After last season’s UEFA Conference League success, the general consensus was that Roma would be among the favorites to make a deep run in this season’s Europa League. And entering the competition, there was little doubt that the Giallorossi should at least advance out of Group C alongside Real Betis. However, the harsh reality of a super compact schedule (and the injuries that go along with it) has impacted José Mourinho’s side.
Roma started its European campaign with a shock loss at the hands of Ludogorets in Bulgaria. That result made Romanisti quickly realize that this group would be no cakewalk and there would be no givens for the defending Conference League champions. Now, with only four points in four matches, the Giallorossi find themselves in danger of being relegated back to the UECL rather than advancing into the knockout rounds of the Europa League.
HJK vs. Roma: October 27th. 21:00 CET/3:00 EDT. Sonera Stadium, Helsinki
That scenario would be nothing short of a failure, meaning Mourinho’s men will have to win their last two matches to avoid such a fate. Despite being riddled with player absences, the Giallorossi will have to treat Thursday’s match in Helsinki like it’s a final. They must take the three points back to Rome to set up a head-to-head with Ludogorets for all the marbles on match day 6.
September 15, 2022: Roma 3, HJK 0
What To Watch For
Will the Giallorossi Find Their Shooting Boots?
With an attacking stable filled with thoroughbreds like Paulo Dybala, Tammy Abraham, Andrea Belotti, and Nico Zaniolo, Roma should be scoring for fun. And if you look at expected goals statistics, the Giallorossi are creating plenty of chances for their talented attackers to feast on, but as we’ve discussed numerous times this season, goals have been hard to come by for the Giallorossi.
In their four group-stage matches, Roma has yet to be shut out but have scored more than one goal only once; the first matchup against HJK at the Olimpico. In that fixture, Roma ran out 3-0 winners against an HJK side that was reduced to 10 men just 14 minutes into the match. And even then, it took Roma until the second half to find the back of the net.
This time around, Roma will be without Dybala, who opened the scoring on that night. Mourinho also won’t be able to call on Zaniolo, who will be serving the second of his three-match suspension. That means the pressure will fall on the striker tandem of Abraham and Belotti to get Roma on the scoresheet. We could also see Stephan El Shaarawy or Eldor Shomorudov if Roma has trouble getting off the mat.
Can Roma End Its Scandinavian Scares?
Roma has only traveled to Finland once for European competition—a 1-1 draw with Ilves in the 1991-92 Cup Winner’s Cup. I don’t know about you, but I was just a kid back then and wouldn’t know what Roma was for some time. However, I do remember Roma’s last two trips to the Nordic regions.
Last season, almost a year to the day of this match (10/21), Roma traveled to a little-known Norwegian club named Bodø/Glimt. We all know what happened next. The Giallorossi went in with a less-than-full-strength line-up and were absolutely embarrassed 6-1 by the Norwegian champions. As fate would have it, they would travel back to Bodø for the quarterfinals and lost leg one 2-1.
As evidenced by the first meeting, HJK, even at full strength, isn’t on Bodø’s level. Nonetheless, long road trips on Thursday nights to places that aren’t traditional football powers can be troublesome. Just look at the opener in Bulgaria against Ludogorets.
Roma will have to be ultra-focused to avoid another shocking defeat at the hands of another Northern European side—something Jose Mourinho acknowledged in his presser.
“After the first match I tried to be as honest as possible and say that when it was 11 against 11, the game was difficult for us. With one player more, in the second half we made it an easy match – but 11 v. 11 it was not an easy one. Of course I watched both matches here - against Ludogorets and Betis - and they were not easy matches for them either. Ludogorets could not win and Betis, in my opinion, were a bit lucky the way they finished the first half.
Now, it’ll be up to the eleven men Mourinho puts on the pitch to come out hyper-focused and take care of business. Roma exorcised its Bodø demons at the Olimpico in the second leg. Now, it’s time to take the stigma off going to Scandinavia.
As mentioned earlier, Roma will be without both Dybala and Zaniolo. Meanwhile, Zeki Celik and Gini Wijnaldum remain out. Joining them on the injured list is Nemanja Matic. Mourinho spoke of Lorenzo Pellegrini having some discomfort late in the Napoli match, but he’s expected to play. Nicola Zalewski also returns after missing Sunday’s match through illness.
ROMA (3-4-1-2): Patricio; Ibañaez, Smalling, Mancini; Spinazzola, Cristante, Camara, Zalewski; Pellegrini; Belotti, Abraham