As one door closes for Roma, a new one opens. A marathon 2019-20 campaign came to a disappointing conclusion with a 2-0 defeat to Sevilla in Duisburg, but the club’s sale to American billionaire Dan Friedkin under 24 hours before kick-off brings hope for a brighter future. However, a meek capitulation to the Andalusians highlighted the current gulf in class between the Giallorossi and Europe’s best.
A Round of 16 meeting against the Europa League kings always promised to be difficult. The Spaniards impressed on the way to fourth place in La Liga, with former flame Monchi again proving his knack for unearthing hidden gems in the shape of Diego Carlos, Jules Kounde and ex-Milan man Lucas Ocampos.
Yet, Roma had reason to be optimistic. They came into the tie in red-hot form, with seven wins and a draw from their last eight Serie A contests. While Paulo Fonseca’s charges had found an encouraging rhythm, almost three weeks had passed since Sevilla’s last competitive match.
In reality, the Spanish side’s extra rest proved a huge advantage. Roma looked lethargic and were unable to handle the effervescence of opposing full-backs Sergio Reguilon and Jesus Navas. The relentless Sevilla pressure pinned the Giallorossi deep in their own end for much of the first half, forcing even Eden Dzeko to defend desperately at times.
Nevertheless, Spanish sprightliness was not the root cause of a loss that could have easily been a blowout. Damningly for Fonseca, there was a worrying tactical naivete on display. Reguilon’s regal opener started from the umpteenth switch of play from right to left in the opening stages. Sevilla’s execution was magnificent, but the Real Madrid loanee should have never been afforded so much space to charge into. Furthermore, the domineering Kounde continually popped up unmarked from set pieces, even after striking the crossbar with a towering header early on.
Tightening up defensively is a must for Roma to progress, but they must also focus on banishing their inferiority complex against elite teams. The Giallorossi did not collect a single victory against Serie A’s top four in 2019-20 (until a Juventus side packed with kids and wearing flip-flops), while the holder of La Liga’s last Champions League spot wiped the floor with them. Just a few short years ago, the Romans nearly reached the final of that very competition.
Although their pitiful recent record against the cream of the crop represents a steep comedown from those heroic exploits, this season’s big-match failures inject an important dose of realism before the beginning of Friedkin’s reign. The Toyota tycoon will not be under immediate pressure to turn his new acquisition into world-beaters, affording him time to bed in while pushing ahead with the construction of the long-awaited Stadio della Roma.
The club could ultimately benefit from a change in ownership after James Pallotta became a lightning rod for fan unrest. The most important thing will be a transformation of their transfer strategy, no longer forced to sell star players every single summer. Even Chris Smalling could now return, and it was evident how much he was missed against Sevilla.
Meanwhile, it seems Fonseca will be given a chance to correct the mistakes made during his introductory course in Italian football. Another year outside the Champions League will hurt, but the stage is set for Roma to get back there soon.
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