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Roma Blanks Barcelona 3-0 to Advance to Champions League Semi-Finals

Roma whooped ‘em plain and simple, erasing a 4-1 aggregate deficit.

AS Roma v FC Barcelona - UEFA Champions League Quarter Final Second Leg Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

Football is played in virtually every corner of the earth (or at any antipodal point if you’re one of those people who thinks the earth is...get this...round), but you’d be hard pressed to find a club as chaotic as Roma. Go ahead, name me a club in any sport that runs as hot and cold as the Giallorossi. One minute they’re ripping off five or six straight victories in convincing fashion, the next they’re struggling to even find the back of the net against Bologna. Roma’s wicked ways appeared to reach their nadir last week when they were completely manhandled by Fiorentina at home, limping off the field after a pitiful two-nil loss.

If Roma couldn’t even handle those two relatively paltry Serie A sides, what hope did they have of erasing a 4-1 aggregate deficit against Barcelona in the Champions League? Sure, they ran into some bad luck at the Camp Nou, but surely Roma was no match for the almighty Lionel Messi? Barca’s passage to the semi-finals seemed virtually assured. Roma might put up a valiant fight, but their fate seemed sealed.

What’s more, Roma had more pressing matters to consider; the fight for third/fourth place in Serie A, where their city rivals, Lazio, were waiting with baited breath for the derby next week, a six pointer that might very well determine which Roman side experiences the elation of the Champions League next year and which one wallows in the Europa League.

Things were so dire that many were clamoring for Eusebio Di Francesco to punt this match, resting the pillars of the squad for Sunday’s far more important derby, or so it went. Facing such enormous odds, this line of thinking, while defeatist, was perfectly reasonable and entirely defensible.

However, as EDF admonished pre match, and as we discussed this very morning, Roma had a duty to try, to fight until the bitter end, to try every which way but loose to give birth to that miracle, but to call this match a “fight” would be to undersell what just occurred—Roma flatout dominated this match for large stretches. Rather that sitting back and reacting, Roma took the fight to Barcelona, putting them on the back heel from the word go.

But it wasn’t even so much the final scoreline that was most impressive, it was the manner in which they won. Rather than relying on his patented 4-3-3 formation, Di Francesco rolled the dice, switching to the never before used 3-4-1-2, led by Edin Dzeko and Patrick Schick up top with Radja Nainggolan in the hole behind them. Changing formations and completely upending your footballing philosophy before the biggest match of his career is the very definition of a gamble, but EDF was prescient enough to realize what had worked to that point wouldn’t deliver the miracle Roma needed.

Seriously, view this objectively. This is a man so derided for being slavishly devoted to one tactic, and he completely threw caution to the wind in what is easily and quite literally the biggest match of his managerial career. This decision could have completely blew up in his face and very well led to his demise as a Roma manager, but the wit, the ingenuity and bravery he displayed tonight puts him on top of Roma’s recent managerial heap. This shift took some serious guts. This was like Rocky coming out in an orthodox stance against Apollo Creed—EDF completely eschewed the punches that brought him here, leaving Barcelona a quivering heap on the canvas.

So while we can probably just pack it in and savor this as the most exquisite moral victory, satisfied for the experience in and of itself, nothing about EDF’s approach to the Champions League suggests that he’s harborning any such thoughts—he’ll attack whoever Roma faces next full tilt.

There are any number of ways I can end this, with a statistical rundown, a mea culpa for every slander I’ve ever hurled at EDF, but only one thing matters today, and only one man can do this moment justice...

We’ll hit you with the highlights later, but for now, how are you celebrating?