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Mayoral Brace Highlights Roma's 5-0 Rout of Cluj

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Goals from Mkhitaryan, Roger Ibañez, Pedro and our first ever Borja Brace® powered Roma to a 5-0 laugher over CFR Cluj.

AS Roma v CFR Cluj: Group A - UEFA Europa League Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

In his pre-match press conference ahead of today's Europa League fixture against Romanian side CFR Cluj, Roma manager Paulo Fonseca dismissed the notion that he has one lineup for Serie A and another, some might say less talented, lineup for the Europa League. While it's fine to not play favorites in the press, the product on the pitch says otherwise: Fonseca has definitely been sorting his recycling, as it were.

However, with a few minor knocks and some mounting fatigue plaguing his side, Fonseca ran out a mixed A and B-Team today, giving the now standard Europa League starts to Pau Lopez, Gonzalo Villar and Borja Mayoral while also including regulars like Jordan Veretout, Leonardo Spinazzola and Henrikh Mkhitaryan in his starting eleven.

And it took all of 60 seconds for that hybrid lineup to pay dividends:

Henrikh Mkhitaryan: 1st Minute (Roma 1, Cluj 0)

This was yet another example of Leonardo Spinazzola's creative influence on this Roma side. With Spinazzola dragging his defender towards the elbow of the 18-yard-box, he quickly cut back to his left, carving out yards of space in the process, which then gave him sufficient time to play a pinpoint cross to Mkhitaryan on the right. With the #77 completely unmarked, Roma grabbed an early and surprising lead. I say surprising simply because Cluj looked completely caught off guard, almost as if they were taken aback by Roma actually trying so soon in the match.

Cluj would gather their composure and actually tested Pau Lopez five minutes later with a brilliant long range effort that skirted just wide of the post; one of four shots from distance for the Railwaymen in the first half.

The only thing more dangerous than a 1-0 lead in football is the assumption that lead will grow on its own. Roma were flat out dominating the early stages of this match, holding well over 60% possession and limiting Cluj to predominantly long-range efforts, most of which were easily thwarted by Roma's back line, but one couldn't help but think a second goal would put this beyond all doubt.

Not ones to leave things to chance or rely on assumptions, Roma would double their lead midway through the half.

Roger Ibañez: 24th Minute (Roma 2, Cluj 0)

I'm not sure what's gotten into Roma lately with these set-pieces, but the Giallorossi pulled off another stunner here with Jordan Veretout putting the ball on a platter for Roger Ibañez. Great ball from Veretout and a great rise and great technique from Ibañez, who put just enough oomph on the ball to get past the outstretched hands of Cluj keeper Cristian Balgradean.

Roma would keep the pressure on, grabbing a third goal from an unlikely (or at least unexpected source) 10 minutes later.

Borja Mayoral: 34th Minute (Roma 3, Cluj 0)

Mayoral was practically invisible to this point in the match, but he did a great job throughout this play to track the ball, provide a target for Bruno Peres as he was driving forward in the box and, perhaps most importantly, sticking with the play, putting himself in prime position for the tap-in goal; his first for his new club. It wasn't a brilliant exhibition of skill, but hopefully this proves to be the boost of confidence Mayoral needs to show his true colors. {Spoiler Alert: It would}

The Giallorossi very nearly had a fourth goal late in the half when Roger Ibañez made a late run into the box off a set-piece, but his attempt was just a bit off. But, as it stood, Roma completely outclassed Cluj in the first half, with the hybrid A and B-Team lineup proving too much to match for the Romanian side.

Second Half

Fonseca would make three changes to start the second half: bringing on Lorenzo Pellegrini, Pedro and Juan Jesus for Spinazzola, Veretout and Mkhitaryan. A fourth change would come just past the hour mark when he swapped out Ibañez for Chris Smalling. Cluj had found a bit of life by this point in the match, but by and large Roma were just having a kick around in the park, stringing passes together for fun and not really concerning themselves with the men in white.

I really wish I could elaborate more in this space, but by this point in the match, Roma were just having a laugh: not really pressing for a fourth goal, but not completely relaxing at the back, just stringing passes together, focusing on tempo, spacing and tactical movements while toying with their guests.

Having said that, Cluj almost found the exhaust vent in Roma's Death Star: the back post. Cluj forward Mario Rondon nearly stole a goal back when he slipped past Roma's defense, nearly beating Lopez at the far post. Fortunately, Pau got just enough of the ball to avoid disaster, but Roma weren't completely free and clear until Marash Kumbulla pulled the ball off the line.

It certainly wouldn't have been a disaster given the game state, but if a tiny club like Cluj can exploit that, what else might happen?

Fonseca surprised us all in the 74th minute, swapping out Bryan Cristante for Primavera standout Tommaso Milanese, an 18-year-old central midfielder with two goals and two assists for Alberto De Rossi's side through six matches.

Roma would add a fourth goal for good measure in the closing stages of this match.

Borja Mayoral: 84th Minute (Roma 4, Cluj 0)

Roma were a bit lucky here, insofar as Peres’ cross was deflected away from its intended target (Juan Jesus. Like...what? why?), but what an effort from Mayoral! Just picture perfect technique on this settle/volley: one foot planted, hip torqued and drive it home. Beautiful work from Mayoral to grab Roma's first ever Borja Brace®.

But Roma weren't done just yet....

Pedro: 89th Minute (Roma 5, Cluj 0)

Cluj were pretty dispirited at this point (long before this point, to be honest) but don't let that distract you from another beautiful team goal. Pellegrini had all the time in the world on the ball and found Mayoral in a tight pocket of space with a well-placed pass. From there, Mayoral showed a deft touch and quick decision making, laying it off to Milanese on the left—and what a final pass from the teenager to spring Pedro into space, who finished it off with a patient and composed finish.

It was the perfect capper to a practically perfect night from Fonseca's men.

Final Thoughts

Five-nil. Borja Brace®. Top of the group. What more could you want?

We could expand on those thoughts, but Roma turned in an utterly dominant effort and received key performances from some of their biggest question marks (Mayoral in particular, who was fantastic after settling in). Roma are now in the driver's seat and seem safe to book passage into the knockout stages.

Up Next

Roma travel to Genoa on Sunday to resume Serie A play, but the Europa League return fixtures won't begin until November 26th when Roma travel to Cluj.

Poll

Man of the match?

This poll is closed

  • 50%
    Borja Mayoral
    (186 votes)
  • 12%
    Bruno Peres
    (45 votes)
  • 13%
    Roger Ibañez
    (51 votes)
  • 3%
    Jordan Veretout
    (12 votes)
  • 16%
    Henrikh Mkhitaryan
    (62 votes)
  • 3%
    Other
    (13 votes)
369 votes total Vote Now