AS Roma and BSC Young Boys went toe-to-toe in a surprisingly taught and aggressive fixture that nearly erased memories of the boring, stilted affair from late October. Swapping out the synthetic pitch of the Stadion Wankdorf for the pristine and green blades of grass at the Stadio Olimpico, tonight's fixture was more open, more entertaining, and more intense than the first match back in Bern. And all that despite the fact that Roma had little more than seeding and scheduling concerns on their mind, having already qualified for the Round of 32 ahead of tonight's fixture.
In literally the first minute of the match, Roma gave us a glimpse of their intent this evening. With Young Boys settling the ball deep in their area after the opening kick-off and preparing to setup a forward move, with a deft touch of the toe, Amadou Diawara forced a turnover after all of 45 seconds, setting up a quick shot for the Giallorossi.
There was no hesitation and no letting the game breathe, Roma made their intentions clear right off the bat—nothing would be left to chance today, despite the relatively low stakes at hand. It's an easy enough gesture to pull off against a small club like Young Boys, but after the debacle against Napoli, these outward displays of confidence and aggression were a welcomed sight.
And that's how it went for the first 15 to 20 minutes of this match. With their Spanish quartet (Carles Perez, Borja Mayoral, Pedro and Gonzalo Villar) leading the charge, Roma's passing was quick while their movement was intuitive, purposeful and perfectly in sync, effectively pinning Young Boys on their heels. Visibly frustrated by Roma's aggressive approach, Young Boys resorted to all manner of clutching, grabbing, shoulder barging—and even a forearm shiver to Bruno Peres’ throat—in their desperate attempt to slow Roma down.
But Roma did more than simply pass and move, forcing YB keeper David von Ballmoos into several saves early in the first half Within the first ten minutes of the match, Roma had three or four relatively clean looks at goal thanks to a well-struck free kick from Bruno Peres, a great lob and run between Pedro and Carles Perez and a quick snap shot from Pedro. No goals, but, once again, a clear signal of intent.
Despite the passing, the movement and the early attempts on goal, Young Boys bend but don't break defensive approach was working. And around the 20 to 25th minute or so, the boys from Bern kicked things up a notch, trading out the clutching and grabbing for actual attacking football.
And, much as he did in the first fixture, Jean-Pierre Nsame got things started.
Jean-Pierre Nsame: 34th Minute (Roma 0, Young Boys 1)
Jean-Pierre Nsamé nets one to give Young Boys (+260 ML) a 1-0 lead— Bet The Footy (@betthefooty) December 3, 2020
By this point in the match, Young Boys had ditched their prison rules philosophy in favor of a direct, over the top approach, finding space behind the Roma defense with several long balls that were either turned away by the defense or flagged offside by the officials. This time, however, it actually worked—the pass was perfectly timed and weighted to spring Nsame off Cristante's shoulder and into free space. From there, Nsame drove into the box and shook off Cristante with a nice stutter step before beating Pau Lopez at the near post.
Not the best bit of defending from Cristante but that was a near perfect ball from Jordan Lefort, and great patience, dribbling and finishing from Nsame, who could have easily rushed the shot, been dispossessed or simply tripped over his own feet.
Given how brightly they started the match, conceding such an eminently stoppable goal could have deflated Fonseca's side, but the Giallorossi wouldn't have to wait too long for an equalizer.
Borja Mayoral: 44th Minute (Roma 1, Young Boys 1)
Borja Mayoral cleans up the rebound to tie things up for Roma (+105 ML) at 1-1— Bet The Footy (@betthefooty) December 3, 2020
I hope this clip survives the IP ninjas because it shows perfectly how crisp and clean Fonseca Football® can be at times. Here we see a six-touch move (four of which occurred before the ball even got into the area) finished off by some sublime close control from Perez (who somehow managed to evade three defenders collapsing on him) and a great effort from Pedro before Mayoral seized on the rebound, heading it past Ballmoos.
This goal was a lesson in patience and precision and a wonderful sign of composure and belief from Roma who, rather than getting frustrated and firing speculative attempts at goal, simply stuck to the plan—just as Fonseca preached in his pre-match press conference.
Fonseca kicked off the second half bringing on Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Leonardo Spinazzola in place of Pedro and Roger Ibañez, respectively, injecting a bit more attacking know-how into this surprisingly even affair.
Roma and YB traded blows for the first ten minutes of the second half, and Roma's pressure in the Bern end would pay dividends shortly before the hour mark.
Riccardo Calafiori: 59th Minute (Roma 2, Young Boys 1)
Riccardo Calafiori gave the keeper no chance pic.twitter.com/JU15Kb5IjA— Champions League on CBS Sports (@UCLonCBSSports) December 3, 2020
With Young Boys under pressure off a Roma free-kick, Riccardo Calafiori changed the outcome of this match in the blink of an eye. After a quick but insufficient headed clearance, Young Boys had a second chance to clear the danger, with a defender haphazardly volleying a ball over his shoulder and out of the six-yard box towards the edge of the area. However, rather than being free from harm, the ball fell right to the waiting arms of Calafiori, who buried a sensational one-timed volley into the upper right hand corner of the net. Just a fabulous goal precipitated by Roma's constant pressure deep in Bern territory.
Fonseca would follow up this thunderous strike by using his three remaining subs, bringing on Edin Dzeko, Lorenzo Pellegrini and Federico Fazio for Mayoral, Villar and Cristante, respectively.
Edin Dzeko: 81st Minute (Roma 2, Young Boys 1)
While the Young Boys continued to press for a late equalizer, Edin Dzeko would strike another thunderous volley for Roma, finishing off a run of play he started from deep in Roma's own end via a lovely long ball to Bruno Peres deep on the right flank. Peres then played a quick one-two with Carles Perez but had trouble settling the return pass and may have actually let it run over the end line before swinging it back into the area, where Dzeko was able to capitalize on another errant clearance from Young Boys.
Young Boys continued to show an inability to control their emotions when Mohamed Ali Camara was given a straight red card in the 82nd minute for punching Mkhitaryan in the face for having the audacity to challenge him for the ball outwide.
And that was all she wrote. Outclassed and now outmanned, Young Boys had no prayer of closing a two-goal deficit with eight minutes left in the match.
No matter what one thinks of the Europa League, one has to be pleased with Roma's performance in the group stages, particularly with their two victories over Young Boys. While the Giallorossi were able to wax Cluj by a collective 7-0 scoreline and were somehow held in check by CSKA Sofia, they twice fell behind YBs and twice stormed back to earn three points, showing a level of patience and persistence that has escaped them many times over the years.
With their victory tonight, Roma are now officially the winners of Group A and will go into the “seeded” pot for the Round of 32 draw, giving them the benefit of hosting the return leg in the home-and-home series against their yet to be determined opponents.
But more than that, this match mattered simply because Roma were able to put the demons of the 4-0 defeat to Napoli behind them. After being frustrated by some near misses, some amateurish bullying by Young Boys and Nsame's opening goal, it would have been easy for Roma to resort to the same clutching and grabbing exhibited by their opponents, or to abandoned their build-up play in favor of long-balls over the top or a parade of pointless crosses, but they didn't—they stuck to the plan, attacking through the middle, working give and goes in wide areas and just generally being the more dominant and aggressive side.
You don't rattle off 19 shots (11 of which were on target), control 63% of possession, complete nearly 88% of your passes and pull off 20 dribbles if you abandon your plan of attack at the first moment of frustration. And you damn sure can't score Calafiori's wonder goal or Dzeko's final flourish without patience, focus and proper pitch spacing.
Just a sensational effort from top to bottom tonight, one which should give the Giallorossi a much needed shot of confidence before Sunday's six-pointer against Sassuolo.
A home tilt against third place Sassuolo on Sunday the 6th.
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