It’s tough to keep the word count down on a 2-hour game, so I’ll be putting my feelings aside (which are still mixed after this morning) and going into dry-detail analysis mode for this one.
Opening 26 Minutes - The Jig Is Up For Manolas
Don Hutchison starts off the game claiming “he’s worth testing, Kostas Manolas. Especially in the 18 yard box.” The word is now out around Europe on the Greek’s form, and Manolas’ pre-match verdict that Roma had ‘been conceeding avoidable goals’ proved a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you like Manolas and Di Francesco, it’s just a tale of two irreconcilable goods.
You can’t choose both men. One man’s football brings out the worst in the other’s career, and vice versa. There’s really no point blaming either one, especially since there were phases of the game where Manolas tried in spite of his troubles, and never let his head get down. Like every one of Roma’s players last night.
Nonetheless, you can see the pressure coming from the start. Porto are pushing up 4 men between Roma’s midfield and defence but, weirdly enough, Roma are more than happy to let this happen because it works in Roma’s favour. There’s no real threat through the middle, and I don’t know enough about Porto’s game (other than their excellent one-on-one wingers Brahimi and Corona) to know why it worked out this way.
All the play happening in Roma’s defensive third leads to Manolas heading the ball straight to Porto in the 21st minute. Chance for Corona on the edge of the box; the winger blazes over.
Two minutes later, De Rossi is expecting Manolas to play a vertical pass up to Zaniolo ahead, but Manolas instead plays it into the middle of the park and puts De Rossi under pressure. De Rossi himself takes a bad first touch, and is forced to put it out of play.
The Roma captain rants at Manolas, expecting the Greek to at least free himself from Marega and support DDR in possession. The two have a good old argument about it for at least 20 seconds, all while Eusebio Di Francesco is trying to encourage them to settle down with a thumbs up from the sideline.
Only 3 minutes go by before disaster strikes. Manolas takes an awkward touch on the ball in possession, with Karsdorp and Zaniolo both open to receive a pass from him. Instead, Marega smells blood from all of 10 yards away, closing down Manolas, stealing the ball off him and putting Porto into a 4-on-4 against Roma’s backline.
Neither Karsdorp nor Zaniolo look particulary interested in tracking back here, but it’s arguable whether they’d have made a difference. The defending from Juan Jesus and Ivan Marcano isn’t helpful either.
Roma’s backline tries to play offside, anticipating a pass into the middle from Corona that never comes, because Corona has too many options to play with anyway. The winger lays it off to Marega while Roma’s backline is flatfooted, and Tiquinho just about keeps himself onside to tap it in from Marega’s pass.
Marcano is late, Jesus is indecisive but Roma’s deep defence is rendered pointless by getting caught out cold in the first place. Paul Dempsey sums it up: “Manolas, critical error, leading to Porto’s goal”.
The Greek defender draws level with Fazio for most individual errors leading to goals for the season, at 12.
Meanwhile Porto have had 8 attempts on goal, and 63% of the possession to dominate the night so far.
28th Minute to 1-1 - Roma Fight Back to Ascendancy
Roma’s immediate response to going 1-0 down took some time. They were still standing off the ball, defending in a 5-4-1. But soon Roma’s captain De Rossi starts pushing up between Porto’s line to bring his team back into control of the ball. And rightly so, because Porto are ahead on away goals at the time.
In almost as many minutes as he made key passes, De Rossi tries to play in Zaniolo, Dzeko and Perotti on three separate occasions before the half hour. DDR is also winning balls back from Porto early, whenever Roma lose possession. The pressure DDR is putting on Porto’s midfield helps Roma’s forward line to get more time and space on the ball.
Right on the half hour, Perotti delivers his only key pass of the first half; the Argentine was slow to work himself into this game. But, five minutes later, Perotti dribbles inside Porto’s box and stitches up Militão into conceeding a penalty. Militão’s got his head in his hands knowing he took the bait, as soon as the ref points to the spot.
De Rossi takes a run up, pauses at the last minute and sends Casillas the wrong way. There are WWE heel-style celebrations from De Rossi, willingly stirring himself up into playing the bad guy in front of this Dragão crowd. And I love that.
I don’t really care for Roma being a popcorn and candyfloss miracle story in Europe. I’d rather be the dark horses who had it between the ears when it counts, coming to ruin the party.
Hutchison keeps praising De Rossi’s ‘arrogance’ from the spot and the look of dejection on Sergio Conceicao’s face, while DDR celebrates, is worth it alone.
Hutchison calls it early: “I’ve got the feeling we’re going into extra time.”
1-1 to Half Time - Roma Dominate The Ball But Lose DDR
Porto aren’t committing 4 men between Roma’s midfield and defensive line anymore; they drop two men deeper in their own midfield to defend ahead of De Rossi and Nzonzi. The Portuguese are visibly rattled at losing their away goal advantage, and Militão is nervously having a go at his teammates.
The 42nd minute brings a 13-pass buildup from Roma, working it all the way from left wing through the backline out to Karsdorp, into the middle to Dzeko, who lays it off to DDR. DDR doesn’t hesitate to hit a first time pass out to Perotti on the left wing, who waits for the Kolarov overlap. Kolarov hits a first-time cross on the ground into the middle that’s cut out by Felipe.
The weak point in this move is neither Perotti, but especially not Nzonzi, are pushing into the box (the one time you want Nzonzi to do the very thing he loves), so Dzeko is easily outnumbered by Porto defenders. Dzeko’s biggest contribution in the first half is clearing headers from Porto corners at the other end.
A minute later, Perotti and Kolarov double team Otavio to win the ball back. Roma strings together another 14-pass buildup, trying to (and successfully) moving Porto around and finding space. But the lack of Cengiz Under or Justin Kluivert hits the team hard here.
In the move above, Kolarov has become so used to hitting a cross-field ball out to the opponent’s weak flank, it’s like muscle memory to him at this point. He looks up to where either Under or Kluivert would normally be running behind Porto’s defence. There’s no one there, and Kolarov is too slow to make use of Dzeko having the beating of Pepe in the middle instead.
Eventually the ball is worked to Manolas, who’s got time and space to look for Perotti free on the left, but can’t complete the pass. I can’t knock any Roma player’s effort on the night over 120 minutes.
Another major blow hits Roma in first half extra time. De Rossi pulls something (probably his calf - another chronic injury for him over the last couple of years) and immediately signals to the bench that he needs to come off.
”He knows what he’s doing, I guarantee he’ll be back out for the second half. One hundred percent.”
That’s the only time Hutchinson is wrong all night, and arguably the one moment you wish he hadn’t been. De Rossi’s loss hit Roma in a big way.
Paul Dempsey sums up the first 45 by calling it ‘a very good first half fightback by Roma’. Both men fancy Roma to win it at this point, and they’re spending a lot of the half talking about how Roma have been good for performances against Shakhtar and even Liverpool, for large spells of last season’s CL campaign.
It’s refreshing for Roma to be spoken of in these terms in Europe, for two seasons running.
Second Half to 75 Mins - Roma Isolated In Attack, Porto Dangerous
Roma’s momentum from the first half was soon lost. A combination of Nzonzi-Pellegrini being too passive in midfield, and Karsdorp-Marcano taking risks pushing up from the back, meant Porto were back to looking like the more threatening side.
A couple of Porto corners go by before Olsen punches out a clearance, Karsdorp gets in possession but pushes his foot weakly into the ball, giving it away when he had an open lane to put Zaniolo on the ball.
The giveaway from Karsdorp is punished by Porto for 2-1. Porto and Roma heading to extra-time on this scoreline, with Roma having made three individual errors over the two legs to give Porto all their goals throughout the tie. And it wouldn’t end there.
Immediately after the goal, Karsdorp tackles Corona from behind and earns himself a yellow card. It’s the Dutchman’s full Champions League debut in a pressure round of 16 knockout game, and he’s clearly done for the night. EDF subs on Florenzi for Karsdorp on 55 minutes.
The game turns into Moussa Marega basically being everywhere on the pitch at once, while Roma’s only hope is that Perotti still has the edge over a young Militão; a mini-story of the game is the one-on-one war between Perotti and Porto’s impressive wonderkid at the back. But Roma are still outnumbered in attack, usually reduced to going 2-on-4 each time.
In the 57th minute, Dzeko does something that’s so embarrassing it’s not even worth mentioning. You have to see it to believe it. All while wearing the captain’s armband too.
As if to make things worse, Dzeko makes several selfish decisions in this half when he can easily play in Roma’s other attackers onto goal. I don’t know if the Bosnian just felt he’d been too isolated in the second half, but he was far from the only one that had to suffer, yet the main one losing his head.
75 Minutes To Full Time - Cristante Subbed In, Loses The War With Brahimi
With Roma too cautious in midfield and Marcano on his last legs, EDF uses the opportunity to sub on Cristante for the Spanish defender, while Roma revert back to 4-2-3-1 and Pellegrini moving to trequartista.
But it was a dreadfight night against Brahimi, for Bryan Cristante. The Porto forward could just beat Cristante on the ball at will, with Cristante only getting one round in by cutting out a Brahimi dribble to put Dzeko through on goal in the last ten minutes of the game.
By that point, the match was a dull affair. Both teams were dead on their feet and it was only Roma looking to avoid extra time by using the second and third-wind of Diego Perotti’s growing influence in the game. The Argentine would blow his golden moment, in the 82nd minute, when he played an early through ball into Dzeko in the box.
The Bosnian striker was slow to anticipate, so Pepe easily beat him to the ball. But Porto’s defender then gave possession back straight to Perotti, who found himself free with all the time in the world to pass into Zaniolo six yards out from goal. Instead, Perotti checks onto his right foot for a wasted shot. No one can believe the decision. Least of all Perotti, who has his head in his hands.
Full time finished with Moussa Marega defending Porto’s right wing, all the way deep in Porto’s half. The guy was tireless all night long.
Extra Time First Half - Schick Comes to Give 4-4-2 Momentum Up Front
Extra time barely got started, before Pellegrini went down clutching his hamstring in what looks like it’ll be a lengthy injury for the Roman. As soon as Patrik Schick came on in Pellegrini’s place, Roma looked much more balanced and threatening. Arguably, they could have started the game with this setup instead, but that’s hindsight talking.
Both Schick and Dzeko took turns winning knock downs in the air for one another, and Schick’s prowess on the ball helped take out Porto defenders to even up the numbers in attack.
The half ended with Militao’s night over on 103 minutes. The youngster was subbed off for 34-year-old Maxi Pereira, who himself would prove crucial in Porto’s winning move at the end of the game.
Extra Time Second Half - Golden Chances Missed By Roma
Perotti dribbles past two Porto players leaving them on their asses, while playing Schick into the hole, who doesn’t get a good touch and plays it out wide to Florenzi in desperation, but again that man Marega is defending OTHER Porto wing this time. Marega is seriously everywhere.
Florenzi is making good interceptions at the back, cutting out Porto’s counters whenever it looks like red alert along with Juan Jesus. As a matter of fact, deep inside the second half of extra time, it was very much the return of Juan “Romantanda” Jesus. The Brazilian would win back balls all over the backline, slide tackling at times to win it back if he needed to, whenever he was outnumbered. If his night ended on an individual high, unfortunately it wouldn’t be the same for Florenzi.
In the interim, Dzeko missed two golden chances to win the tie in back-to-back minutes. The 111st minute saw Schick free himself to receive a ball in the middle, before the Czech forward pinged it to Zaniolo, who himself immediately played it wide to Perotti. Perotti plays a ball to put in Dzeko one-on-one against Porto’s defender, and Dzeko does the hardest part by cutting inside the defender, well into the box with a wide open shot on goal. Out of sheer fatigue, Dzeko blazes it well over the bar.
A minute later, Cristante plays a wonderful through ball to Dzeko completely free on goal. Dzeko takes a moment to tee himself up onto his right foot, but his dink around Casillas is too weak to cross the line before its cleared by Pepe. And then came the penalty.
I would say Roma’s midfield is again failing to defend their fullbacks by this time, but truthtfully there’s no real shape left from both sides after going nearly two hours in the pouring rain.
Perotti is too narrow and leaves Maxi Pereira free with all the time and space to put in a cross from Porto’s right, but the cross is too deep for any Porto player to get onto and goes out; except that Florenzi decides to pull on Fernando’s shirt out of fatigue and desperation.
Florenzi gets booked while Alex Telles - the man who was going down with cramp over a half hour earlier - buries the penalty. Porto are going through 3-1 on the night, and 4-3 on aggregrate. Telles is more than happy to take a yellow card for his celebrations.
Roma contributed 4 individual errors for all 4 of Porto’s goal over both ties, and you just can’t argue with a final scoreline when that happens.
Roma tried to reply in the dying moments of the game. Juan Jesus plays a hoof ball up front for Dzeko to knock down into Schick, and the Czech effortlessly chests the ball down to feet while taking out a Porto defender in the process. Schick plays Perotti into the box, but Perotti has his head down and plays the ball blind across the six yard box where three Porto defenders are there waiting to cut it out (Pepe clears and double fist pumps to the crowd).
By this point, Manolas is long since playing auxiliary striker up front giving it his all and wanting Perotti to find him in the middle, but Schick was calling for the ball to be played back to him free on the edge of the box all that time.
Perotti takes the ensuing corner; it’s a good one right onto the six yard line. A Porto defender gets to it first, barely flicking it out wide where Schick chases the ball down. Before Schick can control it, Marega treads on his foot and impedes his run. The contact is inside the box, but the referee doesn’t go to VAR to check for a penalty.
It took me a dozen replays watching back on Sky Italia’s post-match coverage, to finally see an angle where I was convinced it was a stonewall penalty for Roma. But if it takes that long for me to see it, then I frankly don’t care that it wasn’t given in real time. What’s really questionable is why the referee passes up the chance to go and look at it himself.
Paul Dempsey summed up the mixed feelings over this loss, some moments earlier in the half: ”I think Roma have shown courage in other ways, when most needed tonight, though Don. You know, stickability. They have fought for each other, like Di Francesco said he wanted yesterday.”
”Yes, he said he was looking for men.”