Roma inches closer to another final with win over Leverkusen
Jose Mourinho and Xabi Alonso go back some time. The latter had the opportunity to learn under the Portuguese as a player when Mourinho coached Real Madrid. Then, before this game, Mourinho compared Alonso to his fiercest managerial rival, Pep Guardiola.
Mourinho’s Roma met Alonso’s Bayer Leverkusen in the first leg of the Europa League semifinal on Thursday. Roma, which won the Europa Conference League a season ago, is looking for back-to-back European trophies. Bayer Leverkusen, on the other hand, is looking for its first since winning this competition in the 1987/88 season.
A tight tie between two teams fighting for Europe domestically transpired.
Scoreless first half between Roma and Leverkusen
It was a tame first half between the two clubs at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. While both teams tried to feel out their opponent, there were not many clear-cut opportunities.
The one man pulling the strings was Florian Wirtz for Bayer Leverkusen. In the seventh minute, Wirtz had one of those opportunities to put the visitors in front. However, he pulled his shot wide of Rui Patricio in net. The best chance for the opposition was not long after. However, Leverkusen shot-stopped Lukas Hredecky parried away a Roger Ibañez header on a Roma set piece.
Despite a hollar of a penalty shout, that did not hold much weight, from Andrea Belotti, those were the best chances in the first 45.
Hosts find the breakthrough
In a game of few opportunities, it had to be someone at the age of just 20 to bring some life into the game. Leave it to 20-year-old Edoardo Bove to get his first European goal in a semifinal. He won the ball in the middle of the park to set up a quick counter for Roma. Tammy Abraham fired a shot at Hredecky, who made a save. However, the Italian Bove pounced on the rebound and guided it into the Leverkusen net.
Riding the euphoria in the crowd, Roma hunted a second. Bove tried to convert an acrobatic brace after Lukas Hredecky made a good save on a low shot from Bellotti. That ball sailed over the crossbar into the Italian crowd.
As the game waned, Bayer Leverkusen tentatively pushed for an equalizer. However, with the constant threat of Tammy Abraham or substitute Paulo Dybala on the break, the German club did not devote all its players forward. Bayer Leverkusen almost took advantage of a major mistake at the back for Roma. Rui Patricio collided with Ibañez while collecting a cross. The ball fell to Jeremie Frimpong. The only thing that kept Frimpong’s shot out of the Roma net was Bryan Cristante, who blocked the shot with his core to preserve the one-goal lead.
That is the marginal edge Roma will have to defend at BayArena next Thursday. It successfully defended a first-leg win against Real Sociedad in the round of 16. Bayer Leverkusen will have to overcome a one-goal deficit as it did in the playoff stage against Monaco, having lost at home, 3-2, only to win the next game via penalties.
PHOTO: IMAGO/ Gribaudi/ImagePhoto