As the race for Champions League spots tightens in Serie A, it’s only going to become more important for A.S. Roma to make a real push for the Europa League title. Winning the Europa League will garner the Giallorossi a guaranteed spot in the Champions League for next season, and if Paulo Fonseca’s men continue to advance towards the final in Poland, it might take a bit of the pressure off every single match they play in Serie A.
Roma vs. Braga: February 25th. 21:00 CET/3:00 EST. Stadio Olimpico, Roma.
Of course, the opportunity to gain admission to the Champions League through the Europa League has to be won just as much as a spot in the top four. Roma have done a good job to set themselves up for a trip to the Round of 16 by defeating S.C. Braga 2-0 away, but after their 0-0 draw to Benevento this past weekend, you’re allowed to be a little nervous about Roma seeing this tie through.
February 18th: Braga 0, Roma 2
In Roma’s first-ever match against Sporting Club Braga, the Giallorossi found their way to a 2-0 victory despite a bevy of injuries. Goals from Edin Džeko and Borja Mayoral, two players arguably fighting for the same spot in the squad, were the difference makers. Here’s what Paulo Fonseca had to say after the match:
Was this an important test of the team’s maturity – one they passed?
“Yes, it was a demonstration of the team’s spirit. We had to deal with a lot of issues with our central defenders and finding the right solution to that wasn’t easy. But Spinazzola and Karsdorp did well in those positions. And Veretout, too, did well at full-back. It was tough, but I think all our defenders did really well.”
They may have different characteristics, but today your two strikers scored two really important goals…
“Yes, they were big goals. Dzeko played really well, and Mayoral came on and did well too. But I think the whole team did well.
“Perhaps a lot of people were surprised by how good Braga are, but we were expecting a tough game like this. In the first half they created openings, but we always reacted well and made it difficult for them to turn those moments into chances. However, I think that was down to the work everyone did – not just the defenders.”
What To Watch For
Controlling Ricardo Horta
Even though Roma kept a clean sheet against Braga last time around, that isn’t to say they don’t have some solid attacking players. Chief among them is Ricardo Horta, who has scored 12 goals in all competitions so far this season. Horta generally operates on the wing, but with Braga manager Carlos Carvahal switching up tactics due to injuries, the Portuguese international moved to more of a striker position against the Giallorossi last time out. If Carvahal is able to build his tactics more freely tomorrow, we may see Horta on the wing again, and he might provide more of a problem for Pau Lopez.
El Shaarawy Getting The Start
Paulo Fonseca confirmed in the pre-match press conference that Rome’s favorite hairdo, Stephan El Shaarawy, will get the start against Braga. Since moving back to Rome from Shanghai at the last possible moment of the winter mercato, El Sha has been rounding into form but hasn’t found the net just yet. Racking up a goal or two against Braga would not only do wonders for Roma’s chances against the Portuguese side, but it would also make sure that Paulo Fonseca can confidently pick El Shaarawy as a starter when it matters, perhaps even this weekend against his former club A.C. Milan.
Will The Real A.S. Roma Please Stand Up?
Roma’s 0-0 draw to Benevento this past weekend was a drab affair, one where the Giallorossi showed none of the clinical offensive prowess they typically show against smaller sides. In all honesty, it was the first instance of Roma Happens all season, and although the fact that Roma and Paulo Fonseca have largely moved on from those issues is something to celebrate, the Giallorossi couldn’t have picked a worse time to start showing cracks in their dominance over smaller sides.
Winning convincingly against Braga yet again would quiet the rumblings of a Roma on the verge of collapsing and would suggest that Fonseca’s squad has the mental fortitude to move onwards and upwards from an embarrassing draw. It would also make sure Roma start their against A.C. Milan this weekend on the right foot. Wouldn’t it be great for the Giallorossi to break their streak of underperforming against the big clubs this season with a resounding win against the Rossoneri? That kind of victory can be predicated on a win against Braga - an achievable goal, if Roma and Paulo Fonseca have the grinta to turn the 2-0 lead into a thumping.
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Roma wins in PKs
Braga wins in PKs