If you bought into all the doom and gloom surrounding Roma this week, then yesterday's 2-1 victory over Ajax was a surprise on par with Truman upsetting Dewey in the 1948 Presidential election (look it up kids). With his club beset by injuries and (false) rumors of a locker room rift following him all week, Paulo Fonseca had enough foes to conquer yesterday before you even factored in Ajax; a club who were leading their domestic league by 11 points and had lost only two matches all year.
Ajax won the numerical battle, there's no doubt about that, but with a bit of skill, a lot of effort and a bit of providence, Roma not only defeated Ajax but did so while bagging two precious away goals.
The atmosphere around Trigoria isn't likely to settle down this weekend, especially if they drop points against Bologna, but today is certainly a cheerier morning than many were expecting so let's take a look at the standouts from yesterday's victory over Ajax.
I'm of the mindset that Mancini and Diawara should share the blame for the error that led to Davvy Klaassen's 39th minute goal but multiple match reports have officially chalked the error up to Mancini, so who am I to argue? Diawara's pressure clearing pass may not have been perfect, but Mancini didn't do himself any favors by failing to react and ceded the initiative to Klaassen in the process.
Apart from that, Mancini was solid (five clearances, two interceptions, four aerials won) but when you make an error that leads to a goal, there's no escaping the sinner's list.
Pellegrini had a rather quiet 90 minutes but stepped up when it mattered most. With one goal and one key pass, Pellegrini was integral in what little offensive momentum Roma could establish yesterday. In addition to his goal and key pass, Pellegrini chipped in six duels won, one interception, and two tackles.
Ibañez’s penchant for risky challenges reared its ugly head again yesterday, but thanks to Pau Lopez's poise it didn't cost Roma anything in the end, otherwise Ibañez wouldn't be getting canonized today. Ibañez won seven duels while also contributing six clearances, one blocked shot, three interceptions and four tackles to Roma's defensive effort yesterday. And he finished it all off with a flourish, burying an 87th match winner with an exquisite settle and volley off a set piece.
Frustration, impatience, stunning technique and exquisite displays of athleticism; we got the entire Ibañez experience yesterday. We're just lucky he saved the best for last.
Pau's passing left a bit to be desired yesterday (only 63% completion) but he was otherwise outstanding. In 90 minutes yesterday, Lopez made eight saves, including six in the box, one high claim and one successful punch but Lopez's penalty save on Dusan Tadic stole the show and may very well be the defining moment of this two-legged quarterfinal.
Stuck In Between
Edin Dzeko: A classic he-didn't-score-but-played-well performance from Dzeko, who had three shots on goal, two tackles, two clearances and one successful dribble.
Bruno Peres: Two key passes, 75% completion rate, two dribbles and 2-3 on crosses. Not a bad evening from Peres.
Bryan Cristante: One great effort from deep that forced a diving save, four clearances and another solid day passing from the back: 5-8 on long passes.
That's it for now. See you on Sunday!