Thursday, May 23, 2024

Prediction: AS Roma vs Bayer Leverkusen

Verdict: Draw

Best odds: 5/2

Bookmaker: Betfair

Still unbeaten this season, Bayer Leverkusen will travel to face AS Roma at the Stadio Olimpico on Thursday, in the first leg of their encounter in the semifinals of the Europa League.

Seeking to avenge their loss in last season’s semis, the newly crowned German champions are determined to advance to the Dublin final, where they could potentially meet Marseille or Atalanta. Meanwhile, the hosts bring with them a wealth of experience from their recent European campaigns.

AS Roma

Emerging victorious from an all-Italian showdown in the quarterfinals, Roma sealed their advancement against AC Milan. After securing a narrow lead in the first leg at San Siro, they clinched a 2-1 victory on their home turf a week later.

Gianluca Mancini found the net for the second time in the tie, followed by Paulo Dybala’s decisive goal. Despite Zeki Celik’s subsequent red card, the Giallorossi held on, extending their pursuit for a third consecutive European final, albeit the first without former manager Jose Mourinho.

In the previous season, Mourinho’s squad secured a 1-0 aggregate victory over Leverkusen in the semis but fell short against Sevilla in the final, just a year after claiming the inaugural Europa Conference League title.

Since the introduction of the Europa League in 2009, Serie A clubs have yet to win the trophy. Now, Roma and Atalanta have been placed on separate paths in the semifinal draw, potentially setting the stage for an Italian showdown in this season’s finale.

Roma are currently coached by club legend Daniele De Rossi. Since assuming temporary charge in January following Mourinho’s departure, De Rossi has overseen 13 victories and just three losses in 20 matches.

Recently extending his contract in the capital, De Rossi aims to conclude the season by securing silverware and securing a top-five finish in Serie A, ensuring Champions League qualification for the next campaign.

Currently occupying fifth place in the standings, Roma sits just ahead of Atalanta. Despite a 2-2 draw in the recent Derby del Sole against Napoli and a loss to fourth-placed Bologna, they still have the opportunity to secure a Champions League spot by winning the Europa League or staying fifth, with Italy set to send five teams into the competition next season.

Team News

Roma will face the absence of right-back Zeki Celik, suspended following a red card in the second leg against Milan. However, Bryan Cristante is eligible to return from a European suspension. Diego Llorente and Leandro Paredes are also back after serving Serie A suspensions last weekend.

Europa League specialist Romelu Lukaku, with seven goals in this season’s tournament and 27 overall, has resumed full training after missing the Naples trip. He is expected to lead the hosts’ attacking line, with Sardar Azmoun and Tammy Abraham likely on the bench.

Captain Lorenzo Pellegrini, benefiting from increased freedom under Daniele De Rossi, is poised to overcome a minor muscle issue to feature in midfield.

Chris Smalling may make a comeback from his recent injury in time for some involvement. However, defenders Rasmus Kristensen and Dean Huijsen were not included in Roma’s UEFA squad list for the knockout stages.

Bayer Leverkusen

While Leverkusen also settled for a 2-2 draw in their recent outing against VfB Stuttgart, their domestic situation differs from that of Thursday’s hosts. They clinched the German championship in sensational fashion several weeks ahead of schedule.

Securing a last-minute equalizer for the third consecutive match, the new Bundesliga champions denied Stuttgart over the weekend, extending their remarkable unbeaten streak to 46 games across all competitions, with 38 victories.

Their 44th match in this unbeaten run was the 1-1 draw against West Ham United, which secured their place in the Europa League semi-finals. Jeremie Frimpong’s late goal in that match also helped set a new record for the longest undefeated streak in Europe’s top five leagues.

Leverkusen’s Bundesliga points and goals tallies of 81 and 77, respectively, are both club records at this stage of the season. Under the commendable leadership of Xabi Alonso, the club has shed its infamous ‘Neverkusen’ label.

Additionally, they are poised for a trip to Berlin for the DFB-Pokal final, where they are favored against Kaiserslautern. The possibility of achieving a historic treble looms, and they also have the chance to become the first team to complete an entire Bundesliga campaign undefeated.

Like De Rossi, the highly sought-after Xabi Alonso has confirmed his commitment to his current club for at least another year. A captivating battle between two promising coaches is set to unfold over the next week, with the initial clash occurring in the Italian capital.

Team News

While Romelu Lukaku’s prowess in scoring goals in the Europa League is nearly unmatched, Leverkusen’s Florian Wirtz stands out as the player with the most chances created from open play (24) in this season’s tournament. Remarkably, Wirtz, at the youthful age of 20, has also scored 11 goals in the competition throughout his career.

Leverkusen’s midfield linchpin Granit Xhaka returns after sitting out the draw against Stuttgart through suspension. Consequently, either Robert Andrich, the scorer of their 96th-minute goal on Saturday, or Exequiel Palacios may have to be excluded from the lineup.

Adam Hlozek and Borja Iglesias are the only injury concerns for the visiting team, but both could still feature in Thursday evening’s match.

Conclusion

Roma shoulders the burden of expectation to secure a first-leg advantage, given their inconsistent away performances. Consequently, the hosts cannot afford to adopt a defensive stance and must remain proactive, especially in front of their fervent supporters at a packed Stadio Olimpico.

Although Leverkusen have displayed vulnerability in recent matches, their ability to score late goals—accumulating 17 after the 88th minute this season—suggests they pose a persistent threat. Another late equalizer could potentially send them back to Germany with the tie leveled.

Verdict: Draw

Best odds: 5/2

Bookmaker: Betfair

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Veselin Trajkovic


Vesko is a football writer that likes to observe the game for what it is, focusing on teams, players and their roles, formations, tactics, rather than stats. He follows the English Premier League closely, Liverpool FC in particular. His articles have been published on seven different football blogs.

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