Roma began their Champions League campaign Tuesday with a 0-0 draw against Atletico Madrid rather than a heavy defeat, and they have goalkeeper Alisson to thank. The Brazilian pulled off a string of fantastic saves to deny manager Diego Simeone's Atleti side what could have been a deserved win.
Alisson, who has been criticised in the early weeks of the season, drew wild applause from the Stadio Olimpico after a Custer-esque display. He denied Vietto with a superb one-on-one stop just before the hour mark, and after a number of excellent stops, he made sure that Roma scraped a point with a point-blank stoppage-time save on Saul Niguez, after which the Spaniard somehow crashed the rebound against the post and fell to his knees in despair.
As the teams left the field, the Curva Sud chanted Alisson's name from the rafters, as well they should, but it's odd to come away from a game in which Roma didn't play badly at all knowing that the goalkeeper was nonetheless the man of the match. Eusebio Di Francesco's Roma side kept in step with Atleti in the first half and could have taken the lead if a below-par Edin Dzeko had not sliced a presentable chance wide at 33 minutes. But the second half was the Spanish side's, and if Roma want to get out of this group they will have to find a way to make the most of their immense talent. Feeble shouts for a penalty won't be enough.
The first half highlighted the potential Roma have, as the Giallorossi went toe-to-toe with one of Europe's best teams and could have conceivably had a half-time lead. Roma were tight and compact, and apart from a couple of slips, they kept a tight rein on Antoine Griezmann & Co. It was also good to see Di Francesco switch from his preferred 4-3-3 formation when it was clear Atleti were romping through Roma's tiring midfield.
While the team is organised and fights for each other, you can never sit entirely easy with Juan Jesus and Bruno Peres in your back four. But worse than that is how tired Roma's midfield gets after Di Francesco's instructions. This is the area where Roma are at their strongest, yet it seems to be where the most stress is felt, with players charging around covering huge gaps and then struggling to string two passes together.
Manager rating out of 10
6 -- Di Francesco showed that he's flexible when he needs to be. He responded to Simeone bringing on Yannick Carrasco and upping his side's attacking potency by going to three at the back with Federico Fazio, and the move to wing-backs stopped Atleti from charging through the midfield at will. It remains to be seen if he'll stick with his starting 4-3-3, which is still not working as it should.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Alisson, 8 -- Made a string of brilliant saves to keep Roma in the game in the second half. Immense.
DF Bruno Peres, 5 -- Struggled until Di Francesco moved to a back three and lessened Peres' defensive responsibilities.
DF Kostas Manolas, 6 -- Kept the score level with a sensational goal-line clearance in the first half and did what he could, taking into account he had Peres to his right.
DF Juan Jesus, 5 -- Had a very shaky spell early in the second half when Atleti controlled play, but otherwise not as bad as could be feared.
DF Aleksandar Kolarov, 7 -- Solid, reliable and willing to get forward. All the things you want in a full-back.
MF Kevin Strootman, 6 -- Considering the huge spaces he had to cover and the quality of opposition, it was a decent, if not great, display.
MF Daniele De Rossi, 6 -- Kept a cool head when Atleti threatened to overrun the midfield. Sound on the ball and quick to help the back line.
MF Radja Nainggolan, 6 -- Full of his usual grit and running, but couldn't quite express his best football going forward. Unlucky to see his fizzing shot saved by goalkeeper Jan Oblak in the first half.
FW Gregoire Defrel, 5 -- Plenty of heart, not a lot of head. Really struggling out of position on the right.
FW Edin Dzeko, 5 -- Sliced a good chance wide just after the half-hour mark and struggled to get any change out of Diego Godin and Stefan Savic.
FW Diego Perotti, 6 -- Took a cheeky little dive toward the end in the hope of a penalty, but given how his night went, it was never going to be given.
DF Federico Fazio, NR -- Helped shore things up as a sweeper in a back three. Neat and tidy.
MF Lorenzo Pellegrini, NR -- Eleven minutes of terrier-like enthusiasm.
FW Stephan El Shaarawy, NR -- One wonders: What was the point of giving him one minute at the end?