Reputations are built in football on European nights. There’s a reason José Mourinho is known as The Special One. He’ll gladly remind you of his two Champions League, one Europa League, and one Conference League trophies. And his Roma side is closer to adding another European title to his name after beating Feyenoord at the Olimpico, advancing to the semifinals to face Bayer Leverkusen on May 11th and May 18th.
Sure, the Europa League doesn’t garner the same attention as the almighty Champions League. But, for a club like Roma, which has been starved for silverware for so long, this is a big deal. The victory means the Giallorossi have advanced to a European semifinal for the fourth time in six years, following trips to the semifinals in the 2018 Champions League, the 2021 Europa League and last year's Europa Conference League.
José Mourinho was brought here to deliver trophies and lifting a Europa League trophy a year after the Conference League’s would be a big boost for a club of Roma’s stature. This victory was a big step toward achieving that goal. So, let’s take a look at three things we noticed from an electrifying evening in the Eternal City.
#1: Roma’s Never Say Die Mentality
In the pre-Mourinho era, Roma was criticized for having a weak mentality. When the Lupi were hit, it was difficult to get back up. That couldn’t be further from the truth these days. We’ve seen it countless times over the last two seasons; the Giallorossi take a gut punch and instead of staying double over, they hit right back.
Last night at the Olimpico was no different. With the Giallorossi up 1-0 in the match and level on aggregate, Bryan Cristante scored what looked to be the go ahead goal until the referee waved it off for a soft foul on Tammy Abraham. Then, moments later in the 80th minute, Feyenoord struck on a powerful header from Igor Paixão.
It looked to be a back breaking goal with just 10 minutes to go. But, instead of conceding defeat, Roma came at the Dutch side harder. The Giallorossi pushed hard and were rewarded on a lovely goal by Paulo Dybala in the 89th minute. That was enough to send it to extra time and from there it was all Roma.
#2: Mourinho’s Second Leg Strategy Pays Off Again
One reason for Mourinho’s long list of European successes is his ability to game plan for two-legged affairs. It usually looks like this: if on the road for leg one, keep it close (within one goal) and then capitalize on the home pitch advantage in the return leg. Or, if you're at home to start, get a win and then lock down the lead on the road in leg two.
Roma was a bit hard done not to come away with at least a level scoreline after the first leg in Rotterdam, but for Mourinho, he had Feyenoord just where he wanted them. With Roma trailing by just one goal and 67,000 raucous Romans behind his side, Mourinho knew Roma would have plenty to get over the line at the Stadio Olimpico.
And, for the record, Mourinho remains unbeaten in second legs over his two seasons at Roma’s helm.
#3: The Goals Finally Flowed
Yes, this match was played over 120 minutes, so there time to tack on a few extra goals. However, Roma created plenty of offense to the tune of a 5.44 xG. The Giallorossi were snakebitten by the post multiple times (now a European leading 29 on the season) and saw Cristante’s goal called back for a foul in the build-up, but even the woodwork and officiating couldn’t stop the Giallorossi from tallying four times.
This is a big deal for a side that has struggled to post multiple goals in most matches. And it follows a three goal output against Udinese on Sunday. Probably most important was the players who were involved in the scoring—namely Pellegrini and Abraham.
Roma’s captain followed his goal on Sunday with another goal and assist against Feyenoord; erasing any memory of his missed penalty in the first leg. And Abraham followed his own weekend strike with an assist on Pellegrini’s goal. Entering the most difficult stretch of the Serie A calendar, Roma will need to have it’s shooting boots on, and having these two growing in confidence could go a long way to navigating that gauntlet successfully.