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The Great Roma Questionnaire Extraordinaire: Europa League Final Edition

We're little more than 24 hours away from Roma’s most consequential match of the past five years. Are we in for a nail-biter? Who needs to step up? Can Roma win? The CdT crew asks and answers those questions and more!

Previews - UEFA Europa League Final 2022/23 Photo by Alex Caparros - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images

If you can set aside the enormous consequences of tomorrow's match, which may very well dictate the direction of the club over the next several seasons, then you might be pleasantly surprised. Yes, our little club that fights so valiantly for a place alongside Italy's elite teams is playing in a cup final, a European Cup final. And not only that, they're vying for their second straight European title.

Admittedly, it's not the European title that matters most, but grabbing the Europa League trophy a year after winning the inaugural Europa Conference League title would be a tremendous achievement for a team so often starved for success.

With that in mind, we assembled the Chiesa di Totti crew to go over the ins and outs of tomorrow's final. Enjoy, and please give us your thoughts in the comment section!

Roma is reeling at the moment, going winless in the league since April 16th. So, we won’t mince words here; how confident are you heading into Wednesday’s finale?

JonAS: I’d call that a problem with every other coach on the planet, but it’s José frikkin’ Mourinho we’re talking about here. A serial cup winner. He’ll make sure everyone is focused on the job, just like in Leverkusen. There’s no room for mistakes or errors. Do or die. Fight like hell. I’m not worried about that aspect. What are the injuries/physical state of the squad? Well, that’s another question.

ssciavillo: I agree 100% with Jonas here. I’m not worried about the mental readiness or preparedness of the squad heading into this one. Not with Jose in charge. In that regard, I’m more than confident that this team will be ready for Sevilla. The injuries to Dybala and Spinazzola, in particular, have me a bit worried because it limits Mourinho’s options off the bench depending on how much they have to give. I’d say my overall confidence level heading in is cautiously optimistic.

Bren: Oh, I’m definitely worried. In a one-off match like this, I’m not fully confident that the “anti-football” approach will work. Unless they want to take their chances in PKs, eventually, Mourinho is going to have to scheme his way into a goal, hopefully from the run of play.

I’m not doubting their grit, but I’m also not 100% confident that sitting back and absorbing Sevilla’s attack for 120 minutes is a sound plan, either. If I had to put a number on it, I’m 60% confident they’ll win on Wednesday.

Jimmy: Cautious optimism is the name of the game for me. This is going to be an ugly game, no doubt about it, but ugly games are the kinds of games that Mourinho teams win. Sure, Bayer Leverkusen and Feyenoord can complain about losing to “anti-football,” but hey... they didn’t make the final, did they. As JonAS noted, Mourinho is a serial cup winner, and teams don’t necessarily have the worst record in the world when they can pull in Paulo Dybala off the bench in a cup final, now do they.

BSanti: I’d be far more confident if Roma weren’t playing an opponent in Sevilla that has the same dark magic flowing through its Europa League veins that Real Madrid has with the Champion’s League. Having said that I’m cautiously optimistic as well, namely because Mourinho, Dybala, and the experience from last season’s Conference League final.

Whether you agree with the approach or not, how would you rate Mourinho’s lineup management over the past month?

JonAS: I agree the Juventus case has caused some confusion in the approach to Serie A. 10 points? 12 points? No penalty at all? But that can’t be an excuse for a rather dull and disappointing ending like this. No win in six weeks? Ok, if you’re Spezia or Sampdoria, but for a club like Roma? A slap in the face for all tifosi out there.

On paper, we don’t have a team to challenge for both European and Italian glory, and that’s true. And the last part of the Serie A season has been pretty rough with Milan, Inter, Atalanta, Bologna, and Fiorentina in between the European midweek games.

But the way we threw away points vs. Fiorentina, Salernitana, and Milan, for example, well, perhaps with a slight adjustment and better rotation, we would still be close to 4th by now. Hindsight is 20/20, though.

AS Roma Training Session And Press Conference Photo by Fabio Rossi/AS Roma via Getty Images

ssciavillo: I agree with Jonas that hindsight is 20/20, and the whole Juve situation makes this recent run of form look even worse now than if the Bianconeri were comfortably 2nd. However, with the information Mourinho had at the time and the long list of injuries, I can’t argue with the way the line-ups were handled in the league. In the end, the Giallorossi had the Milan and Fiorentina matches won and blew them late. They also led against Monza and couldn’t muster a goal against Bologna. If two of those matches ended up being wins and Roma is still alive for 4th, then nobody is even questioning this.

Jimmy: There was no better way to go about it, though I do understand why Mourinho would be upset about the Juventus point deduction happening so close to the end of the season (I’m upset about it, too, quite frankly). I don’t know if Roma would’ve qualified for the Champions League if they prioritized that over the Europa League semi-final and final, but as Steve and I have been saying on the podcast recently, they don’t give you a trophy for finishing fourth.

Bren: I think, given the circumstances (the litany of injuries and suspensions), Mourinho has done a commendable job. When you stop and think about it, his only viable attacking player, Paulo Dybala, has been hobbled virtually all spring, so what choice did he have other than to hope that Andrea Belotti or Tammy Abraham bust out of their slumps?

I’m not a massive Mourinho supporter, but he’s done the lord’s work with this team. You can’t make a gourmet meal out of two-star ingredients. This club simply didn’t have the depth to withstand the injuries, suspensions, and statistical regression we’ve seen in 2023.

BSanti: I’m completely on-board with his approach. As mentioned, this squad has been severely handicapped by injuries this half of the season, and at some point Mourinho had to decide which competition to prioritize. Of course, that ended up being the Europa League, and should Roma win the competition on Wednesday, the Special One’s decision over the last several months will be vindicated.

On paper, these two clubs are similarly conservative attacking sides, so will we actually see some goals, or is this destined to go 120 plus penalties?

JonAS: Most European finals are close calls and nervous affairs. I think this might be one of them because, for both teams, it’s the only way to reach CL after a disappointing domestic campaign. Both teams want it so bad they might play paralyzed. If it’s 0-0 after 80 minutes, then we’re surely going into extra time and penalties. For the sake of my pacemaker, let’s hope Roma finishes the job before the whistle. But I don’t expect a 3-0 win here; a hard-fought 1-0 is my bet. But for who?

ssciavillo: I think both teams will try and stay tight in the back and not allow too many chances. Neither will want to leave themselves open and allow too many opportunities. I think we’re looking at another low scoring final like we saw against Feyenoord last season. It’s already in Roma’s DNA, and with so much riding on this match for both clubs, not much will change in the approach. I can definitely see this one going 120’ but am hoping the Giallorossi can find one first and see out the rest of the 90 minutes before we get to that point.

Bren: I suspect you’re both correct, but the fact that Sevilla is nearly a carbon copy of Roma does give me a little more faith that the Giallorossi will prevail. If this match plays out as you two suggest, give me Mourinho’s expertise and title-winning experience over Jose Luis Mendilibar.

Jimmy: As I said before, I think this is going to be an ugly match, but I also think we’ll probably see at least one goal in the first ninety minutes. A 1-0 win seems like the order of the day. Which side will score that goal? I’m not sure, but again, I can’t imagine another manager or star player I’d rather have for this situation than José Mourinho and Paulo Dybala.

BSanti: I do agree that this will be a low scoring affair, especially if Roma score first. We’ve seen them close-up shop and ride out a 1-0 result on numerous occasions this campaign, and with an opportunity to win another title in front of them, I can’t see Sevilla scoring if Roma draw first blood.

Going along with that, what has to go right for Roma to win this match convincingly? What must Mourinho do, and which player(s) need to step up?

JonAS: Simple: every player who steps on the field Wednesday. Literally, everybody needs to be 100% because otherwise, Sevilla will punish us. Ibanez must bring his A-game. Rui must keep his cool. Pellegrini’s set pieces need to be perfect. Abraham needs to remain calm. And all subs from the bench need to be ready for like 1001 scenarios. Mourinho better use his 3-4-2-1 one more time; it’s the formation most players are familiar with. It got us this far; no time for experiments. Oh, and a healthy Dybala would be nice too.

AS Roma Finalists Access Day - UEFA Europa Conference League Final 2022/23 Photo by Tullio Puglia - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images

ssciavillo: Pretty much everything Jonas just said. Everyone on the pitch will have to be turned on both mentally and physically for every second they are on the pitch. Roma isn’t built to play high-scoring affairs or play from behind. This team will have to play as one and keep it tight like we’ve seen so many times in Europe over the last two seasons with Mourinho at the helm. He’ll have his game plan ready, and the players will have to execute. Having Dybala as a late trump card off the bench in a tight affair would be nice too.

Jimmy: Yeah, JonAS nailed it. I’m most worried about Roger Ibañez. He’s been decidedly off in the past few months (maybe due to fatigue, maybe due to transfer rumors, maybe he’s just not that good - who knows). Roma wins when its defense is air-tight; that will require world-class defending from Chris Smalling and company.

Bren: To be honest, I’m not even sure Ibañez will start this match, nor should he; he’s become too much of a risk, especially with the stakes of this match. I’ll keep it simple: Dybala, Pellegrini, El Shaarawy, Abraham; one of these dudes has to score before the clock strikes 90. I just don’t think we can sit back and gut this one out. Roma will have to take the initiative at some point, and for that to happen, one of their star players has to play like one.

BSanti: I have no doubt that everyone who sees the pitch on Wednesday will give every effort to play the game of their lives. For me, it depends on who can get on the pitch. If Dybala is limited to a brief cameo at the end of the match, I don’t see how Roma have enough firepower to win this in a convincing fashion.

On the flip side, how can Sevilla exploit Roma, and which player(s) are most likely to give the Giallorossi fits?

JonAS: I think our defense will be the toughest nut to crack for Sevilla. Midfield and attack are easier to contain for them, so Abraham, Cristante, and Matic could be in for quite a battle. Navas and Rakitic may be old foxes, but they’re still class. Ocampos could be a threat from the wing. And although I have faith in Smalling and co, En-Nesyri scares me.

ssciavillo: I agree with all the names Jonas just threw out there. I’m also wary of the threats posed by some familiar faces in Erik Lamela and Papu Gomez. Neither is likely to start, but both can be impact players if Sevilla is searching for a goal late.

Jimmy: The script is that Erik Lamela beats us, right? I miss you, Apple.

Sevilla FC v Juventus: Semi-Final Second Leg - UEFA Europa League Photo by Denis Doyle - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images

Bren: From a narrative perspective, Lamela or Papu would be the best bets to ruin Roma’s evening, but we all know where Roma lives and dies: the back post. If, as we’ve all suggested throughout this interview, this match is destined to be a nail-biter, Roma has proven themselves susceptible to set pieces, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re victimized at the back post…again.

Or, to be quite frank, Roma could be the architect of their own destruction if their penchant for hitting the posts rears its ugly ahead again.

BSanti: Narrative aside, the prospect of seeing Lamela and Papu Gomez coming off the bench late in a scoreless match, or one where Roma is leading late by a slim margin, is a bit unsettling.

We often bemoan Roma’s lack of depth, particularly in the attack, so with options such as Lamela and Papu at their disposal, Sevilla certainly has the edge in the attacking depth department. All the more reason why Roma must be locked in from start to finish.

If the worst comes to pass and Roma fails on Wednesday, what does this mean for the Friedkins project? Can they survive another few years without the Champions League? Could this somehow be a blessing in disguise?

JonAS: It seems like Europa League is still doable via Serie A after Juventus lost vs Milan (sixth place is fine thanks to Inter’s Coppa win). The Conference League would be a real letdown. But I’m sure the Friedkins expected more from this season after bringing in Matic, Wijnaldum, and Dybala in Mourinho’s second year.

Also, will Mourinho be ok with that? After all, it’s just copy/paste from this season: focus on the top 4 in Serie A while having to play tough EL midweek matches which bring injuries. As we saw this season, we need a lot of reinforcements to make a push for both. But don’t expect miracles this summer from Pinto. So maybe José has had enough of it and goes somewhere where he has more financial firepower, like PSG or Real. He has already won a trophy with Roma and reached two consecutive finals, so I think he’s cool.

ssciavillo: I think Roma can survive, and the Friedkin project will continue, but the season feels a lot closer to a failure than a success, and it’ll be a lot more difficult for the Giallorossi to thrive without the UCL money. I don’t think there’s a blessing in disguise anywhere in this unless you’re someone who wants Mourinho and his pragmatic football gone. I think if Roma loses, there’s a good chance that happens, but restarting under another manager again worries me. Roma needs to win this match to take the project forward another step and truly challenge in Serie A and get out of this FFP mess.

Jimmy: If Roma fails, I’m still not too worried about the long-term health of the Friedkin Era Roma. It’s definitely a setback, but there has been a lot to be proud of for the Giallorossi since they signed José Mourinho and think about the fact that this side is in back-to-back European finals period. I would not have believed that could happen to the Giallorossi ten years ago or even three years ago. Add in the development of younger players like Edoardo Bove and Nicola Zalewski, and also the increased ability of the Giallorossi to attract stars like Dybala, and while a Europa League loss would certainly sting, it wouldn’t be fatal.

Bren: If they lay an egg here, it likely means no Mourinho or Dybala next season, and perhaps we even bid farewell to El Shaarawy and Smalling, so I do think this could tank the Friedkins project. They’ve done a lot of things well in their brief time at the helm, but we have to remember this is (I believe) their first foray into sports. Another year sans Champions League revenue and without their most notable assets means Roma is living hand to mouth again, likely shrinking their margins even further.

I’d imagine that when they signed Mourinho, they assumed his appointment would be the first step in returning Roma to the upper echelons of European football, but successive sixth-place finishes, FFP sanctions, and another year of EL or, god forbid, Conference League could cause them to reassess their plans for Roma.

I’m not suggesting this will lead to an immediate sale, but we may be facing some severe austerity measures as they look to get back into the black, so to speak.

BSanti: I don’t think a defeat on Wednesday would mark the beginning of the end of the Friedkin’s Roma tenure. But it certainly means we’ll be back to square one and a new “project”.

As Bren said, Mourinho and Dybala will likely be gone in that scenario, and unless you bring in Antonio Conte or a coach on that level, it’ll likely take a few years and multiple transfer windows for Roma to be genuinely competitive.

Okay, paint us a prettier picture. Let’s say Roma wipes the floor with Sevilla, takes the title, and lands back in the Champions League. What then? Where does the club go from there, and how can they remain a CL club going forward?

JonAS: That can only mean one thing: Roma completes its European hat trick in 2024, winning the Champions League, while Totti lays the first brick of a gigantic Mourinho statue in front of Circo Massimo.

ssciavillo: I think if Roma wins and returns to UCL, then Mourinho sticks around, and the squad depth can be built to give him the tools needed to compete on multiple fronts. There’s no telling what can happen next year, given that some of the other big clubs will probably have new managers. Things could change a lot at the top of the Serie A table, and continuity under Mourinho could be the key to top four or better. I think in terms of staying a UCL team, it really depends on making smart investments that will allow the club to grow and eventually get the stadium which will untie the DS’ hands on the mercato. It’s tough to qualify year in and year out with tight purse strings.

Jimmy: Mourinho sticks around, we sign N’Dicka and Aouar, we maybe have enough money to buy one or two important players for the starting eleven, and we push forward with a better chance of competing in multiple competitions. Roma’s starting eleven has quality; in the Mourinho era, it’s the depth that’s always been a problem. Getting that Champions League money will make it that much easier for the Giallorossi to develop depth beyond flipping a coin and hoping that Primavera prospects pan out (hey, Cristian Volpato, where the hell have you been the past month or two?).

The UEFA Champions League trophy is seen on a plinth prior... Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images

And given the hyper-capitalist nature of European football, Roma will stay a Champions League club going forward by continuously reaching the Champions League. Even one season out of CL basically resets a project these days, so Roma have to hope that they use that first infusion of Champions League money wisely this summer and bring in enough depth and free-agent signings to battle with the Milan clubs, Napoli (even though Spalletti is leaving) and Juventus moving forward. Oh, and I guess Lazio too.

Bren: In the immediate aftermath, winning the Europa League and getting back into the CL likely means another year of Mourinho and maybe a more secure, long-term contract for Dybala. Throw in the free agent signings Jimmy mentioned, and perhaps a couple 20-30M signings and Roma should be back in business.

I’m not sure they have enough top-shelf talent to make a deep run in the CL, but the goal should be remaining in that competition annually. The challenge, which I think Roma fans are only just now coming to terms with, is, can our club do that without players like Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi?

We were incredibly lucky to have two world-class players essentially propping up the entire franchise for two decades because of their blind loyalty to Roma. As we’re seeing with Dybala, that magic may not always work.

But the first step in charting a different path for Roma is getting back into the Champions League. A win on Wednesday would achieve this, and then it’s squarely on the Friedkins and Pinto. Can they improve this squad to the level where it can remain in the CL while also vying for a spot near the top of the league table?

BSanti: Winning the Scudetto becomes the next challenge for Mourinho, who will almost certainly stay should Roma win the final. With the investment that would come following Roma’s UCL qualification, qualifying for the top four on an annual basis will become the baseline expectation, with a Scudetto the big prize to shoot for.

Finally, give us a prediction for Wednesday.

JonAS: 1-0 early lead for Roma thanks to a Pellegrini free-kick and another stellar park-the-bus masterclass from Mourinho. José and Foti get red cards in minute 93 for dancing the Macarena in front of Sevilla’s dugout.

ssciavillo: I hate making predictions, but I’m going to say 1-0 Roma as well. The Giallorossi strike on a set piece with Pellegrini’s putting a beautifully delivered ball onto someone’s head.

Jimmy: I’ve already hinted at my prediction, but it’s 1-0 Roma, and based on form... let’s say it’s a Stephan El Shaarawy goal with an assist from Paulo Dybala.

Bren: 1-1 after 120 minutes, and onto PKs, where Pellegrini will score the decisive goal.

BSanti: Oh come on, we can’t all pick a Roma win. Talk about asking for a jinx. I won’t give a scoreline prediction, but I will look at El Shaarawy to be the decisive player for the Giallorossi.

You've heard our say, not let us now what you think. Can Roma win it all on Wednesday?