Roma's journey through the Europa League has been full of twists and turns, potholes, shards of glass on the median, and downed power lines on the shoulder, but no matter the circumstances, José Mourinho's men never wavered. The Giallorossi might not play the prettiest football under The Special One, but when their backs are against the wall, they tend to do just enough to survive and advance.
And after falling to Feyenoord 1-0 in the first leg of the Europa League quarterfinals, Roma found themselves in a familiar do-or-die situation. With 60,000 strong cheering them on at the Stadio Olimpico, Lorenzo Pellegrini and the rest of the Giallorossi had a straightforward task tonight: beat Feyenoord by at least one goal.
With Paulo Dybala still nursing a hip injury, La Joya was left out of the starting lineup, as was last season's leading scorer Tammy Abraham. With the lineup lacking star power, the onus was on club captain Lorenzo Pellegrini, Georginio Wijnaldum, and Andrea Belotti to provide the offensive spark.
And as luck would have it, Pellegrini and Belotti combined for the first attempt of the match, a snapped low effort from Pellegrini that was turned away by Feyenoord keeper Justin Bijlow.
Roma's next look at goal came from Bryan Cristante, who got on the end of a lofted cross, but his one-timed volley skirted narrowly wide of the left post. Nevertheless, Roma's plan was clear: attack, attack, attack, and attack some more. In this war of attrition, the aesthetics didn't matter; Roma just needed to apply pressure on Feyenoord in the final third.
Despite Roma's forward-at-all-costs approach, Feyenoord found a sliver of space in the 14th minute when Sebastian Szymanski saw his point-blank attempt turned away by Rui Patricio. It was a bang-bang sequence, and while Szymanski sliced through the Giallorossi backline with ease, his hasty attempt was fired directly at Rui Patricio, who was perfectly positioned to turn the ball away.
The break-neck pace of the match was interrupted in the 18th minute following injuries to Bryan Cristante and Georginio Wijnaldum. While Cristante was able to carry on, Wijnaldum, who appeared to be nursing a hamstring injury, made way for Stephan El Shaarawy in the 21st minute, giving Roma a flexible two-striker formation.
And just when it seemed like the match was settling down, play halted for several minutes as the officiating crew checked a possible handball on Diego Llorente, who inadvertently struck a lofted ball with his arm (and face and shoulder). Fortunately for Roma, the review proved inconclusive, sparing the Giallorossi a potentially disastrous development.
Roma's luck nearly changed in the 31st minute when Pellegrini picked out El Shaarawy in the middle of the park with a chipped ball. With no defender immediately in range, SES had a veritable one-on-one against Biljow but fired high and wide to the left. It wasn't the clearest of clear-cut chances, but with no defender between him and the keeper, El Shaarawy had to do better than that—and, spoiler alert, he would much later in the match.
And then, in practically the next breath, Roma's assistant manager Salvatore Foti was given a straight red for accosting a Feyenoord player on the touchline. The incident didn't seem to deter the players on the pitch, but I mean, if that's not a quintessential Roma moment, I don't know what is.
Thanks to the Cristante and Wijnaldum injuries and Foti's latest transgression, the first half ended with five minutes of stoppage time. Roma had multiple clean looks at goal in the waning moments, namely two free kicks in extremely promising positions, but Pellegrini failed to trouble Bijlow in both instances, and the Giallorossi entered the changing room down on aggregate and determined to turn the tide.
Roma wasted no time in the second half, creating a chance out of nothing within the first 30 seconds. With Zalewski controlling the ball on the right edge of the 18-yard box, the young Polish winger whipped the ball to Pellegrini at the near post. And while Roma seemingly caught Feyenoord's defense napping, Pellegrini's re-directed shot hit the post, marking the 28th occasion in Roma's 44 competitive matches this season.
But the worm would soon turn...
Leonardo Spinazzola: 60th Minute (Roma 1, Feyenoord 0) 1-1 agg.
Leonardo Spinazzola gives Roma the goal they have been looking for! pic.twitter.com/EbG0k06Bcu— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) April 20, 2023
In another moment that undoubtedly only occurs in the City of Seven Hills, Roma was robbed of a corner kick, being awarded a throw-in instead. Rather than hanging their heads or pleading their case, Zalewski immediately threw the ball into the middle of the box. And in the ensuing scrum, which was aided tremendously by Belotti's positioning and jockeying, the Giallorossi salvaged a goal out of nothing, as Leonardo Spinazzola got just enough on the ball as he was falling backward to beat Biljow at the far right post.
Roma came excruciatingly close to grabbing the lead 10 minutes later off another setpiece when Chris Smalling's headed attempt was rebuffed, leaving a juicy rebound for Gianluca Mancini. Unfortunately, Mancini's attempt didn't have enough juice behind it, making for an easy save for Biljow.
Mourinho then responded with a triple swap, bringing Roger Ibañez, Tammy Abraham, and Paulo Dybala into the fray in the 73rd minute, with Llorente, Zalewski, and Belotti going to the bench. For the Giallorossi, it was now or never. All of Mourinho's heavy hitters were on the pitch at once, desperately chasing a game-winner with roughly 15 minutes plus stoppage time remaining.
Moments later, Abraham and Cristante nearly blew the doors off the building when the Englishman delivered an assist for Cristante in the box, who calmly slotted home a would-be goal off an Abraham header, but the officials disallowed the goal after ruling that Abraham pushed off the defender.
Roma's misery was compounded moments later when Smalling was forced out of the match with an apparent hamstring injury. With all his central defenders spent, Mourinho had to insert Zeki Celik, a right-back, in Smalling's place, subtly changing the Giallorossi's defensive structure.
And, believe it or not, things got worse for the Giallorossi...
Igor Paixao: 80th Minute (Roma 1, Feyenoord 1) 1-2 agg.
IGOR PAIXÃO STUNS THE STADIO OLIMPICO!— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) April 20, 2023
FEYENOORD ARE AHEAD ON AGGREGATE. pic.twitter.com/lH4rcpupIO
At first blush, this seemed like another bang-bang play, but run it back, and you'll see Paixao essentially set up camp unfettered in the middle of the 18-yard box. And with Szymanski whipping a pinpoint ball into the box, all Paixao had to do was turn his head and, boom, there's your goal.
But, just when you thought Roma's goose was cooked, Paulo Dybala pulled the Giallorossi's feet from the flames once more.
Paulo Dybala: 89th Minute (Roma 2, Feyenoord 1) 2-2 agg.
PAULO DYBALA LEVELS IT AND LOOK AT THE SCENES IN ROME! pic.twitter.com/ZpDCdplWij— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) April 20, 2023
After receiving a one-timed ball from Pellegrini in the six, Dybala did well to shield the ball from the defense before turning and firing, beating Biljow at the near post. For a player not known for his strength, this was a remarkable display from Dybala, who settled the ball and turned and fired, all while Orkun Kokcu, who has a good 20 pounds on La Joya, was draped over his back.
While Roma had two setpieces in the final minute of stoppage time, given all the chaos that ensued in the previous 95 minutes, it was only fitting that we headed to extra time.
As they tend to do, the opening minutes of extra time featured two clubs with heavy legs cautiously waiting for an opportunity to present itself. Roma seemingly caught a break in the 96th minute when—and I shit you not—they hit the post for the 29th time in 44 matches, with Roger Ibañez's header clanging off the right upright.
But no post on earth was going to stop this goal...
Stephan El Shaarawy: 101st Minute (Roma 3, Feyenoord 1) 3-2 agg.
Tammy Abraham serves it up for Stephan El Shaarawy!— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) April 20, 2023
Roma lead in ET! pic.twitter.com/3kdqHqGVyW
With Tammy Abraham streaking down the right channel and pleading for a through ball to guide him into the box, Lorenzo Pellegrini, seemingly unaware of Tammy's path to goal, hesitated a beat, nearly bottling the chance altogether. In the end, Pellegrini looked up at precisely the right moment and still managed to catch Abraham in stride. From there, Tammy played a simple square ball to El Shaarawy at the near post, giving SES a gimme goal and sending the crowd into hysterics.
With 15 minutes standing between his squad and a place in the semifinals, Mourinho used his additional sub to fortify the defense, swapping out El Shaarawy for Marash Kumbulla, giving Roma the added defensive muscle to close out this fixture.
Yeah, about that...defense be damned. Roma finished this match with a flourish, and it was fitting that Pellegrini, who made headlines for all the wrong reasons in the first leg after missing a decisive penalty shot, delivered the killing blow.
Lorenzo Pellegrini: 109th Minute (Roma 4, Feyenoord 1) 4-2 agg.
Lorenzo Pellegrini makes it 4-1! pic.twitter.com/jtswldq75b— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) April 20, 2023
This was another strange sequence insofar as Roma created another unexpected breakaway, but with Pellegrini, Dybala, and Abraham all charging headlong toward the goal, the odds were always in their favor. While Tammy deserves all the praise in the world for keeping this goal alive by shielding the defense and producing the rebound, Roma still needed a lucky break (two, in fact) as the ball fell right to Pellegrini; they also had to sweat out a VAR check to determine whether or not Abraham was onside.
Game. Set. Match. See you in the semifinals.
I have none. This was one of the more chaotic Roma matches in recent memory, but the Giallorossi kept their wits about them and prevailed.
Roma hits the road for Monday Night Calcio against Atalanta.
Man of the match?
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Stephan El Shaarawy