With a slim one-goal lead heading into tonight's second leg of the Europa League Round of 32 against Gent, Roma had little to no margin for error. Unfortunately for Roma, their rash of injuries continued this week with Lorenzo Pellegrini being ruled out with a thigh injury, which could keep him sidelined for several matches. Fortunately for Paulo Fonseca, he had a ready-made replica in the form of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who seamlessly slid into the play-making role. Fonseca made two more changes to his staring eleven, giving starts to Leonardo Spinazzola and Carles Perez in place of Bruno Peres and Cengiz Ünder, respectively.
Outside of that it was business as usual for Roma, and through the first 15 minutes in Gent, it was working quite well. While they didn't find the back of the net in the early goings of this match, Roma were moving the ball quickly and efficiently through the midfield. With Mkhitaryan pulling the strings the Giallorossi were able to find vertical seams through Gent's backline.
It was aesthetically pleasing football but still lacked that punch in the final third. It's a trend we've seen all too often this season, and once again it bit Roma in the ass when Jonathan David continued his fine form for the host side.
Jonathan David: 25th Minute (Gent 1, Roma 0)
With Roman Bezus tucking a cross right in between two Roma defenders, David got his left foot on the ball, beating Lopez with a one-timed shot. There wasn't much Roma could do defend it; it was just a perfect ball from Bezus and even better finish from David. With that goal, Gent leveled the aggregate scoreline at one apiece, setting this match up for the always dreadful 120 minute slog.
Roma would dodge that bullet when their quickest player would find a quick equalizer.
Justin Kluivert: 29th Minute (Gent 1, Roma 1)
This is one of those goals you'll grow to appreciate it the more often you see it. With Mkhitaryan carrying the ball through the middle, Kluivert made sort of an under/over lap, running off Mkhitaryan's left shoulder to pick up a diagonal left-to-right ball, practically crossing right in front of Mkhitaryan as he was making the final pass. Kluivert then made quick work of it at the end, beating Thomas Kaminiski at the near post.
David very nearly gave Gent the lead moments later, but the match remained even at one apiece heading into half time.
With Roma now up on aggregate, including the always precious away goal, Gent really dropped the hammer on Fonseca's crew, upping the intensity almost immediately after the second half kick-off. There wasn't really a tactical solution to stemming the tide; Gent were just pushing forward to extremes and almost found an aggregate equalizer when Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe narrowly missed a goal with a screaming one-timed effort.
Sensing the pressure, Fonseca would make his first change of the match, pulling out Spinazzola for Davide Santon, but Gent kept coming and Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe struck another great ball in the 74th minute, forcing Lopez into save.
With approximately 10 minutes remaining, Fonseca would up the defensive ante, pulling off Jordan Veretout for Federico Fazio and Gonzalo Villar for Carles Perez, respectively. It was perhaps the most defense-focused unit we've seen all season long.
Still, it didn't stop Gent from surging forward as Odjidja had another chance at Lopez, firing just wide of the left post in the 82nd minute, and twice again before the 90th minute. Odjidja was definitely Gent's most effective attacking presence in the second half, finding space to shoot whenever and wherever he pleased, but Lopez was up to the task every time.
With four added minutes to the match and Gent rushing forward at all costs, it was a tense ending to the evening, but Roma stood firm and earned a berth into the Round of 16 in the process.
While we await Roma's next Europa League opponent, it's back to Serie on Sunday when Roma travels to Cagliari.
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