Following last Sunday’s disappointing Derby della Capitale, Roma’s second loss in three matches, the team needed a strong performance to bounce back and regain some confidence, and their Europa Conference League group-stage match against Zorya Luhansk provided the perfect opportunity to do so. And that’s exactly what Roma did, scoring two goals in the second half to empathically claim victory on the night.
Despite the heavy rotation in the squad for this match, the Giallorossi seemed determined to erase the bad taste from Sunday’s defeat right from the onset, looking motivated, sharp, and hungry, all characteristics missing at the beginning of the Lazio match. The visual of Mourinho barking from the touchline, not even 5 minutes into the match, encapsulated the intensity with which Roma started the match, and it didn’t take long for their efforts to be rewarded.
Stephen El Shaarawy: 7th minute (Zorya Luhansk 0, Roma 1)
A wonderful run by Il Faraone, who beat the offside trap to get on the end of a lovely ball in from Darboe, dribbled past the keeper in a quintessential SES moment, and cooly slotted the ball home to give Roma the lead on the night.
This was exactly what Roma needed coming off Sunday’s result, a period of initial dominance following lackluster starts in previous games, and an early goal so that the Giallorossi could really take a stranglehold of the game and build confidence.
The next ten minutes of the match slowed the game down considerably, with Zorya looking reluctant to fully press the issue and pursue an equalizer, wary of the danger on the counter, while Roma were seemingly content with controlling possession and looking for opportunities to get a second goal on the counter.
It was at this point in the match that Zorya really began to grow into the match and look likely to score an equalizer, forcing some frantic clearances from the Roma defense. This brief period of Zorya dominance seemingly woke Roma up, who began to look more threatening themselves, with El Shaarawy forcing a corner and Perez nearly finding Smalling inside the box for a great chance.
As we approached the half-hour mark, it looked like a matter of when, not if, Roma were going to get a second goal, with Calafiori putting in some dangerous crosses, El Shaarawy looking lively as ever, and Shomurodov forcing a fine save from the Zorya keeper. You’d be forgiven for beginning to wonder whether Roma would rue these missed opportunities later on in the match, particularly the Shomurodov chance, who really should’ve done better on the attempt.
The last ten or so minutes of the first half were relatively straight-forward, with both teams looking for their opportunities to make something happen, but also not forcing the issue either at the risk of getting caught out, resulting in the Giallorossi going into the half up by just the single goal.
The opening of the second half was a near mirror-image of the first, with Roma producing a similar level of intent coming out of the gate as they did in the first. Again, this is exactly what you wanted to see from the Giallorossi coming out of the gate. On the last few episodes of the podcast, we’ve discussed the importance in not allowing these slow starts to become a habit, so it was great to see the team break out of that trend, for this game at least.
It didn’t take long for Zorya to again begin to press the issue, with a poor clearance by Smalling resulting in an action where the home team were able to whip a ball into the box that somehow missed every Zorya player inside, further highlighting the need for Roma to grab a second goal.
With thirty minutes left in the match, Roma really began to take a stranglehold of the game, looking increasingly likely to score, and comfortably snuffing out any potential response from the home team. As if sensing just how close Roma were to scoring, Mourinho put on Abraham and Zaniolo in place of Shomurodov and Perez, respectively. This paid off almost immediately, as Zaniolo looked dangerous from his first touch, and Abraham nearly scored with his first few touches, hitting the post yet again. I began to wonder whether Roma would be unlucky on the day and be forced to sweat out the result, but a 66th minute Smalling header off a corner-kick, following a near-post flick to the back, shifted the narrative completely.
Chris Smalling: 66th minute (Zorya Luhansk 0, Roma 2)
Roma continue their stellar play from set pieces this season, following some great corner-kick opportunities in the Lazio game. I mentioned on the podcast that I couldn't remember the last time that Roma consistently looked dangerous on set pieces, specifically corner-kicks like they have this season thus far. For Smalling, you have to be happy for him to get his goal given his injury troubles and limited playing time this season, he always seems due for at least a couple of goals like this one every season.
Tammy Abraham: 68th minute (Zorya Luhansk 0, Roma 3)
Tammy Abraham arrives at the Roma party ✨ pic.twitter.com/VSMtKfQOEi— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) September 30, 2021
Almost as if the second goal allowed the Giallorossi to finally exhale and relax, the team really began to turn on the style, pressing for the third goal and terrorizing the Zorya backline, when just a couple of minutes later Abraham was able to squirm through the defense and kill off the game with Roma’s third of the night. Talk about an instant impact off the bench for Abraham! Credit to Mourinho for making the right substitutions yet again, you hope that this goal will give Abraham a good injection of confidence that he can continue to build on.
With the game pretty much done and dusted at this point, the rest of the match played out about how you would expect, with Zorya pressing the issue but without much to show for their efforts, and Roma content to hit on the counter, looking dangerous with every one. The scoreline also afforded Mourinho the opportunity to give minutes to players such as Villar and Mayoral, with the latter nearly scoring on several chances.
A last-minute goal-line clearance aside, the second half concluded without much fanfare and the Giallorossi comfortably saw out the last twenty minutes of the match to claim all three points and remain perfect in the group.
As I mentioned earlier, the first half performance is exactly what I wanted to see following the derby loss. The front four of Shomurodov, El Shaarawy, Pellegrini, and Perez, looked fluid and extremely dangerous throughout, which is incredibly refreshing to see, and hopefully encourages Mourinho to continue to rotate the squad in these type of matches. Darboe had a stellar game as well, highlighted by a beautiful ball into SES for the goal. You’d be forgiven for expecting Darboe to be a little rusty given his limited playing time thus far, but the youngster was clearly up to the task today, supplying quality pass after quality pass throughout the game.
Ultimately, a perfect result for Roma, who won in convincing fashion to stay top of the group, while simultaneously giving many key pieces a well-deserved rest. I would’ve liked to see Ibañez get some rest, it certainly isn’t ideal to have one of your starting CBs play as a right-back for the full 90, ans you wonder at this point just how urgent finding a right-back will be for the winter market. Having said that, the Giallorossi did what they needed to do tonight, which was get back to winning ways and build some momentum in advance of the Empoli match and the dreaded international break.
Roma resume league play and host Empoli on Sunday.
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Stephan El Shaarawy