Welcome to the Europa Conference League. You decide whether you’re hoping this is the first of only two matches for Roma this season, or whether it can be the start of a new European adventure. Enough ink has been spilled on the merits of the competition, so we’ll just get straight into the match.
The action began with Roma’s full-backs so focused on staying in line with the center-halves that Roma just wound up defending flat, without any real pressure on Trabzonspor as the Turkish hosts dominated the opening 15 minutes of play. Trabzonspor had too much time and space to pick their through-balls but couldn’t find the right pass, so the opening quarter-hour gave way to Roma getting into the game at the other end.
A Roma counter forced Bruno Peres into a professional foul, and getting himself booked, as the away side won a free-kick inside the opposition half. But Peres would barely have to wait a minute before a Roma player joined him on a yellow card.
Bryan Cristante floated the free-kick ball wide to Matías Viña, who would dribble his way into the box but then choose to take an embarassing dive. It was bad enough to just silently agree to move on and act like it never happened, except for the referee showing Viña a yellow card without hesitation. The stalemate of cards gave away to a ten-minute spell of inaction from both sides before Trabzonspor got the crowd going again with an attack down their right flank.
Trabzonspor forward Djaniny dribbled along the edge of Roma’s box before Roger Ibañez put in a composed foot to cut out the danger, and Roma were woken up into creating a chance at the other end just moments later. Henrikh Mkhitaryan managed to get on the end of a rebound inside Trabzonspor’s area, smashing the ball off the underside of the bar and into the net, but the referee’s whistle had blown to kill the play just before Mkhitaryan took the shot. And so we remained at 0-0 going into the final fifteen minutes of the first half.
It was on the half-hour itself that Shomurodov managed to rob the ball of Trabzonspor inside their defensive third before he immediately passed to Lorenzo Pellegrini infield. Pellegrini didn’t hesitate to slide in a first-time pass to put Mkhitaryan through wide on the left, but Miki felt the need to put on the brakes in trying to turn a Trabzonspor defender on his route to goal and ended up losing the ball.
Though Roma had spent the most part of the game watching Trabzonspor play up until that point, there was no doubt Roma were now looking to shift their aggression up a gear and end the half on a high. But would it leave chances for Gervinho to score against his former club on the break? You always felt the threat of him and Djaniny looming in the background, so there could be a goal at either end going into halftime.
On 38 minutes, Mkhitaryan did his best to try and make sure the goal came Roma’s way as he pounced on some nonchalant passing by Trabzonspor inside their own half to steal the ball, starting off an attack that finished with Rick Karsdorp receiving the ball out on the right edge of the hosts’ penalty area and shooting into the side netting. Meanwhile, more ads flashed over Turkey’s ATV channel for a dizi called Ikimzin Sirri. I’ve got to check that show out.
In the 43rd minute, Marek Hamsik helped Trabzonspor to pack players (and the ball) on their left flank before the hosts made their move, switching the ball over to free-man Gervinho’s feet on the weak side of play. However, Vina (and Roma in general) kept composure very well to simply dispossess Gervinho inside the Roma penalty area and kill the move. But the hosts weren’t done yet.
The last move of the half was Trabzonspor trying to work a 1-2 around Rick Karsdorp on the very same flank, but the move was ruled out for offside before the referee blew the whistle to end the half. All in all, you’d have to say the Turkish side had edged the half, but neither side had really shown their full hand in this two-legged tie just yet.
Roma came straight out of the gate, feeding the ball to Viña on the left side before he tried to bend in a cross that just had a little too much on it for any Roma forward to attack it on the far side, instead watching it go out of play. A minute later, Lorenzo Pellegrini tried a very odd foul on opposition midfielder Bakasetas by pushing Bakasetas to the ground, from behind, with both hands.
It didn’t look very hard at all, but Bakasetas landed awkwardly and held his forearm in pain upon landing. And then, two minutes later, Bakasetas was back in the spotlight as he went down clutching the back of his head, coming worse off from an aerial duel with Jordan Veretout. But now it’d become clear that Bakasetas was just milking it, and he provoked similar gamesmanship from the Roma midfield in turn.
Lorenzo Pellegrini took an arm to the face from Trabzonspor defender Edgar Ié, and Pellegrini went down clutching his face. This game descended into stop-start, turgid action that is standard fare for a first game back to competitive action in mid-August. It was left ro Rick Karsdorp to try and change the atmosphere.
Roma’s Dutch full-back chose to drift inside a play trequartista for a brief moment, feeding not just one but two through-balls in succession to the Roma frontline. But Nicolo Zaniolo dragged his shot well wide after he seized on Karsdorp’s opportunity. At the other end, Djaniny and Gervinho tried to link up down Vina’s flank once again but ended up having to move the ball backwards to our favourite man Bakasetas - and that was the moment Roma decided to get their own back.
Lorenzo Pellegrini: 55th Minute (Trabzonspor 0, Roma 1)
Centro de Mkhitaryan y toque de Pellegrini. La Roma gana por decantación en un partido que domina pero en el cual no había acelerado. pic.twitter.com/iQfduPwU7n— Maxi Friggieri (@MaxiFriggieri) August 19, 2021
After dispossessing Bakasetas near the halfway line, Roma sprang a counter-attack by working the ball out on the left flank to the feet of Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Trabzonspor simply couldn’t recover in time, left to watch helplessly as Miki sent in a long, searching cross all the way to the far side that found Lorenzo Pellegrini in plenty of space inside the penalty area. Rete!
Pellegrini tucked the ball home from close range to give Roma the 1-0 lead on the night, with just over half an hour left to play.
The home side tried to immediately hit back, to their credit, by working Gervinho into space right at the byline on Vina’s side before the Ivorian cut the ball back into Roma’s six-yard area. But Roger Ibanez looked alive and cut out the danger at the very last moment. Then Roma looked to spring another counter-attack once Trabzonspor were caught with too many players up field.
This time it was Zaniolo working himself into the trequartista role, to run onto Trabzonspor’s backline and try a through-ball. Though the move came to nothing, this is the kind of fluid rotation among Roma’s attacking unit that I could get used to watching this season.
Trabzonspor felt the balance of the match was slipping out of their control, responding with a double substitution on 63 minutes: Koybasi and Gervinho off, Trondsen and Andreas Cornelius on.
The last time I saw Cornelius in action, he was coming off the Denmark bench to manhandle 3 Czech Republic defenders all on his lonesome. So it wasn’t premonition when I felt a sense of unease at what could (and did) happen next.
Andreas Cornelius: 64th Minute (Trabzonspor 1, Roma 1)
The New King Of The North— Trabzonspor Video (@TSporVideoS) August 19, 2021
Andreas Cornelius! pic.twitter.com/FjGCWOKOrj
You’ve seen him score against Roma for Atalanta and Parma; though it would be a disservice to say once you’ve seen a Cornelius goal that you’ve seen them all, because the man gets more versatile and better with age.
This one was just straight aerial supremacy from the Dane, as Cornelius outdoes Gianluca Mancini to meet Trabzonspor’s right-wing cross into the area and head the ball into the net.
1-1. Game on.
The Cornelius goal definitely revved up the home crowd which, in turn, shook Roma out of whatever composure they had for the first hour of the game.
Suddenly, Trabzonspor were zipping the ball about all over the pitch, outdoing Roma for numerical supremacy in every area of the pitch that mattered. The onus was on Roma to get their hands back in the game here and collect themselves. The momentum had definitely swung back in Trabzonspor’s favour. Yet the next ten minutes of action were hard to call.
Trabzonspor looked like they didn’t really know if they dared to drive their momentum home for a second goal, and Roma looked like they didn’t really know which one of them would step up and organise the team back into shape. Match fitness had to be in question by now, and a sloppy goal in the final quarter-hour of this match at either end couldn’t be ruled out.
And that’s exactly what happened.
Eldor Shomurodov: 81st Minute (Trabzonspor 1, Roma 2)
Si bien nos empataron muy fácil (pelotazo a la espalda de Viña y cabezazo entre céntrales), Roma lo ganó porque Shomurodov es un optimista del gol: palo, fue a buscar el rebote, desvío en defensor y adentro.— Maxi Friggieri (@MaxiFriggieri) August 19, 2021
Buena victoria. La primera oficial de la era Mourinho. Daje! pic.twitter.com/GpWXhpTOyX
Roma were busy warming up a double substitution by the time Zaniolo stepped up to float in a corner from the right side, but the Italian’s cross was met by Gianluca Mancini on the far side, who himself managed to head the ball back onto the seven of Trabzonspor’s crossbar before it bounced back out for an easy rebound.
The home side were completely switched off to the second ball like it was till Ferragosto, so Shomurodov gladly accepted the gift and sent the ball into the back of the net for a Roma 2-1 lead with less than 10 minutes of normal time to go.
Play resumed with Roma following through on their double substitution: Mkhitaryan and goal-hero Shomurodov off, Carles Perez and Borja Mayoral on. Trabzonspor also decided to sub off Djaniny, who looked lively the whole game, for new entrant Koita.
But Roma were happy to start taking control of the ball and killing off the game, while Trabzonspor took a surprisingly passive approach to let it happen. It looked like the hosts actually didn’t fancy their chances of winning the ball off Roma’s wide men, and were more confident of trying to force Roma infield to try and dispossess the Giallorossi midfield instead.
Maybe I’m imagining things as that’s an unusual approach to take in any match, let alone in a European playoff when you’re a goal down, but it’s something to keep an eye on in later Roma games if other opponents keep showing that kind of contempt for Roma’s midfield.
On that very same note, in the last minute of regular time, Jose Mourinho subbed off both Lorenzo Pellegrini and Jordan Veretout for Marash Kumbulla and Amadou Diawara. Now it was just left for Trabzonspor to play their final hand, as the game slid into stoppage time.
Roma briefly took the borderline-kamikaze approach of defending with a flat back five, with still no pressure from the full-backs to step up and close down the space, almost asking for a Trabzonspor equalizer at the death.
The flast point came just minutes later as Rick Karsdorp (counter to my words about full-backs not pushing up) was caught upfield and Diawara covered for him, but the hosts worked the ball around Diawara and sent in a cross at the far post that was cut out by Vina at the last moment. Then Trabzonspor rippled off a further two goal chances on Rui Patricio’s goal, but the Roma keeper was equal to the hosts’ final, long-range effort that came his way. Full time!
So Roma’s first competitive game in the Pinto/Mourinho/Abraham era is a win on the road! And it wasn’t just any away game, at that, as the Trabzonspor crowd gave it their all for most of the match.
Roma’s new passive approach to defending certainly does put a lot of emphasis on the backline to stay switched on against their individual opponents down the middle of the pitch - and I’m sure the rest of the CdT will crack the numbers to figure out how well Ibanez and company did on that front.
That said, the only goal Roma conceeded from out wide, and I can only really tip my hat to Andreas Cornelius for haunting Roma once more. At the other end, the Roma attack still looks like it has a long way to understanding one another, but there’s nothing wrong with getting your wins from set pieces in the meantime. It’s another performance where Eldor is looking like he’s setting himself up for a promising debut season in the Eternal City. He’s already keeping Tammy out of the team!
Roma opens up the 2021-2022 Serie A season against Fiorentina on Sunday.