Entering the second leg of the Europa League Knockout Round Playoff at the Stadio Olimpico on Thursday, José Mourinho finds his side in a precarious position. The Giallorossi enter the match trailing Austrian side Red Bull Salzburg by the slimmest of margins on aggregate after a late Nicolas Capaldo goal gave the Austrians a 1-0 win at Red Bull Arena a week ago.
Prior to that 88th-minute heartbreaker, Salzburg keeper Philipp Köhn made two solid first half saves on Tammy Abraham and another slightly more miraculous stop on Andrea Belotti shortly before Capaldo put Salzburg up in the match. Throw in a header off the post for Bryan Cristante, and luck just wasn’t on Roma’s side. As Mourinho bemoaned after the match, it was a cruel fate for a Roma side that conceded only two shots on target.
“These things can happen and that’s what transpired tonight. You’re right, though – we dominated the game and I think we were always in control of the match. Rui Patricio didn’t have much to do. We missed some gilt-edged chances. The referee didn’t see a stonewall penalty in the first half. We were unlucky with the referee being changed late in the day – the official originally assigned to the match didn’t take charge of it in the end. To top it off we conceded a last-minute goal which feels really unfair. But as you said, that’s football, and there’s nothing we can do about it.”
Finding themselves down in a knockout round tie is nothing new for this group of Roma players. After all, the Giallorossi dropped the first leg of the Conference League quarterfinals last season to Bodø/Glimt 2-1 when a Pellegrini strike was canceled out by two Bodø goals in Norway. A week later, Roma absolutely dominated the Norwegians when an early Tammy Abraham goal opened the floodgates for a Nicoló Zaniolo hat trick.
Zaniolo may no longer be around to play the role of hero, but if the Giallorossi can perform similarly to the way they did a week ago in Austria, then another second-leg victory to advance could certainly be in the cards.
Roma vs. Red Bull Salzburg: February 23rd. 21:00 CET/15:00 EST. Stadio Olimpico, Rome
To keep the visitors off the scoreboard, Roma will once again rely on a defense that has conceded the fewest expected goals of any club in Europe's five major leagues while hoping their attack can capitalize on chances this time around.
Just who leads that attack is probably the biggest question heading into this one, though, as both Paulo Dybala and Pellegrini missed out on Sunday’s 1-0 win over Hellas Verona. Meanwhile, Abraham exited that match after just 14 minutes when his eyelid was gashed open, requiring stitches to close the wound.
Despite the concerns, though, Mourinho did confirm that all three are available for the match. And even though he didn’t reveal if they would start, that’s huge news considering Sunday’s hero Ola Solbakken isn’t part of the Europa League squad.
“All three are available to help, maybe three doubts together are too many. But they can be part of the squad”
Another line-up wrinkle to keep an eye on is in the midfield, where Mourinho revealed that Gini Wijnaldum is, in fact, an option to start despite playing fairly limited minutes since his return from injury.
“Wijnaldum is improving, we see it and you saw it in the 10th minute against Verona. Yes, it could be an option for us, a real option.”
While a start still seems unlikely, no matter who plays, Mourinho expects his side to be ready for a tough match, though he remains confident that his side is in the right frame of mind. Now, all we can hope for this the Giallorossi to unlock the Salzburg goal this time around and secure progression to the Europa League Round of 16.
“One-nil is a minimal advantage, it doesn’t seem like a team that comes here to score 0-0, as a philosophy. It seems to me they want to attack. Maybe it will be similar to the first leg, but with a different fate. We could have won in the first leg.
“Today we did tactical and low intensity training, but I’m sure the boys want to win and go through tomorrow. We will have the right attitude, this team surprises me when they don’t have it. With all its limitations, the team always gives its best. Tomorrow the eyes will be on guys who want to do well and want to win”
ROMA (3-4-2-1): Patricio; Ibanez, Smalling, Mancini; Zalewski, Cristante, Matic, Celik; Pellegrini, Dybala; Abraham