As Roma took the pitch at the Stadio Olimpico today, the sign above their heads read "Road to Budapest," the sight of the 2023 Europa League finale. The final destination may not be a secret, but Roma's path to the finale suddenly became littered with second guesses after last week's 1-0 defeat to Salzburg on the road.
Despite winning the battle on the stat sheets, José Mourinho's men came up empty-handed in Austria, succumbing to an 88th-minute Nicolas Capaldo goal, putting them firmly on the back foot in today's return leg in Rome. The Giallorossi are no strangers to European comebacks, but when taken with their draw against Lecce several days earlier, the capital club was suddenly embroiled in another controversy as the press started to link Mourinho with a host of new positions, including Chelsea and PSG.
Roma tuned out the noise last weekend against Verona, pushing aside the Mastiffs in a one-nil win thanks to Ola Solbakken's debut goal. But those three points nearly came at a heavy cost after Tammy Abraham left the pitch bloodied and battered after colliding with Gianluca Mancini, splitting open his lower left eyelid in the process.
But it wasn't all bad news for the Giallorossi. Paulo Dybala, who picked up a minor thigh strain in the first leg, recovered in time for today's return leg. Dybala played well, of course, but he was far from the star of the show tonight at the Olimpico.
After duking it out for half an hour, Leonardo Spinazzola seized control of the match, reminding us how dynamic and influential he can be when healthy. And in the 33rd minute, Spinazzola made his presence known, bursting down the left flank before whipping an out-swinging cross towards the point of the six-yard box. And while it took a deflection, the ball eventually found its way to Andrea Belotti, who did well to track the ball and contort his body to head it past the keeper.
Roma would double their pleasure in the 40th minute when Spinazzola, again using a drag-and-go/hesitation dribble to breeze past the defense, played a gently looping cross to the middle of the 18-yard box, one that Dybala plucked out of the air at the very last second, guiding the ball gently into the back of the net.
The scoreline wasn't indicative of how well Roma played, so if you want to see one of the more finely tuned performances of the Mourinho era, please enjoy today's match highlights.