The prospect of a Shakhtar rematch had us split for predictions on the Across the Romaverse podcast. I myself was skeptical of Roma’s chances in the tie, fearing a 1-1 score draw at the Stadio Olimpico. Steve was more optimistic, predicting a 2-0 win (and a Diawara-Villar mediano line) that wasn’t far off what eventually transpired this Thursday evening, as Roma actually did even better than all the pre-match speculation around Fonseca’s men by full time.
The first half saw the surprise trio of Mkhitaryan-Pellegrini-Pedro offer Shakhtar no real point of reference to defend against Roma’s False-9 attack, in a match that started as a game of chess. Both sides were tentative and looking for the other to flinch but, the more the game went on, the more Roma had their way hitting Shakhtar on the break. No moment was more exemplary of this than Lorenzo Pellegrini’s opening goal, which was just rewards for Pellegrini looking like the most threatening Roma player in the first half.
Both teams might have felt there was plenty more back-and-forth to be had by half-time, but Roma put an end to that discussion with a measured second-half performance. In a game that eventually ended with the Giallorossi having just 38% possession of the ball, Fonseca’s side let Shakhtar hold onto hope for an equalizer, then Roma punished the away side at the other end. Substitute Stephan El Shaarawy came on to add a lot of class to Roma’s attack, not to mention a second goal on the night, after being assisted by fellow substitute Borja Mayoral.
Then came the final blow from Roma: Lorenzo Pellegrini’s final-third play had been superb all evening, let alone his constant threat from set-pieces. It was from Pellegrini playing an unbelievably well-timed, lofted pass over the top to SES forcing a save out Shakhtar’s Trubin, that Roma won yet another corner. Goalscoring defender Gianluca Mancini made sure to despatch that very same corner kick, for 3-0 on the night and full time.
Three Italian scorers, and a clean sheet from Pau Lopez at the other end. The only blemishes of the evening were injury concerns over several Roma players (Henrikh Mkhitaryan especially), and Gianluca Mancini picking up yet another avoidable yellow card.
Roma now travel to Parma on Sunday, before taking their sizeable lead away to Ukraine in seven days' time.