Entering today's fixture against FC Sheriff, the final group stage match in the Europa League, Roma found themselves in a strange dilemma. Having already advanced out of the group stage by virtue of their 1-1 draw against Servette on November 30th, the Giallorossi were free to cruise through today's match at the Olimpico.
However, thanks to that disappointing draw, José Mourinho's men entered today's match trailing group-leading Slavia Prague by two points, needing Servette to score a massive upset against the group leaders to win the group. Otherwise, Roma would be forced to play in the Europa League Knockout Round Playoff, where they'd face a third-place team dropping down from the Champions League in February.
But none of that mattered once the whistle blew. After last weekend's red card-infused draw with Fiorentina, Roma just needed a win, full stop. And just like they did against the Viola last weekend, Roma struck early, with Romelu Lukaku tapping home a beautifully struck low cross from Nicola Zalewski in the 11th minute.
Roma would keep Sheriff under their thumb for the ensuing block of time, holding nearly two-thirds possession and firing seven shots on goal through the 30-minute mark. However, as we all know, few things in football are as precarious as a one-goal lead. While it required a bit of luck, the Giallorossi doubled their advantage in the 32nd minute when Renato Sanches chipped a ball to Zalewski in the box. While the young Polish winger did well to test Sheriff keeper Maksym Koval, in his haste, Koval tipped the ball straight up in the air, giving Andrea Belotti a chance to pounce on it, heading it home to seal the victory.
The second half saw Roma continue to pummel Sheriff, but neither club came close to scoring. Despite the lack of punch, the second half wasn't without intrigue, as Mourinho gave meaningful minutes to academy graduates Riccardo Pagano, Niccolo Pisilli, and Mattia Mannini, who made his first-team debut.
If you missed the match, please enjoy the highlights. And as always, Forza Roma!