AS Roma will be traveling to San Sebastian in Spain to take on Real Sociedad in the rematch of their Europa League round-of-16 clash with a two-goal advantage, courtesy of strikes from Stephan El Shaarawy and Marash Kumbulla in the first leg played at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome on Thursday evening.
A Mourinho victory
Roma didn’t exactly look like a dominant team in this match. Most of the stats actually point to the visitors being more in control of the proceedings with a total of 60% possession, and 535 passes with the accuracy of 85%, compared to Roma’s 361 at 75%.
But winning such a game is something that has been the specialty of Jose Mourinho for a very long time. The Portuguese tactician doesn’t insist on his players having the ball and attacking all the time. What he does require is tactical discipline first and foremost, mostly exhibited by a strong sense of defensive responsibility. Once that’s achieved, potential weaknesses in the defensive setup of the opponent are being exploited, usually in the best way possible, and that was the case in this match.
In the 13th minute, wing-back Rick Karsdorp won his duel against Sociedad’s Diego Rico, doing well to read the one-two played by Rico and David Silva. Having won the ball cleanly, he whipped a fine pass down the right flank for Paulo Dybala, and the Argentina international charged forward, taking advantage of the vast space left open by the opposition. Striker Tammy Abraham pulled out wide as well and received the ball from Dybala, before expertly finding El Shaarawy on the far post.
The second goal, scored in the 87th minute, came as a consequence of an excellently taken but poorly defended corner. Dybala was involved again, hitting a sharp, curved cross towards the far post. Two decoy runners completely bamboozled the Sociedad players tasked with blocking potential runs outside the six yards, and Kumbulla was completely free to make his jump at full speed. It was obviously the decisive factor as he jumped higher than anyone else and slammed his header in from close range.
Meanwhile, the La Liga side weren’t quite able to develop proper attacking momentum despite the notable efforts of some players. On three occasions, however, they came close, with Tafekusa Kubo hitting the goal frame from a tight angle, Roma goalkeeper Rui Patricio saving a very good long-range shot from Rico, and midfielder Mikel Merino failing to hit the target from close range, having been found by a pin-point pass from substitute Mikel Oyarzabal.
On the other hand, Roma created even less throughout the game. They didn’t need to, of course, being ahead for most of its duration, and the best moment they had apart from the goals was substitute striker Andrea Belotti latching onto a long ball from the back by Gianluca Mancini in the 66th minute. The Italy international did extremely well to get a shot off at a full run from a tight angle, but hitting the post was probably as good as anyone could’ve done from there.
Naturally, with the score standing at 2-0 after the first 90 minutes of the tie, nobody believes it to be over. Sociedad will certainly do their best to overturn it at the Anoeta, and Roma will do well to pack plenty of caution when they take the Spain trip.
Speaking in his post-match press conference, Mourinho admitted as much and warned his players against underestimating the opponent in light of the current advantage.
“We are organised, we analyze the opponent well and we do what we can,” he said. “I’m comfortable after defeats and victories, I’ve learned that with experience. Next week is dangerous. It will be dangerous in San Sebastian.”
The rematch will be closely followed by the Derby of Rome, but Mourinho doesn’t want to think about that before returning from Spain.
“Then playing against Lazio could be considered the same as playing against Milan, Juventus and any another opponent, but that’s not the case in this city. I don’t want to go to San Sebastian thinking about the derby, if we do that we lose.
“[Sociedad] are strong, they have quality and creativity, we have to go there with everything we have. This is only the first half, the second half is still missing.”
Alguacil disappointed and angry
Sociedad boss Imanol Alguacil was naturally disappointed with the outcome of this match, especially in terms of what happened inside the two boxes, and he strongly hopes the mistakes made there will not be repeated at the Anoeta.
“It’s a shame because we did well in defense and attack, the result is correct if we analyze what happened in the penalty area,” he said.
“There is a lot to improve if we want to overturn the result.
“If we give away in the return leg what we gave them today, it will be complicated. Finishing the game down 2-0 is worse than 1-0, we are angry and in the second leg we will try to do everything to put things right.
“It will be complicated against Mourinho’s team, but we’ll try,” the 51-year-old added.
“Roma are a great opponent, but tonight I leave this stadium angry because we did many things right, we had a very clear opportunity to score and then we gave away the 2-0, these things can’t happen if you want to compete at this level.”
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