Tonight’s game kicked off with a tame first-half, where I spent just as much time managing my finances as I did keeping one eye on the game. There were a few soft dives from Lorenzo Pellegrini and Dusan Tadic apiece, but it soon became clear to all 22 players that more was needed if they were going to make this a game. The most notable action of the first half was Ajax finally beginning to try the long ball over the top.
That approach would prove key to Ajax unlocking the game in the second half. A bad misjudgment from Gianluca Mancini—who’s been through rollercoaster form in 2021—let Perr Schuurs’ long-ball bounce through to Brian Bobbey, who didn’t hesitate to tuck the ball past the late-rushing Pau Lopez. Ajax were 1-0 up on the night and sensed the opportunity to get ahead in the tie.
The Dutch visitors nearly made good on that promise just moments later, putting the ball in the back of the net for 2-0. But the goal was disallowed on VAR review, after a foul on Henrikh Mkhitaryan in the buildup. Sensing the vice-grip of pressure on his Roma side by the hour mark, Paulo Fonseca was audibly calling for Roma’s frontline to start pressing Ajax in their own half and give the Roma defensive unit some reprieve at the back.
The fact that Fonseca got near-zero reaction from Edin Dzeko, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and Jordan Veretout is a matter we leave open for interpretation. Gianluca Mancini made matters worse by needlessly talking himself into another yellow card. Be that as it all may, it was Riccardo Calafiori who decided he ain’t going out like that, twisting and turning Ajax’s Klaiber on the edge of their own box before showing him a clean set of heels and sliding the ball across the face of Ajax’s goal for Dzeko to score Roma’s equalizer.
It was a standout moment for Calafiori, who then succumbed to injury and had to be replaced by Jordan Veretout going to auxiliary wing-back. The game finished with Roger Ibanez making a monster 11 clearances on the night, while Rick Karsdorp’s defensive numbers were worthy of high praise, and an all-action performance from Amadou Diawara doing the pressing for both the midfield and attacking lines combined was a sight to see.
The Giallorossi won this quarter-final with an average of just over 31% possession in 180 minutes of football over both legs against Ajax. Say what you want about Fonseca’s troops, but they’ve shown they can put together Europa League runs over the last two seasons. Roma now faces their biggest test in a semi-final against Manchester United at the very end of this month.