Navigating the first leg of a knockout tie is always a tricky proposition, particularly away from home. Do you play it safe and not risk too much knowing you’re headed back home for the second leg? Do you look at it as though you don’t have much to lose and take the game to the opponent? Some hybrid version of both? In any case, the Giallorossi have a long history of breaking my heart in knockout fixtures, to the point where even though I knew we’ll likely be fine over the course of two legs (yes, I know I just jinxed it), there was a nagging feeling that maybe Vitesse had a trick or two up their sleeve. After all, this is the same Vitesse side that beat Tottenham in the group stage, one of the favorites of the competition before they were unceremoniously dumped out.
With that in mind, I was very much cautiously optimistic going into the match, the scars of the Bodo debacle still fresh in the mind. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on who you ask, this was a relatively benign match for a knockout tie in a European competition. The first half saw Vitesse start the match very much on the front foot, something you’d expect given their underdog role in this tie, as well as their self-belief that no doubt generated from being giant-slayers against Spurs. In fact, the first 30 minutes or so of the match seemed to be all Vitesse, punctuated in the 14th minute when the Dutch side had the ball in the back of the net, that was thankfully ruled out for offsides.
And while Roma seemed to grow into the game as the match went on, it wasn’t until after the 40th-minute mark that Roma really began to put their imprint on the game. A Tammy Abraham strike inside the box was wonderfully saved by the Vitesse keeper, and I’m still not quite sure how it was saved, such was the ferocity of the shot. Despite the disappointment that came with the shot being saved, it was a harbinger of things to come, as just five minutes later, Sergio Oliveira instinctively latched onto a ball in the box and fired it on the volley into the top corner with the last kick off the half.
The second half saw Mourinho make three changes to start, sending on El Shaarawy, Cristante, and Karsdorp in place of Vina, Veretout, and Maitland-Niles, respectively. Unfortunately for those watching the match, that was essentially the most exciting aspect of the second half up until Oliveira picked up his second yellow of the evening and was given his marching orders. From there it was all hands on deck to protect the lead, but ultimately the Giallrossi saw the game out without much fanfare and end up taking a 1-0 lead back to the Olimpico.
In case you missed any of the actions, enjoy the highlights below.