Roma will host Bayer Leverkusen at Stadio Olimpico on Thursday in the first leg of their Europa League semifinal matchup as they want to go closer to winning more hardware.
The winners of the Europa Conference League from last year will face their German opponents twice over the course of seven days, with the victor moving on to the final, which will be place in Budapest later this month.
Roma enters this Europa League (UEL) semifinal looking to rebound from a 2-0 loss to Inter Milan at the weekend. Roma won the UEFA Europa Conference League last season, giving them their first major European championship in over 60 years. It was José Mourinho’s team’s fourth straight game without a victory (D2, L2), but the manager maintains he is “optimistic” that his players will find their form while acknowledging that they are “tired” following a busy schedule.
Roma’s best chance of making it to Europe next season may lie in winning the UEL considering their poor domestic performance that has caused them to fall outside the top six. Returning to UEL play may be a pleasant diversion at that point, and Roma supporters will be confident of winning the opening leg against Bayer Leverkusen at Stadio Olimpico because the Italian team has won 17 of their last 24 European games there (W17, D6).
Leverkusen is traveling from Germany on the heels of a nine games unbeaten streak away from the BayArena (W6, D3), with a watertight defense preserving a clean sheet in four of the last five games. They undoubtedly look prepared to push that record. They do, however, arrive in Rome rather dejected after losing the local Bundesliga derby to Cologne 2-1 on Friday, thereby ruining their chances of placing in the top four.
To reach their first European final since 2002, manager Xabi Alonso is optimistic that his team can recover. The former Liverpool midfielder has pushed his team to make May a month they will “forever remember” as they strive for their first victory on Italian soil this century (D1, L5). He also has the extra distraction of being linked with the open Tottenham position.
Given that Lorenzo Pellegrini has never lost a home European match in which he has scored (W5, D1), Roma will be hopeful he can hit the target. Against Leverkusen goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky, who has only managed two clean sheets in his last 15 away games in Europe (W8, D2, L5), he will be attempting to add to that record.
Jose Mourinho should be able to include some crucial gears in his Roma engine on Thursday night after a devastating run of absences due to illness and bad behavior.
Georginio Wijnaldum and Paulo Dybala, both seasoned campaigners, have resumed training this week, but Chris Smalling and his replacement, Marash Kumbulla, are still missing.
Zeki Celik is also available after serving a Serie A suspension, but Nicola Zalewski is more likely to start on the right flank in any case.
Andrea Belotti will be replaced up front by Tammy Abraham, while midfield captain Lorenzo Pellegrini will once again be in charge. The latter has been personally involved in eight Europa League goals so far this season, scoring four times and providing an assist four times each, despite missing a penalty in Rotterdam last month.
Since the end of the group stage, Florian Wirtz of Bayer Leverkusen has contributed to more Europa League goals than any other player (three goals; two assists) and has also generated the most opportunities (18).
The 20 years old is the standout of the opposition’s front three, which also includes Moussa Diaby, a winger for France. They should be joined by Adam Hlozek or Amine Adli.
Andre Lunev, Patrik Schick, and Charles Aranguiz will be out for the trip to Rome due to injuries, thus Xabi Alonso plans to choose a team that is identical to the one that lost to Koln the previous time around.
AS Roma possible starting lineup
Patricio, Mancini, Cristante, Ibanez, Zalewski, Matic, Wijnaldum, Spinazzola, Pellegrini, Dybala and Abraham.
Bayern Leverkusen possible starting lineup
Hradecky, Kossounou, Tah, Hincapie, Frimpong, Andrich, Tapsoba, Bakker, Diaby, Adli and Wirtz.
We predict: AS Roma 1-1 Bayer Leverkusen
Four prior European meetings between these teams resulted in one victory for each team and a combined 19 goals, or an average of 4.8 goals per game. Given Roma’s pragmatic approach under Mourinho, it is less likely to be so open on Thursday, and Leverkusen would leave the Olimpico satisfied with their evening’s work in the event of a low scoring tie.