It is sometimes difficult to know which Roma will turn up in the big games. It could be the team that stunned title-chasing Napoli 4-2 at the San Paolo, or the one that collapsed at home to Milan in a 2-0 loss. Arguably, we saw both of them in the 2-1 defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk three weeks ago.
But for a sprawling Bruno Peres goal-line clearance moments before the final whistle, as well as several interventions from ever-reliable Alisson in goal, the mountain for Roma to climb would be even steeper.
Few Giallorossi fans should be happy with that performance in Kharkiv, particularly the second half, but objectively the result is not a bad one. There’s no need to explain how beneficial an away goal can be and for 45 minutes, Roma did seem to have the measure of Shakhtar.
Hopefully Eusebio di Francesco soaked up some knowledge of how Paulo Fonseca’s side play and more importantly how to get the better of them. The tactician is not afraid to change things up, admitting he made a tactical shuffle against Torino last Friday after a poor first half, which later brought victory.
They were near-impeccable for the first 45 minutes in Ukraine, creating chances aplenty while limiting their opponents to very few opportunities before Cengiz Under gave them the lead. But after their goal, they stopped playing. And despite a more defensive outlook, they still left far too much space in behind for the likes of Taison, Facundo Ferreyra and Ismaily to exploit.
We have already seen the trouble Ukrainian teams can cause at the Olimpico, with Dynamo Kiev holding Lazio to a 2-2 draw in the Europa League.
However, the old adage that ‘Ukrainian teams don’t travel well’ seems to hold water, at least in Shakhtar’s case in recent seasons, with only two wins in their last 11 away matches in Europe. That includes a 3-0 drubbing at Napoli in the group stages this season.
Sure, they have the advantage and Roma have to score, but that might be a good thing. Their objective in the match is clear, whilst Shakhtar will be in two minds as to whether to stick or twist. To hold what they have for 90 minutes or try and snatch a debilitating away goal.
That makes things difficult for the Ukrainians, who typically like to press aggressively high up the pitch, but will predictably want to be a bit more cautious. Despite that, they have shown themselves capable of creating chances and will be dangerous on the counter. Another big bonus will be the presence of a fully-rested Edin Dzeko, who was suspended in Serie A on Friday.
Roma fell apart tactically in Ukraine, but it was their mentality that really lost them the first leg. One would expect a reaction from the players who simply cannot repeat that error with so much at stake.
They have the best chance to reach the quarter finals of the Champions League for the first time in 10 years. The Giallorossi did what many thought they couldn’t and emerged from one of the toughest groups (in first place, no less), thrashing Chelsea 3-0 in the process and avoiding the likes of Real Madrid and Bayern Munich in the draw.
For 45 minutes at least, Roma have shown they have the beating of Shakhtar. Do the same for 90 minutes at the Olimpico and most Roma fans should be looking forward to the draw this Friday.