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Roma Head to Leverkusen Looking To Stamp Ticket to Europa League Final

AS Roma Training Session Photo by Luciano Rossi/AS Roma via Getty Images

The greater the pressure, the brighter the diamond. Courage is grace under pressure. You could fill a book of quotations with sayings about high-pressure situations, as I’m sure that someone already has. Yet the reason why those sayings ring true is because pressure truly does change you; it forces you to become better and stronger, even if the moment you’re facing represents a massive challenge beyond anything you’ve seen before.

Tomorrow’s match against Bayer Leverkusen isn’t the first cup semifinal that this squad has faced; for many on the team, it’s not even the first Europa League semifinal that they’ve faced. Yet due to injury issues piling up at the exact wrong moment for the Giallorossi to continue fighting on multiple fronts, Roma’s 0-0 draw with Bologna on Sunday means that the Europa League has taken on additional importance - and with that comes additional pressure. If they finish the job against Bayer Leverkusen tomorrow and transform a 1-0 advantage from the home leg to a draw or win, one match against Sevilla or Juventus at Puskás Aréna in Budapest will be all that separates Roma from a spot in the Champions League group stage next season. With that will come a vital source of revenue for the club; with that will come the ability to more easily retain the likes of José Mourinho and Paulo Dybala; with that will come the ability to be a highly intriguing landing spot for free agent signings like Evan Ndicka, Houssem Aouar, and more.

There’s certainly pressure on the Giallorossi. Yet if there’s one thing we’ve learned from the José Mourinho Era in Rome, it’s that while his side may not always play pretty football, it does play winning football under pressure. We can only hope that can continue for the remainder of the Giallorossi’s Europa League campaign.

Last Time Around: Roma 1 - 0 Bayer Leverkusen

The first leg of the semifinal was vintage Mourinhoball: it wasn’t necessarily the prettiest win, but it was a win nevertheless, with a goal from Primavera grad Edoardo Bove giving the Giallorossi the advantage heading into the away match. Roma also showed good defensive cohesion against Leverkusen, who despite missing the likes of Patrik Schick certainly had some chances throughout the match.

Here’s what José Mourinho had to say about the win in his post-match interview:

“Full credit to the guys, they have an incredible mentality and desire. I’ve said it so many times: they have a sense of responsibility to make the supporters happy. The fans were incredible tonight, (which was) demonstrated by the display when we went to the stadium from Trigoria.”

“What we saw from (the fans) tonight, even for someone like me creates certain emotions inside. I’m happy because the team responded incredibly well tonight, it wasn’t an easy match. From a mental perspective tonight was tough, you need to stay concentrated for all ninety minutes, emotionally this is also difficult.”

“As for Bove, the growth he’s shown this season is impressive. From a character and emotional point of view he’s made a lot of strides. Meanwhile, I did my job and have done everything I can to help him grow and improve.”

What To Watch For

Just How Much Will Paulo Dybala Play?

AS Roma v Bayer 04 Leverkusen: Semi-Final First Leg - UEFA Europa League Photo by Silvia Lore/Getty Images

Not to beat a dead horse, but as goes Paulo Dybala, so goes the Giallorossi. While José Mourinho kept Dybala out of Roma’s most recent match against Bologna to help him recover in time for tomorrow, he was noncommittal about Dybala’s availability against Leverkusen, and rumors suggest that Dybala will be starting off the match on the bench.

The decision to keep Dybala on the bench makes a lot of sense to me; if Roma is able to score quickly against Leverkusen and maintain that lead, why risk Dybala when the next match in the Europa League final will be crucial? On the flip side, if things go awry quickly in the match, having Dybala be ready to sub in could also help right the ship or grant the Giallorossi the maggica necessary to win on aggregate (or in penalties). The strategy reminds me (in a relatively positive way) of Dybala’s role in Argentina’s World Cup-winning side. Because he was struggling with injury (and because of one Lionel Messi), he didn’t play as much as I would’ve liked in Qatar, but when it came down to penalties in the final, guess who was there: one Paulo Bruno Exequiel Dybala.

Let’s hope it doesn’t come down to penalties to decide who reaches the Europa League final, but still, it’s reassuring that Roma has Dybala in its back pocket.

Will Edoardo Bove Impress Yet Again?

AS Roma Training Session Photo by Luciano Rossi/AS Roma via Getty Images

The one upside I can point to from Roma’s terrible injury luck over the past few months is that it’s allowed for the emergence of Edoardo Bove into a valuable rotation piece in the midfield, with the potential to become even more. In my eyes, Bove represents the happy medium between Bryan Cristante and Lorenzo Pellegrini in the midfield; slot him next to a Gini Wijnaldum and he can play a more defensive role with ease, but slot him next to Nemanja Matić and he becomes more comfortable marauding up towards the goal. His goal against in the first leg of this tie was effectively set up by him, and his seizing on the rebound showed an awareness that most 21-year-old footballers simply do not have.

I’m incredibly hesitant to lift Bove up too much this early in his career; the career trajectory of Nicolò Zaniolo (and many other wonderkids) has turned me cautious, not to mention worried that too much stardom too quickly could put Bove in a no-win scenario where no matter how good he is, he’s not good enough (see Alessandro Florenzi and to a lesser extent Lorenzo Pellegrini himself). Yet I can confidently say that I’m enjoying what I’m seeing from Edoardo Bove to date with the senior side, and with reports suggesting that Bove may be in line for a contract renewal this summer, it appears that Tiago Pinto and José Mourinho agree with me. Watch this space, though: you have to imagine that if Bove continues to prove to be a key cog for Roma as they march towards a potential Europa League title, it will become incredibly hard for the Giallorossi to keep the youngster around for too long.