Given the way that following Roma works, it’s not entirely surprising that this is the Roma squad that’s going deep in a European competition. In the sense that Roma never seems to do exactly what you expect and is inclined towards providing its fanbase with the maximum number of heart attacks per minute, this injury-riddled squad being the one to claw its way into the Europa League semi-finals, only to have Manchester United be what stands between them and a chance at silverware? That’s kismet.
Tackling Manchester United is a problem for future Roma, though. For now, let’s just hand out some sainthoods to the players that made sure that the Giallorossi are indeed headed to Old Trafford two Thursdays from now.
If Roger Ibañez was the young player who exploded last season, and Nicolo Zaniolo the one who exploded the season before, you can make a strong argument that 2021 may be Riccardo Calafiori’s moment to cement his place in Roma’s senior squad. Cala was crucial to the Giallorossi win yesterday, setting Edin Džeko up to score the winning goal through a brilliant piece of individual play. He also provided excellent defensive cover for an injured Leonardo Spinazzola, and although he came off due to injury before the full ninety elapsed, it looked light enough that he should be back in the squad rather quickly.
— AS Roma English (@ASRomaEN) April 15, 2021
Edin Dzeko dedicates his #UCL hat-trick to Riccardo Calafiori, after the youngster suffers a career-threatening injury in a #UYL game.
Calafiori provides the crucial assist for Dzeko as we reach the semi-finals of the #UEL!#ASRoma ❤️ #RomaAjax pic.twitter.com/rjBqtWdqaG
It’s easy to forget that Richy’s promising career was nearly over three years ago when an injury almost took him out of the beautiful game for good. It looked bleak enough that Edin Džeko dedicated a Champions League hat-trick to him shortly thereafter. For Calafiori to be not only back to playing football, but to be back to playing football at a higher level than he ever has, is a testament to his mental fortitude, and certainly a great sign for his potential longevity both in football and with the Giallorossi.
This season, Roger Ibañez’s performances have had the quality of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; excellent in some respects, infuriating in others. To be fair to Roger, Roma’s performances have had the quality of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde this season; it’s just been that kind of season for Paulo Fonseca and his men. Regardless of the squad’s more global struggle with consistency this season, Ibañez himself has been ending up on the Sinners list and the Saints list in equal measure, and for good reason. The potential is so plainly there for him to become a world-beater of a defender, but the individual mistakes he makes on a semi-regular basis are enough to make you want to smash your fist into some drywall.
Fortunately for the Giallorossi, the Ibañez we saw against Ajax was far more Jekyll than Hyde, providing yet another glimmer of what the Brazilian defender can become in due time. Ibañez received a 7.1 rating from WhoScored, and his 11 clearances and four tackles showed off just how dynamite a duo he can create long-term with Gianluca Mancini. We can quibble about his deserved yellow card right before the end of the first half, but even that can’t detract too much from Ibañez’s overall performance. Let’s hope the Brazilian can once again show more Jekyll than Hyde against Manchester United.
Džeko’s performance wasn’t one of his all-timers for the Giallorossi, but it was nevertheless a critical one in Roma’s quest for silverware during his time at the club. Of course, there’s this goal:
Edin Džeko doing what Edin Džeko does pic.twitter.com/lxvO9keuOR— Champions League on CBS Sports (@UCLonCBSSports) April 15, 2021
But even beyond that goal, Džeko gave us a strong performance as Roma’s fulcrum upfront. He held the ball up well and brought others into the attacking plays more than he has recently, and just generally speaking played with the composure of a good teammate and someone committed to Roman victory.
After the match, Džeko was asked about his future with Roma, and he was unsurprisingly noncommittal. He did say one thing that stuck with me:
“It’s tough when you played at the highest level, some things were difficult to accept, but I’ve always been strong mentally and I could never have got this far if I was weak. That’s what kept me going through this situation. The important thing is Roma, not the armband or Edin Dzeko, not anyone.”
We’re probably near the end of the #DareToDžeko era in Rome, but even if the Giallorossi flameout against Manchester United, I hope we all appreciate the time we’ve had with the Bosnian Diamond. He’s the best attacking player Roma’s had this century who isn’t named Francesco Totti, and despite his flaws, he’s consistently given his all for the club.
No sinners today, just good vibes. See you on Sunday.