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Pellegrini Brace Powers Roma Past CSKA Sofia

Two goals by the Roma captain help Roma claim the three points in their Conference League group stage opener.

AS Roma v CSKA Sofia: Group C - UEFA Europa Conference League Photo by Giampiero Sposito/Getty Images

How about that for an encore! Following their late winner against Sassuolo at the weekend, Roma ride their wave of momentum to overcome an early deficit and run riot over CSKA Sofia in their Europa Conference League group stage opener.

First Half

The first half started out relatively pedestrian, with Roma looking the more threatening side early on in the action, a promising sign despite the heavy rotation of the squad. You’d be forgiven for expecting Roma to run away with this one given their opponent and good run of form, but then again, this is Roma we’re talking about here. Not even 10 minutes gone in the match and an atrocious defensive lapse by both Mancini and Smalling allowed Carey to coolly fire the ball past Patricio to put the visitors up.

Graham Carey: 10th minute (Roma 0, CSKA Sofia 1)

Not much Patricio could have done on that one, unfortunately. At this level that is simply not a defensive error you can afford to make and expect to escape unscathed. Credit once again to the squad for not getting down on themselves and promptly kicking it into gear. Similar to the Sassuolo game, Roma nearly instantly equalized, following a wonderful flick by Villar into El Shaarawy, who didn’t have enough time on the ball to fire away a shot. It didn’t take long for another excellent opportunity to equalize as Shomurodov nearly leveled the score, picking the pocket of a CSKA Sofia defender, and forcing a fantastic save.

Lorenzo Pellegrini: 25th minute (Roma 1, CSKA Sofia 1)

What a goal! Already on a rich vein of form, Lorenzo Pellegrini continues to illustrate how important he is becoming to this team and why Mourinho claims he’d play three Pellegrini’s at once if he had them. The level of composure to take that touch and coolly place it into the top corner where the keeper had no chance is a testament to his growth this season and the level of confidence that he’s on.

Following Lorenzo’s goal, Roma began to take a stranglehold of the game, dominating possession, and looking dangerous around the CSKA Sofia box, just unable to pick out the final pass and find that second goal. With just eight minutes, plus stoppage time, left in the first half, and with Roma unable to unlock CSKA Sofia, you’d be forgiven for thinking the teams would go into the dressing room level, but Shomurodov and El Shaarawy had other ideas….

Stephan El Shaarawy: 38th minute (Roma 2, CSKA Sofia 1)

That goal is almost ALL Shomurodov. Credit to Il Faraone for firing a perfectly placed rocket in the back of the net, but without Eldor’s hustle and awareness to find El Shaarawy, that goal doesn’t happen. With the comeback complete, the Giallorossi continued to press for a third, however, CSKA Sofia managed to keep Roma at bay and go into the dressing room only down a goal.

Second Half

The second half began with Ibanez coming on for Karsdorp at the half and slotting in at RB. You’d imagine the move is more precautionary than anything, when I saw Ibanez set to come on I assumed he was going to replace Mancini, so stayed tuned to the inevitable question headed Mourinho’s way on that front.

CSKA Sofia certainly had the better of Roma in the opening 15 minutes or so, forcing Roma into some fine defensive stops and keeping Patricio on his toes. Sensing the game was beginning to tilt towards CSKA Sofia, Mourinho made a double switch and brought on Cristante and Veretout, for Diawara and Villar, respectively. I would’ve liked to see the latter pair get a few more minutes under their belts, but there will be ample opportunity for both players, and clearly this is a competition Mourinho is taking seriously enough to warrant bringing on his two first-choice holding midfielders.

The Special’s One’s substitutions gave Roma a little bit more stability in the midfield, although you sensed a third goal was needed to really feel comfortable about the result.

Lorenzo Pellegrini: 61st minute (Roma 3, CSKA Sofia 1)

Ask and you shall receive! An absolute blistering run by Calafiori, who cut-back at a tight angle to Pellegrini who got just enough on it for it to squirm past the keeper. Not the prettiest goal by Pellegrini, but he and the club will certainly take it, giving them some breathing room against a resilient CSKA Sofia side.

Following the goal, both clubs seemed resigned to the result, with Roma not particularly pressing the issue and CSKA Sofia rarely threatening. Pellegrini was subbed out for Abraham, giving the crowd a chance to give their captain a standing ovation, and giving Pellegrini some much-deserved rest.

Gianluca Mancini: 82nd minute (Roma 4, CSKA Sofia 1)

Following a CSKA red card in the 80th minute, Roma weren’t done scoring just yet, as Chris Smalling was on the receiving end of a cross into the box, who fired in a shot that rebounded only to be put away by Mancini. Not the prettiest goal by any means, but we’ll certainly take it! Credit to Mancini for following up the shot and guiding it home. You have to feel for Smalling a little bit here, even as a defender, I’m sure that goal would’ve been quite an injection of confidence following his injury luck last year.

Tammy Abraham: 84th minute (Roma 5, CSKA Sofia 1)

Well, that didn’t take long! At this point in the match, Roma were running riot with the extra man advantage. A lovely ball in from Shomurodov, and an absolutely clinical finish by Abraham, here’s to hoping we see more of these two on the pitch together going forward.

Final Thoughts

That makes 6 for 6 in all competitions under Mourinho, a run of form that even the most optimistic Roma fan likely wouldn’t have predicted, regardless of the level of opposition. Once again, we’re seeing ample evidence of the mentality shift within this squad, I’m not sure previous iterations of Roma would have so convincingly come back following a deflating early goal by the visitors. Of course, there is still work to be done, Mancini and Smalling’s role in CSKA Sofia’s goal being the obvious example, but you can't help but love the character and mentality of this squad.

Up Next

Roma resume league play with an away match against Hellas Verona F.C. on Sunday.