in Bergamo sent another reminder of the work to be done.

If Roma are to achieve their long-term ambitions, they simply must improve in big games. A lot has been made of this in the wake of the loss to Atalanta, and some questions have even been raised of Fonseca again, despite the coach generally seeing his side succeed this season.

Against the bigger teams, though, it’s a different story. Roma have now played 16 games against their six biggest rivals in Serie A – Juventus, Inter, Milan, Napoli, Lazio and Atalanta – since Fonseca took charge, winning only three.

Even those three wins were not as significant as they could have been. Victories over Milan and Napoli last season came when both those opponents were struggling; the triumph over Juventus in August was one in which neither side fielded a particularly strong lineup.

Of the seven biggest sides in Serie A, Roma have the lowest points total in games between each other. The victors on Sunday, Atalanta, have gained nearly twice as many points in big games.

Juventus, too, have a strong record against other big teams. They have also gained 28 points against such rivals over the past two seasons, but three of those were handed out as a walkover win against Napoli.

Even so, their form on the big occasions is what has helped them become Serie A champions in recent years. Indeed, the four teams with the most points against their six biggest rivals since the beginning of last season are the four teams who finished that campaign in the Champions League places.

The number of games taken into account for each team here is different for each club. But even using a points-per-game metric, Roma come out last.

In fact, they are the only club to have earned less than a point-per-game from matches against other members of the big seven.

It could have been a different story in several of those games – including against Atalanta. Roma took the lead through Edin Dzeko inside three minutes, but were unable to hang on and ultimately collapsed in the second half.

It was not the first time that Roma have failed to hold on to a big result against a major rival. Indeed, only Juventus – perhaps surprisingly – have dropped more points from winning positions against other big teams over the past one-and-a-half years.

Roma frustratingly failed to hold on to two separate leads against Juventus earlier in the season, for example. And that came just over two months since they had conceded a clumsy 88th minute penalty to miss out on victory against Inter.

Both were examples of the Giallorossi struggling to see out games against the top teams. If they could find a way to manage games better, then their fortunes would improve.

Admittedly, the opponent they faced on Sunday were never going to give up. Atalanta have won more points from losing positions against these sides in the same timeframe.

Roma are somewhere near the average, though, so perhaps they need to build on this kind of resilience. It is something they need to show at all times, though, whether they are losing or winning.

And when they are winning, they need to assert their dominance more. Perhaps they are taking their foot off the gas too much.

To highlight this, it is worth pointing out that Roma have taken the lead against the sides in discussion here in nine different games since Fonseca took charge. However, perhaps crucially, they have only gone two goals up in two of those games (against Napoli and Juventus last season).

Roma need to find a way to build on their leads, because that could be what is costing them at present. They are giving their opponents too much of a chance to get back in games.

The team have already shown what they can do when they are at their rampant best against smaller teams. The 5-1 win over Bologna was an example recently, as Roma scored five first-half goals in a Serie A game for the first time since the 1930s.

Now, they need to start putting that kind of pressure on the bigger teams as well. Taking the lead might not be the problem, but being ruthless thereafter could be.

Indeed, there is not much difference between the number of big games in which Roma have either scored or conceded first – although only Lazio have scored the first goal in fewer big games.

Roma are once again near the average point in this regard. To reach the top four again, though, average might not be enough.

Even so, Roma are still in fourth place now. They have got there having played all the other big teams this season except Inter and Lazio.

Ultimately, it does not matter how a team arrives in their final position, as long as they do. The challenge now for Roma is to maintain their place in fourth.

If they want to ensure that place or even aim higher, they will need to find a new mentality in big games. But while questions will still be asked, Roma are in a good place for now.

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