After a three-month absence, Roma's UEFA Europa Conference League adventure continues tomorrow when the Giallorossi trek north to the land of tulips to face Dutch club SBV Vitesse in the first leg of their Round of 16 clash. Vitesse, who had to brave the horrors of the UEFA Europa Conference League Knockout Round Playoffs (that's a mouthful, huh?), play host to José Mourinho and Roma tomorrow before swinging back to the Eternal City on St. Patrick's Day.
With Roma inching their way back into Serie A's top four conversation, you'd be forgiven if you forgot that the Giallorossi were still alive in this competition. And not only are Roma alive and well in Europe's third-tier club competition, but they're sitting pretty. After an embarrassing 6-1 defeat at the hands of Bødo/Glimt back in October, Roma rebounded to win the group, sparing them the hassle of clawing their way through the playoff round.
While we're all likely more concerned with the club's pursuit of a Champions League place next season, we're still talking about a club with a decade-long trophy drought, so maybe we shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth. And Vitesse, who are currently stuck in seventh place in the Eredivisie, aren't the fiercest opponent Roma has ever faced, but the Giallorossi's horrific showing against Bødo last fall served as a sound reminder of the danger of making assumptions.
With that in mind, let's take a quick look at Roma's latest opponent and what to expect from Thursday's fixture.
Getting to Know Vitesse
SBV Vitesse, founded in 1892, is the second-oldest club in the Netherlands, trailing Sparta Rotterdam by four years. Sporting a black and yellow badge adorned with an eagle, Vitesse plays their football at the GelreDome in Arnhem. The retractable roof stadium, completed in 1998, played host to a Netherlands vs. Belgium match at Euro 2000 and has seen performers as far-ranging as Bruce Springsteen, Tina Turner, Madonna, Prince, the Spice Girls, and even Justin Bieber grace its stage.
Despite their 130 year history, Vitesse has never hoisted the Eredivise title, finishing second five times, though they have won multiple titles at lower levels in the Dutch football pyramid and even laid claim to the 2016-2017 KNVB cup.
In recent seasons, Vitesse has been firmly in the fourth to seventh range on the 18-team Eredivisie table, qualifying for Europe this year for the first time since 2017. Through 25 rounds of play this season, Vitesse are nestled back in seventh place on 40 points, 20 behind league-leading Ajax. With 32 goals scored, 38 conceded and a -6 goal differential, Vitesse is about as middle of the road as they come.
Despite those mediocre results, Vitesse has a few faces who can make life miserable for Roma, and it all starts with the kid up top.
Keep An Eye On
Openda, a 22-year-old Belgian forward, has found new life in the Netherlands after signing with Vitesse on loan from Club Brugge in his native Belgium. A bit player with Brugge (only 897 minutes across two seasons), Openda has broken through in a major way since arriving in Arnhem in 2020, bagging 24 goals while providing seven assists in roughly 3,800 minutes in all competitions.
Openda's 11 league goals this season are tied for fourth in the Eredivisie, his 65 shots are the league's fifth-best mark, while his 29 on-target attempts are the fourth-highest in the league. His conversion rate (approximately 16%) leaves a bit to be desired, but he is unquestionably Vitesse's most dangerous attacking player and should present a stiff challenge for Roma's back three.
And making matters worse for Mourinho's Men, Openda has been on fire in Europe, scoring three times and chipping in one assist in his last four European appearances.
While his stats aren't quite as eye-popping as his Belgian colleague, Wittek's six assists are tied for the fifth-highest mark in the Dutch league. Capable of playing nearly anywhere down the left flank, Wittek leads the club in assists, key passes, crosses, and long passes and even ranks fourth in shots per game and dribbles per game.
Wittek, much like Openda, has seemingly saved his best for the Conference League, scoring two goals and providing three assists in eight appearances, and should provide quite a challenge for the right side of Roma's defense.
It certainly won't be easy for Roma, but after gutting out successive wins against Spezia and Atalanta in domestic play, Mourinho's men are rounding into form after a brutal slate of February matches in which the Giallorossi managed only one victory from five matches in all competitions. If Roma can manage a victory tomorrow, or even just a draw with a pair of away goals, they should be well on their way to the quarterfinals.