The Romans leapfrog Inter with a nervy win.
Roma went top of Serie A with a narrow 2-1 victory over Atalanta at the Olimpico. First half goals from Mirko Vucinic and Marco Cassetti gave the Giallorossi breathing space, but Simone Tiribocchi's strike after the break gave them a difficult ending.
The Giallorossi's victory means they have a one point advantage over champions Inter going into next week's derby match against Lazio.
The biggest team news on both sides came from the substitutes bench, where Luca Toni was sidelined by Claudio Ranieri in favour of a Francesco Totti-led 4-2-3-1, whilst Atalanta coach Lino Mutti again decided to leave skipper Cristiano Doni and his mask out of the starting line-up with Nicola Amoruso partnering Simone Tiribocchi in attack.
Totti was quick to stamp his authority on the game. ‘Il Capitano’ flashed a right foot drive just wide of the far post after David Pizarro had done well to win the ball and get a pass away off the ground.
There was danger in the Roma area moments later, as a short corner was worked to Thomas Manfredini, whose whipped cross bounced off Nicola Amoruso and though Daniele Capelli forced an excellent close-range reaction save from Julio Sergio, the Atalanta full-back was in an offside position.
The best chance of the game so far came on 10 minutes when Francesco Totti was sent into space and needed only to poke the ball beyond Andrea Consigli, but the skipper managed to screw his shot the wrong side of the post.
Roma’s eventual breakthrough was largely of Atalanta’s making. Mirko Vucinic picked up the ball and ran at Diego De Ascentis before unleashing a strike from 25 yards which Consigli somehow managed to escape between his legs.
Manfredini’s was the first name into the referee’s notebook, and the stand-in left back was then forced to seek attention for a knee injury he picked up in committing the reckless foul on Jeremy Menez.
Roma’s early goal had clearly instilled a degree of confidence, and in the 27th minute Totti floated over a cross from the right and full-back Marco Cassetti was running free in the centre forward position to head past Consigli and double the Giallorossi’s advantage.
The home side sat back somewhat over the next few minutes, and Atalanta’s renewed urgency saw Roma put under a sustained period of pressure. But the Orobici were struck a blow when skipper Manfredini was forced off having failed to shake off the effects of his earlier challenge on Menez. Ivan Radovanovic took his place, with Capelli being passed the armband.
The remainder of the first half saw few real chances created, though Adriano Ferreira Pinto failed to spot a shooting chance from a right wing cross as the visitors continued to search for a way back in.
Claudio Ranieri made a chance at half-time, introducing Luca Toni in the place of Vucinic, who had picked up a knock in the opening half, in a bid to preoccupy Atalanta’s back four.
The Giallorossi could have gone three up soon after the break as a delightful one-two with Totti led to Menez finding space to shoot, but his attempt to delicately curl the ball inside the far post was lacking the necessary deviation.
Roma were made to pay by a Roman in the Atalanta side as John-Arne Riise’s slide to cut out Ferreira Pinto managed only to divert the ball to Simone Tiribocchi, who dispatched with relative ease across Julio Sergio to halve the deficit.
The capital club were noticeably more nervous by now, and after the Nerazzurri had held onto possession for a lengthy period, Ferreira Pinto’s left foot effort was blocked, to the relief of the crowd. Seconds later Francesco Totti went down under pressure in the Atalanta box, but referee Gianluca Rocchi rightly pointed for a goal kick.
Jeremy Menez was then booked for trying to win a penalty by foul means, as he went down easily with Paolo Bianco in not particularly close attendance.
At the other end Jaime Valdes did superbly to evade four challenges, but he just overdid his last touch as he went past Philippe Mexes and the ball ran beyond the bye-line.
Totti very nearly put in Toni for a spectacular goal, but the skipper’s lofted chip was wasted by the front man as he controlled the ball with his hand and in any case belted his shot against the side-netting.
Within minutes, Toni had another opportunity, but his effort from the edge of the area was just high of the target.
Menez then went on a run into the box with two Atalanta defenders paying close attention, but after again going to ground there was neither a penalty nor a yellow card forthcoming.
Roma coach Claudio Ranieri momentarily felt the ire of the home crowd when it appeared as though he was about to replace Francesco Totti with Matteo Brighi. There had actually been a mix-up with the substitutions board and it was Menez who eventually departed, but not before substitute Cristiano Doni’s header had forced a save from Julio Sergio.
Capelli did well twice in the space of two minutes to foil first Rodrigo Taddei, and then an attempted cross by Riise.
With time running low, the home crowd started to find their voices once more, clearly growing more excited at the prospect of topping Serie A. But Atalanta continued to command their fair share of the ball. Thankfully for the 60,000 or so home fans, they were unable to force any clear chances and over the last few minutes Roma used all of their experience to protect possession and see out a vital win which puts them a point clear in the league table.
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