The Romaverse has been atwitter for the past day and a half, following the news of José Mourinho's appointment as Roma's next manager. From think pieces outlining what Mourinho could bring to Roma to fans of The Special One's former clubs haranguing the Portuguese tactician, Roma's newest manager has dominated the news cycle for nearly 48 hours now. So much so that many fans seem to have forgotten that Roma has a match tomorrow, and a European one at that—the second leg of their Europa League semifinal against Manchester United, who are ironically one of Mourinho's recently jilted lovers.
Roma vs. Manchester United: May 6. 21:00 CET/3:00 EDT. Stadio Olimpico, Roma.
With Paulo Fonseca now officially a lame-duck manager and more transfer rumors than you can count raining down on Roma, tomorrow promises to be one of the stranger Roma matches in recent memory. Facing a 6-2 deficit and playing for a manager whose days are officially numbered, Roma could just as easily play tomorrow's match with their head in the clouds as they could rally around Fonseca, giving their soon-to-be-former manager a daring send-off.
Now, before we delve into Thursday's match against United, we're obliged to take a quick look back at the first leg, which was somehow amazingly only a week ago.
The First Leg
April 29th: Manchester United 6, Roma 2
The Giallorossi limped their way into Old Trafford last week, nursing multiple injuries and/or suspensions, but they didn't let that dampen their spirits. No, rather than hanging their heads in despair, they opted instead to let Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba, and Edinson Cavani decapitate them entirely. Starting in only the 9th minute, this United trio made quick and easy work of Roma, scoring or setting up each and every one of United's six goals. Roma managed to steal back two away goals thanks to a Lorenzo Pellegrini penalty and an Edin Dzeko goal in the 33rd minute.
A four-goal deficit is a four-goal deficit but just how much hope should Roma fans glean from those two away strikes?
Keep An Eye On
Can Roma Actually Manage a Miracle Upset?
I’m expecting a tough game. Going up against Manchester United is always very difficult. They have a good first leg advantage but we want to win the game. We want to fight until the very end.
Clearly it is not easy to beat Manchester United by four goals – but I have seen a lot of things happen in football. Nothing is impossible. I believe that anything can happen.
Those are Paulo Fonseca's words when asked if Roma can possibly erase a four-goal deficit against United. I suppose it would have been somewhat entertaining if Fonseca—who learned yesterday that the club won't be bringing him back next year—gave a completely unfiltered answer when asked if Roma could topple United, maybe something like “are you fucking kidding me?” but Fonseca remains ever the professional as he stares down the final few weeks of his time as Roma manager.
Roger Ibañez also chimed in Roma's chances at repeating their 2018 upset over Barcelona:
It will be another important game for us. We need to play with the same attitude as always – even if it is a different sort of challenge, as we need to try and complete a comeback. In football nothing is impossible. We will try and do everything we can out there on the pitch.
Overcoming a four-goal deficit against a club that just hung six on you a week ago will likely require something above and beyond a miracle. Roma will have to ace every exam tomorrow at the Olimpico: attacking, defending, transition play, winning the battle for space, and simply having enough energy to pull of this feat.
The odds are extremely remote, but if Roma has a scintilla of a chance they have to score early and often—the longer they allow United to toy with them or even just play keep away, the chances for victory will drop dramatically.
Fonseca played coy when asked if he'll renew the two-striker look from the weekend, but Roma will need all the goalscoring help they can get to turn this tie around. Throw Edin Dzeko, Borja Mayoral, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan on the frontline and hope the ball bounces your way—this is not the time to play conservatively.
A Special Audition for The Special One
Ibañez was also asked during the pre-match press conference if he felt any added pressure to impress Roma's new manager, who will presumably be watching the match tomorrow. Ibañez replied simply that the squad will play the game for themselves and not to impress the new coach.
While that's all well and good, tomorrow will be the first of five matches in which every touch, every pass, every tackle, and every decision will be viewed through Mourinho-tinted lenses. Over the next few weeks, you're sure to hear “he can't do that under Mourinho” or “that's not how Mourinho wants his defenders to play” or “Mourinho won't patience for that” and so on.
It will be almost impossible to avoid, and while I'd expect the players to continue to deflect these questions, there is no escaping it: Mourinho will treat and/or view these players differently than Fonseca. And if you're a player on the fringes, no matter how much you protest otherwise, making your case to Mourinho has to be somewhere in the back of your mind.
Tomorrow's match will likely be nothing more than a formality before United takes the Europa League crown later this month, but with their manager's fate already decided, perhaps Roma will rally around their fallen leader and send him out on a high note.