If you doubted Roma’s resolve heading into this match, the fury with which they approached the first ten minutes should have squashed all doubts. Propelled by a raucous home crowd, the Giallorossi dropped the hammer from the word go, playing with an intent and purpose we haven’t seen in weeks. Within the first five minutes, Roma nearly seized the initiative as Antonio Rüdiger’s attempt in the box clanged off the underside of crossbar, millimeters away from crossing the line, while the rebounded effort was only kept out by a fingertip save.
Roma came correct early in the first half, make no mistake. But, with this being Roma and all, nothing was normal and everything hurt.
After peppering the Lyon defense with shot after shot, and flat out dominating the wings, Roma hand generated at least three or four clear cut chances in the first 15 minutes alone, but then it happened. Roma happened.
Mouctar Diakhaby: 16th Minute
Left all alone in the six yard box, Mouctar Diakhaby buried a header past a helpless Alisson, who was hung out to dry by Federico Fazio and Kostas Manolas, who avoided him like a kid with lice. Try as you might, you can’t really explain this one away, it was just an utter collapse of defensive responsibility.
Roma would wait approximately one minute before pulling one back because they don’t give a fuck about your mental well-being.
Kevin Strootman: 17th Minute
I hesitate to say Strootman “scored” this one in the strictest sense of the word, but Strootman and the ball had a sort of binary star relationship going on here, where Strootman’s general presence willed the ball it. It’s science.
Luciano Spalletti’s squad would continue to forge ahead, countered by some well-disciplined pressing from the Lyon defense, nearly grabbing a lead after an improbable effort from Rajda Nainggolan where he was down on the pitch one minute, practically falling over the next, yet somehow managed to unfurl a looping 18-yardish shot off the outside of the boot, which narrowly—and I mean narrowly—dipped into the outer corner.
Roma would again...again...almost break this one open, as a late rush in the 42nd minute was snuffed away, with Strootman being denied almost point blank, with at least two more rebounded chances snuffed away. The Giallorossi had at least six legitimate scoring chances denied by Lyon.
For the neutral observers, the first half was fantastic. Roma and Lyon treated us to open, end to end attacking football, but time and again, the boys in red were turned away by Anthony Lopes who was, for all intents and purposes, playing like vintage Buffon.
Now, you may be asking yourself, how did Roma respond in the second half? Well, literally the exact same way they closed out the first, being denied by Lopes, who continued to play well above his paygrade.
Spalletti’s first change, Stephan El Shaarawy for Bruno Peres, would prove to be fortuitous, as SES forced Lyon’s hand in the 60th minute. Driving down and in from the right flank, El Shaarawy crossed a ball inwards forcing the error that lead to the own goal. While Roma didn’t score this one of their own accord, El Shaarawy’s initiative was the first spark that ultimately created the own goal.
But he wasn’t done yet, several minutes later, after shaking a defender on the right flank and squeezing into open space, El Shaarawy nearly skirted one into the far post. The initial move, the agility and the shot were exquisite, he simply couldn’t put it way, the ball trickled harmlessly past the far post, but this was so, so, so close to tilting the aggregate scoreline (with away goals) in Roma’s favor. It was a like a chip from the rough that read the green perfectly but circled the cup and tilted the wrong way...it was that agonizingly close.
The final 20 minutes of this match nearly defied description. I honestly can’t remember the last time I saw Roma attacking so single mindedly. After subbing on Diego Perotti and later Francesco Totti, Spalletti was rolling with five forwards, going for the goal at all costs.
Naturally, when you push so far forward, you leave yourself susceptible to counter attacks, and that is precisely what happened in the second half. Fortunately, Alisson was up to the task, bumrushing a Lyon attack, corralling a loose ball in the penalty area moments before it would have been otherwise chipped over his head, putting the match beyond all doubt.
With five minutes of stoppage time, Lyon did all they could to delay the match:
He's got split ends, get the stretcher!!!— Chiesa di Totti (@chiesaditotti) March 16, 2017
Lyon player down, think its a hang nail. Possibly seasonal affective disorder— Chiesa di Totti (@chiesaditotti) March 16, 2017
Good stuff there from some of our readers, by Lyon didn’t even feign a legitimate injury, they were just pissing about like a kid threatening to take his ball home if he didn’t get his way.
Once again, Roma was inches away from getting that decisive third goal, with both Edin Dzeko and El Shaarawy coming tantalizingly close to scoring. However, as was the case for much of the match, they were simply outmatched by Lopes, who you just know will concede three in his next match. This just seems like our lot in life sometimes doesn’t it? It’s one thing to be stonewalled by Gianluigi Buffon or even Samir Handanovic, but Anthony Lopes? Who the fuck is he?
There’s just so much to rue here--the missed chances, the blown lead in the first leg, Lopes’ unexpected and unrepeatable heroics, the shambolic defending on the set piece—but trying to pin this on any one thing is a fool’s errand. Roma simply wasn’t up to snuff over these two legs, but it was the moments that mattered—El Shaarawy’s near miss, the free header give to Diakhaby in the first half—that will tear your heart out.
But don’t let it, Roma showed serious resolve tonight, doing everything they had to, and everything they could do, to get that decisive fifth aggregate goal. And yes, given their performance in the first leg, they were the architects of their own destruction, but rather than burying their head in the sand when Lyon scored first, they came back with avengence, scoring 60 seconds later, and forcing chance after chance after chance.
The ball simply didn’t break their way this evening, shit happens. The real tragedy is that Roma were legitimate contenders in this tournament and just happened to draw the absolute worst opponent at the most inopportune time.
While winning the Europa League would have been great from a psychological sense, the real goal remains unchanged: securing second place in Serie A.