In the decisive duel of the Europa League intermediate round at AS Roma by star coach Jose Mourinho, the “Bulls” face a tricky task on Thursday (9 p.m. / live ServusTV and Sky). “It will be a brutal challenge. We are still the clear outsiders. But I am optimistic that we can have a say,” said coach Matthias Jaissle.
In the round of 16, however, Jaissle not only has to do without the suspended central defender Strahinja Pavlovic, but also striker Fernando. The Brazilian, who only returned to the eleven after a month-long injury break, is again plagued by the thigh. “Of course it hurts because Fernando is a difference player,” said Jaissle. “But we don’t whine and rely on our well-staffed squad.” He didn’t want to commit himself. Junior Adamu, Benjamin Sesko or Sekou Koita are potential partners for Noah Okafor.
How difficult it is to play for Roma, currently third in Serie A and on the way to a Champions League starting place, was shown last Thursday. In Wals-Siezenheim, the Italians were closer to victory in terms of chances. But Salzburg had a brilliantly disposed goalkeeper Philipp Köhn, countered with a tactically mature performance and reaped the fruits of his labor in the finish thanks to Nicolas Capaldo’s header (88th).
Jaissle was convinced that progressing with a disciplined performance “and a little bit of luck here and there” in the sold-out Stadio Olimpico with over 62,000 spectators was within the realm of possibility. “Anyone who has been there knows what kind of energy the Stadio Olimpico exudes,” said the 34-year-old. “The key will be that we act very disciplined again, defend very concentrated and act courageously,” said the German. “Then maybe we can surprise again. We’re up against a top opponent, it’s going to be a real challenge and a very different game than in the first leg.”
In the 3-1 win over WSG Tirol on Saturday, Salzburg was able to save energy for an intense game. Roma, winners of the 2022 Conference League, have only conceded five goals in eleven league games at the Stadio Olimpico this season and have won eleven in their last 15 home games in the European Cup. A goal is not necessarily necessary for Austria’s series champions. “Roma will be more active than in the first leg, not as deep. That can even be an advantage after changes and with our speed in front,” speculated midfielder Nicolas Seiwald.
Central defender Oumar Solet was also under no illusions about the height of the hurdle. “We want to get the first leg completely out of our heads, not thinking about Salzburg’s 1-0 win or any lead,” promised the Frenchman. Bernardo will probably form the defensive center at his side, the all-round defender should replace the suspended “mentality monster” Pavlovic. Solet fears neither the full oval (“For me it’s more of an incentive than pressure”) nor Roma’s offensive power. “It wouldn’t be surprising if we got a little more space for our attacks this time,” he said in the same vein as Seiwald.
Personal worries among the Romans
However, it is questionable whether the Roma will even call up their most dangerous offensive players. For example, there were fears for the creative whirlwind Paulo Dybala, who had to leave the field prematurely in Salzburg due to overloading his left hamstring. The Argentine world champion was still training individually on Tuesday. There were also doubts about Tammy Abrahams. The striker sustained an eyelid injury that required stitches during Sunday’s 1-0 win over Verona.
In order to prevent another bursting, the Englishman, who failed in Salzburg when Köhn had a big chance, could start with a face mask on Thursday. “The two are not at 100 percent, but are available to help us,” said Mourinho at the final press conference on Wednesday evening. A lot of things point to a “joker role”.
The Portuguese described the lead of the “bulls” as “minimal”, he expected that the opponent would not come here to play for a 0-0. “Maybe it will be similar to the first leg. We had a great chance to win the game, but we lost. Hopefully we can do things differently tomorrow,” said the Roma coach, who declined to answer questions about his future.
Last but not least, Salzburg is fighting against the poor record in recent knockout games. The coup last succeeded in February 2019, when Club Brugge was eliminated on the way to the EL round of 16. Since then, Salzburg has not survived a knockout round in a main European Cup competition. Eintracht Frankfurt (2020), Villarreal (2021) and Bayern Munich (2022) were the names of the well-known finals in the Europa League and Champions League. Eight times they have been in the round of 16 or the intermediate round of the Europa League, three times they have reached the round of 16 – 2014 against Ajax Amsterdam, 2018 against Real Sociedad and 2019 against Bruges.