Staring a winless start to the Europa League in the face, Roma welcomed HJK Helsinki to the Stadio Olimpico this evening for a critical Matchday Two fixture. After a sluggish start to September, including a 4-0 league loss to Udinese and a 2-1 defeat to Ludogorets in their first Europa League match, José Mourinho and Roma rebounded with a thrilling, Paulo Dybala-inspired 2-1 win over Empoli on Monday. And with the league schedulers being the sadists they are, the Giallorossi faced a daunting three-matches-in-six-days stretch, culminating with this weekend's league fixture against Atalanta.
With the roars of Roma, Roma, Roma filling every last crevice of the cavernous Stadio Olimpico and the club decked out in their new pink and black kits, the Giallorossi looked primed to make quick work of their Finnish foes. Despite that rapturous welcome, Roma took a slightly measured approach in the opening moments, opting to poke and prod the HJK defense rather than bludgeon them with direct runs into the box. Roma's first attempt, a soft left-footed effort from Zaniolo, barely bent a blade of grass, much less trouble Helsinki keeper Conor Hazard, but Mourinho's men were otherwise comfortable in possession and dictating terms to HJK.
To paraphrase Zdenek Zeman's beliefs on pointless possession—If you're not actually achieving anything with it, where's the value? Despite seemingly controlling the flow of the game, Roma struggled to make much noise in the final third, running into a sea of yellow shirts anytime they came within 20 yards of the goal.
However, Roma caught a massive break in the 15th minute when HJK defender Miro Tenho tackled Andrea Belotti roughly 25 yards away from goal. And what was initially judged a yellow card became a straight red when the VAR officials ruled that Tenho denied Belotti a clear path to the goal. Despite the ensuing free-kick being spotted in Pellegrini's sweet spot, Roma's captain couldn't take advantage of the opportunity.
Roma had no excuses with a one-man advantage and 75 minutes left on the clock. And to their credit, HJK didn't seem bothered by the red card, patiently waiting for Roma to run themselves into a corner and springing counters whenever they could, nearly silencing the crowd in the 26th minute when Artuu Hoskonen's header struck the post.
The Giallorossi gradually stirred from their slumber after the half-hour mark, with Belotti putting a stinging effort on goal only to be denied by Hazard, who saved Il Gallo's near post attempt. Cristante would look Belotti's way a few minutes later, slinging a ball across the face of goal towards Belotti, only to see Hazard spring into action again, quickly removing the ball from harm's way before it reached its intended target.
Belotti would play the role of facilitator several minutes later, letting Zaniolo overlap him to the right before slotting the ball into Roma's number 22. It was a good look, but, once again, Hazard was ready, snuffing out the chance without batting an eye. Zaniolo was denied moments later when Perparim Hetemaj deflected a Pellegrini cross with Zaniolo waiting, locked and loaded, just behind him.
With their foot on the proverbial gas, Roma continued to focus their efforts in the center of the HJK backline, using Belotti as a reference point at the edge of the box, pinging balls back and forth with Pellegrini, Zaniolo, and Matic. It only felt like a matter of time before Helsinki's resolve waned, but Roma couldn't find a breakthrough before the halftime whistle.
Desperate to send Helsinki packing, José Mourinho brought out the big guns to start the second half, bringing on Paulo Dybala and Chris Smalling in place of Matías Viña and Roger Ibañez, respectively. With that tweak, Mourinho now had Dybala, Zaniolo, Pellegrini, and Belotti at his disposal.
And, yeah, it worked...
Paulo Dybala: 47th Minute (Roma 1, HJK 0)
46': Subs on— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) September 15, 2022
47': Scores ⚽️
70 SECONDS ON THE PITCH. PAULO DYBALA JUST CAN'T BE STOPPED pic.twitter.com/D34595huRR
As the third man in a three-touch move with Leonardo Spinazzola and Lorenzo Pellegrini, who redirected Spinazzola's ball back out to Dybala, La Joya did what he always does: showcased the best left foot in the business, picking out the far corner and putting Roma on top after only 70 seconds.
But Roma wasn't done yet.
Lorenzo Pellegrini: 49th Minute (Roma 2, HJK 0)
After settling the ball on the left flank, Zaniolo immediately turned toward the goal and played a square(ish) ball towards Pellegrini, who was making a corresponding run parallel to the goal. While the defense did their job, getting a foot to Zaniolo's pass, the ball actually struck Pellegrini in the chest before gently trickling inside the far post, sending the Stadio Olimpico into hysterics. It was a rather strange and unexpected goal (and Roma looked surprised and confused as to who exactly should be celebrating), but it was enough to effectively put this match to bed after only four minutes in the second half.
Not content with a two-goal lead, Mourinho's men continued to hunt in packs, with Zaniolo, Spinazzola, and even Bryan Cristante throwing their hats in the ring as the match crept towards the hour mark. With Dybala pulling the strings, Zaniolo nearly made it three-nil in the 62nd minute after he ran onto Dybala's through ball, pushing his one-timed shot wide by a matter of inches.
Roma continued their barrage, hitting Hazard with wave after wave, with Belotti, Pellegrini, and even Nemanja Matic taking a crack at goal. Despite failing to find a third goal, Mourinho took advantage of the two-goal lead to give Mady Camara more run, bringing on Roma's newest midfielder in place of Bryan Cristante.
But that third goal eventually came...
Andrea Belotti: 68th Minute (Roma 3, HJK 0)
Andrea Belotti scores his first Roma goal. pic.twitter.com/fy5Z9zRYAr— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) September 15, 2022
This wasn’t the most complicated goal you’ll ever see, but it was very carefully constructed by Zaniolo and Belotti, with the latter patiently waiting for the defender to bite on Zaniolo’s move before subtly shifting into position for the gimme goal. While he didn’t run rampant celebrating, Roma fans still got their first pick of Belotti’s famous celebration.
With the match winding down, Mourinho went to the bench once more, swapping out Pellegrini for Edoardo Bove and Zaniolo for Tammy Abraham in the 69th and 75th minutes, respectively. And while each of Mourinho's final three subs took their turns teasing Hazard, Roma took it easy on HJK down the stretch, “settling” for a three-nil win and three points on the Group C table, where they now sit in second place, trailing unbeaten Real Betis.
None. Enjoy this. After a frustrating start to the month, Roma seems to be rounding into form.
Roma hosts second place Atalanta on Sunday.
Who was the hero vs. Helsinki?
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