After receiving an emotional haymaker in the form of losing the Europa League final on penalties, it was anyone’s guess as to how Roma would respond to that devastating defeat in Sunday’s match against Spezia, who had everything to play for as they were still fighting for their Serie A survival and needed to better Hellas Verona’s result to ensure survival.
But Roma had plenty of motivation of their own, with a win ensuring that they’d play in next season’s Europa League, a must when you consider how devastating it would be to have to play in Conference League next season after having come so close against Sevilla.
To their credit, Roma showed the same resilience that they’ve shown all season, coming back from a goal down to defeat Spezia 2-1 and qualify for next season’s Europa League.
It didn’t take long for the relegation contenders to strike the opening blow, as just five minutes in, the away side was awarded a free-kick, and the clearance of the initial ball fell to Mehdi Bourabia, who rifled a cross to the back-post, where it found an unmarked Dimitris Nikolaou, the defender giving Mile Svilar no chance and the lead to Spezia.
Roma looked to respond quickly when ten minutes later, Stephan El Shaarawy hit the crossbar, but they were unable to make the most of their subsequent opportunities. As we inched closer to halftime, the prospect of being forced to play in the Conference League next season became increasingly worrying.
Those fears were eased in the 42nd minute, as Zalewski received the ball near the edge of the box following a throw-in, and with three Roma shirts awaiting the cross, the Polish youngster whipped a ball in. Edoardo Bove nearly got a head on the ball, and the split-second hesitation that caused was enough for Zalewski’s cross to go past the keeper and give Roma the equalizer.
The second half saw Roma push for the winner, although the Giallorossi had a tough time unlocking the Spezia defense. Dybala went on a brilliant solo run in the 64th minute, but his shot across goal went narrowly wide.
With ten minutes to go till full-time and the winning goal still elusive, things went from bad to worse for Roma as Tammy Abraham went down with a knee injury that we can only hope is not as serious as it looked. The injury forced Roma into replacing Tammy, who himself was a substitute for Andrea Belotti, with Gini Wijnaldum—the Dutch international coming off a poor substitute appearance in the Europa League final.
But in the 88th minute, as fate would have it, Wijnaldum would be on the receiving end of a threaded pass from Nemanja Matic, and Gini would flick the ball in behind for El Shaarawy, only for SES to be taken down from behind by Kelvian Amian. The referee would point to the spot and give a second yellow and marching orders to Amian, leaving Spezia a man down with Dybala stepping up to the spot.
Roma’s main man would come through again as he so often has this season, La Joya burying the spot kick to give Roma the win and ensure they’ll be playing in next season’s Europa League.
In case you missed any of the action, enjoy the highlights below. The official league highlights are available here.