Separated by just one place and three points in the Serie A standings, Roma and top-six rivals Atalanta BC convene at Stadio Olimpico on Saturday.
Following wins for both last time out, victory for the sixth-placed hosts would draw them level with their visitors from Bergamo, but neither side has convinced in recent weeks.
Despite a total of 31 shots on goal and 65% of possession against 10-man Spezia last Sunday, another Roma draw seemed to be on the cards when their encounter at Stadio Alberto Picco entered stoppage time all square.
The Giallorossi’s final attack of the game nearly brought about a dramatic match-winner, when Nicolo Zaniolo’s diving header struck the crossbar and – after a goalmouth scramble and subsequent VAR delay – the visitors were awarded a penalty for a high boot striking the young forward’s face.
Top scorer Tammy Abraham then stepped up to the spot and found the bottom corner; sealing three much-needed points which took the capital club above fierce rivals Lazio in the table.
After three successive Serie A draws and four games without a win, Jose Mourinho’s main emotion – as he watched remotely during a two-match touchline suspension – would surely have been relief: not only have Roma posted a six-game unbeaten run in Serie A for the first time under his management, victory also keeps them within six points of a Champions League place.
While the controversial coach will remain sidelined on Saturday, his side now has the opportunity to reel in a direct opponent for a top-four finish – and one which he masterminded a shock 4-1 win over earlier this season.
Having come out on top in December’s reverse fixture against Atalanta – with Abraham and Zaniolo both on target that day – Roma ended a run of failure in their previous seven encounters with the Lombardy side.
The last time the Giallorossi did the league double over this weekend’s visitors was as long ago as the 2012-2013 campaign, though, and a brittleness against fellow European contenders leaves doubts about their ability to do so now: in meetings between top-eight teams, Roma have gained the fewest points – just seven in nine matches, while losing on six occasions.
After a series of eight consecutive defeats previously, Atalanta have remained unbeaten in their seven most recent away matches against Roma in Serie A, and they are the only team that the Giallorossi have failed to beat at the Olimpico since 2015.
To continue such a streak, they will hope to build on momentum gained from recent results, as back-to-back wins over Europa League playoff opponents Olympiacos and struggling Sampdoria have come by a combined score of seven goals to nil.
That latter success finally ended a troubling downward spiral in domestic football, as Atalanta went winless in five Serie A games and crashed out of the Coppa Italia to Fiorentina, and having also lost to the Viola in top-flight action last month, Gian Piero Gasperini’s side find themselves outside the Champions League spots – three points adrift of Juventus, who have played a game more.
Curiously, the Nerazzurri’s home form has been a major problem this term, but on the road they have generally excelled, and before they head south to the capital, a record of nine wins and one loss away from Bergamo should see them travel in a confident mood.
Repeatedly stricken by injury and other absences, Gasperini’s men have not scored in three of their last four Serie A away games, though, and are still far from their free-flowing best.
Roma Serie A form:
Roma form (all competitions):
Atalanta BC Serie A form:
Atalanta BC form (all competitions):
We say: Roma 1-1 Atalanta BC
Both sides’ strengths and frailties are well known to each other, but Atalanta’s attacking might has largely been replaced by a more disciplined defensive approach of late – particularly in high-profile clashes with Inter, Lazio and Juventus.
Each of those games produced either goalless or low-scoring draws, and another could be in the offing against Roma this week, as their hosts are always vulnerable versus Calcio’s top sides.