With a perfect two-for-two start to his tenure as Roma manager, José Mourinho looked to keep the glad tidings coming as Roma welcomed Trabzonspor to the Stadio Olimpico today for the second leg of their Europa Conference League playoff matchup. With a victory, Roma would not only push their record to an unblemished 3-0-0, but they'd also book a place in the Conference League group stages set to start next month.
In his pre-match press conference, Mourinho warned that he wouldn't necessarily turn over the lineup that dispatched Fiorentina 3-1 in the league over the weekend. And, true to his word, he did just that: rolling out the exact same lineup from Sunday afternoon.
While I wish we could report that the first 45 minutes featured wide-open, end-to-end action, the truth wasn't quite as enthralling. There was little doubt as to which side was stronger (Roma, just in case you were wondering) but Mourinho's men just couldn’t seem to find the proper angle or approach in the final third. We saw a similar pattern in last week's match, where Roma had their way with Trabzonspor through the first two-thirds of the pitch but struggled to strike up that same chemistry in the 18-yard-box.
Despite the relative lack of fluidity in the final third, Matías Viña looked more comfortable getting forward than at any point in his first two Roma matches. Time and time again in the early moments of the first half, Roma's new number five could be seen breezing past his marker, getting down the byline, and pumping balls back into the box towards Tammy Abraham in the middle or Nicolo Zaniolo at the opposite post.
Roma's early approach was a bit imbalanced in terms of left-right dynamics, but it was encouraging to see Viña's confidence growing in real-time. In an effort to shake things up a bit, Roma went the direct route a few more times in the ensuing five to 10-minute block, with Gianluca Mancini and Roger Ibañez each bypassing the midfield entirely in their efforts to play Abraham directly into space.
But Roma's first breakthrough came thanks to one of their now longest-tenured players: Bryan Cristante.
Bryan Cristante: 20th Minute (Roma 1, Trabzonspor 0)
In a goal that was practically torn straight from the script of his Atalanta highlight reel, Bryan Cristante opened his scoring account for the season with a well-timed late run into the box, lashing his foot onto Rick Karsdorp's pass and burying the ball low and away at the opposite post. There wasn't exactly a paradigm-altering run of play from Roma, but it was fantastic to see Cristante get back on the scoreboard, and it was a further example of Roma's emphasis on quick transition play; the most notable philosophical shift under Mourinho thus far.
Roma would continue their direct approach in the first half, trying in vain to spring Abraham into the box off the last defender, but Trabzonspor's bend but don't break approach was barely keeping their heads above water. Lorenzo Pellegrini had a couple of decent looks at goal late in the first half, but ultimately the whistle blew and Roma walked into the locker room up 3-1 on aggregate and looking all but certain to secure a place in the group stages.
With a two-goal aggregate deficit to chase, Trabzonspor understandably began the new half with a greater attacking bent, pulling off two or three well-coordinated moves in the opening moments of the half. But Roma's defense was up to the task, turning away their Turkish visitors thanks to a timely interception from Gianluca Mancini in the box and a sensational save from Rui Patricio, who dove to his left to parry away a headed attempt off an early corner kick.
Despite Trabzonspor's second-half awakening, Roma created arguably the best chance of the half when Rick Karsdorp fed Tammy Abraham on a counter-attack. With Abraham rising to meet the ball, Roma seemed poised to double their lead, but despite a beautifully flicked header from Tammy towards the far post, the ball struck the woodwork—the second header in Abraham's brief Roma career to be thwarted by the post.
With the match creeping past the hour mark, it was once again Rui Patricio's moment in the sun. After Roger Ibañez cleared away the initial danger with a flicked header of his own, the loose ball eventually found its way to Marek Hamsik, whose one-timed volley seemed destined to level this second leg, but Rui Patricio made a leaping save at the near post, pushing the ball over the bar.
Seemingly propelled by another stellar save from Patricio, Roma would put this match officially out of reach moments later.
Nicolo Zaniolo: 65th Minute (Roma 2, Trabzonspor 0)
After settling a sublime long ball from Veretout, Zaniolo did incredibly well to simultaneously shield the defender while maintaining control of the still bouncing ball before slotting the ball in-between the keeper's legs to double Roma's lead. With his teammates mobbing him in the penalty area, Zaniolo buried his head in the grass, presumably taking a moment to gather himself after scoring his first Roma goal since July 22, 2020 against SPAL.
With a 4-1 aggregate lead, Mourinho didn't exactly park the bus, but Roma were content to play out the string while Mourinho brought Eldor Shomurodov, Carles Pérez, Gonzalo Villar, and Stephan El Shaarawy in to close out the match.
But hey, they weren't done yet! With the match winding down, Pellegrini found El Shaarawy darting down the left flank. From there SES did his usual thing: cut in and dribble around multiple defenders before blasting it in the back of the net.
In a thoroughly dominant night at the Olimpico, Roma walked away three-nil winners and could have easily tacked on another goal or two.
Three matches, three wins, a new sense of identity and belief, and now a place in the Conference League group stages, what more could we want? We're still in the beginning stages of the new season, and while we won’t make any Champions League or Scudetto claims just yet, if you were on the fence about Mourinho's appointment to the Roma bench, the past three matches hopefully buoyed your spirits.
Every player on the pitch, even the late summer additions, seems to know their role, the team attacks and defends in waves, counter-attacks seemingly spring out of nowhere and, once they settle into a match, the precision and timing in the final third is a sight to behold.
And the best part? Mourinho can barely contain the smile on his face. We may be onto something here.
Roma faces newly promoted Salernitana on the road this Sunday.
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