In a home-and-home series, few things are more precious than away goals. It's a subtle quirk one seldom sees outside of football, but it can quite often mean the difference between a 90-minute jog and a 120-minute slog in the return leg, or, more to the point, the difference between victory and defeat. Now, no one is suggesting Roma will breeze past Braga next week into the Round of 16, but that two-goal advantage gives Paulo Fonseca a tremendous amount of leeway when they host the Portuguese side next week.
Yesterday wasn't exactly the apex of Fonseca Football®, but the ease with which Roma picked apart the Braga defense and how easily they were able to predict the Archbishops counter-moves left little doubt as to which side was more prepared yesterday. Fonseca has danced with the devil a few times during his spell in the capital, but Thursday's victory was proof positive that sometimes it pays to be patient with a manager.
We typically limit this series to players, but Fonseca deserves a lot of credit for the leg work he's put in this season—the fruits of 18 months of labor are finally starting to show.
With a rather convincing two-nil victory on the road in an unfamiliar setting, we'll dispense with the sinners today—onto the saints!
While I'm sure the whole of Rome is wondering where the hell Riccardo Calafiori has disappeared to lately, the 27-year-old Spinazzola didn't need any rest yesterday. In 90 minutes, Spinazzola put in a man-of-the-match performance, setting up two shots, completing one successful dribble, and playing one perfect cross into Edin Dzeko for Roma's first goal. Defensively speaking, Spinazzola mustered up three clearances, three interceptions, and one tackle.
A neat and tidy performance from the man who has made us all but forget about Luca Pellegrini and his enormous potential.
After fighting through a slump late last year, Veretout is rounding back into form, displaying the same relentless jack of all trades energy that made him such a popular figure last season. Veretout once again went the full 90 yesterday and did a little bit of everything for Roma: three keypasses, three aerials won, one tackle, one interception, two clearances, two blocked shots, and a beautiful final ball to set up Borja Mayoral's late goal.
With his backline partners Chris Smalling and Marash Kumbulla missing, Mancini was already up against it yesterday, but when Bryan Cristante and Roger Ibañez left the game with injuries of their own, the pressure was on Mancini—not to mention the captain's armband. Mancini didn't stuff the stat sheet, but even in a subdued state he managed four interceptions, two tackles, and hit on an impressive four of eight long-ball attempts.
Mancini had some doubters early in his Roma career, but he's quickly becoming an unquestioned leader for this club.
83 touches, 96% passing, one secondary assist on Dzeko's goal, four interceptions, two clearances, four of five on long-ball attempts—that, my friends, is a quintessential Diawara performance. Quiet, unassuming, seldom flashy but silky as hell, and an indispensable part of Roma's back-to-front approach. If Diawara is well and truly back in Fonseca's good graces, Roma may be unstoppable.
Stuck In Between
Solid but not spectacular yesterday, these players are still worth a mention...
Two shots (both on-target), one great goal, and three aerials won. If Dzeko was auditioning for meaningful minutes yesterday, he passed with flying colors.
The boxscore doesn't exactly sing his praises—only one shot and one dribble completed—but this was the first time in months that we caught a glimpse of the Pedro from the fall; intelligent, incisive, and a master manipulator of space. A fit Pedro will go a long way towards helping Roma survive what is sure to be a taxing spring schedule.
He didn't really play much, but hey, he scored the capper in the 86th minute, finishing off a scintillating five-touch move to give Roma extra padding in the return leg next week.
That's it for now, but tell me: did we miss anyone?