Last night in Old Trafford was the perfect encapsulation of life as a Roma fan in 2021. Heading into the first leg of their Europa League semifinal, the Giallorossi were being tormented by all their usual demons, including the ghost of their infamous 7-1 defeat in Manchester over a decade ago. And then the match began with a Jordan Veretout injury in only the fourth minute, Bruno Fernandes then opened the scoring for United five minutes later and it seemed like Roma fans were in for an extraordinarily long evening in Manchester.
But then, somehow, the fortunes quickly turned in Roma's favor. Luck shined on Roma a few minutes later when they were given a penalty kick off a Paul Pogba handball in the box, with Lorenzo Pellegrini converting with ease to knot the match at one apiece. Roma's good fortune wouldn't last long, though. After making a spectacular stretched save on a Pogba long-range effort, Pau Lopez left the game with an apparent shoulder injury.
Barely a half an hour into the evening and Roma were in danger of getting run off the pitch by United. And if that wasn't bad enough, they were forced into two injury substitutions by the 27th minute. But somehow, despite all that doom and gloom, fortune smiled on Roma when Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Lorenzo Pellegrini, and Edin Dzeko teamed up to give the Giallorossi an unexpected lead heading into the half.
Objectively speaking, it was an unwarranted lead but despite all the negativity enveloping the club heading into this match, it started to feel like an upset was in the cards. But then the wheels came off: United reeled off five unanswered goals in the second half to walk away convincing 6-2 winners, presumably booking their ticket to the finals in Gdansk.
There were a few faint bright spots for Roma yesterday but after a 6-2 beatdown, we can't possibly pass out any halos.
Roma’s Medical Team
Since this piece is supposed to be limited to the men in shorts on the pitch, I'm stretching the Sinners & Saints bylaws here but Roma's fitness regime has received a pass for far too long. Now, we're not talking about 20 some odd ACL tears, those are freak injuries, nor are we talking about Pau Lopez's separated shoulder—again, a freak injury—but how many times have we read about X or Y player suffering a pulled hamstring, a strained quad, a tweaked calf, or, I don't know, an ear lobe strain?
Too many to count and yesterday we added two more names to the heap: Jordan Veretout and Leonardo Spinazzola, both of whom left in the first half with apparent leg injuries. Dealing with catastrophic, season-ending injuries is one thing, but the litany of strains, sprains, knocks, and tweaks seems to plague Roma more than any other club in the league.
We may be confusing causality with correlation here, but you tell me: is this normal? Something has to change either in Roma's pre and/or post-match routine. This happens too frequently to be a coincidence.
Okay, let's hop off that soapbox...
We'll have to cut Mirante a bit of slack since he wasn't anticipating playing in this match but as a reserve player, you have to be ready at a moment's notice. Mirante was thrown right into the fire yesterday facing 20 shots and making four saves, but his one blunder was a doozy as he essentially parried Paul Pogba's shot right to the feet of Edinson Cavani for a tap-in goal.
With virtually nothing left to play for domestically or in Europe, maybe we'll see more Daniel Fuzato down the stretch.
Pick your analogy here: Was Smalling's return to Old Trafford like meeting an ex out in public with their new partner? Perhaps it was more akin to giving a presentation in front of a boss who fired you? Or maybe Smalling was an actor going on an audition for a director who cut his scenes from his last film.
Whatever you prefer, Smalling failed to impress in his return to northwest England. In 90 minutes, Smalling definitely looked like a guy returning from an extended absence. While he managed seven clearances and won a couple of aerials, he was otherwise a step too slow yesterday and, along with the rest of Roma's defense, looked completely overwhelmed by Cavani, Fernandes, and Pogba, among others.
We throw the word microcosm around here a lot, but if Villar's tumultuous season isn't the perfect simulacrum of Roma's 2020-2021 season, I don't know what is. At times this year, we marveled at Villar's poise on the ball, his vision and his intelligence, and the fact that Roma plucked him from the Spanish Segunda seemed like a stroke of genius; a new loophole that somehow Roma were the only ones wise enough to exploit.
However, at other times this season—and definitely last night in England—Villar becomes exactly what he is: a young midfielder learning on the job. And when you're not blessed with bulk or blazing speed, if you don't have it between the ears that day, you're really going to struggle—and that was Villar's evening in a nutshell. With zero shots, zero dribbles, zero key passes, zero tackles, zero interceptions, seven times losing possession, and getting dribbled past three more times, Villar offered practically nothing yesterday.
Amadou Diawara, Roger Ibañez, Rick Karsdorp
We're just going to lump all three of these guys together and copy nearly everything we just said about Villar and paste it here. From Ibañez's 18 times losing possession to Diawara's complete disappearing act to Karsdorp's inability to counter Luke Shaw, Roma was let down by these three normally reliable players.
Stuck In Between
When you lose 6-2, there are no saints to speak of but Roma did receive a couple of otherwise noteworthy performances.
Lorenzo Pellegrini: One cooly converted penalty kick and one assist on Edin Dzeko's goal. Roma didn't do much in the final third but Pellegrini was there when they did.
Edin Dzeko: Two shots (both on target), one key pass, and one clumsy goal. Dzeko's bungling kneecap goal gave Roma a bit of hope heading into the second half but he disappeared in the second 45.
I'm not sure what Sunday's narrative will be when Roma faces Sampdoria on the road, but hopefully, we'll have more pleasant news to discuss.