Roma are out of the Champions League after succumbing to Real Madrid in the Bernabeu, but while their exit may not have been unsurprising for long periods of the game it looked like it could have ended very differently. An aggregate defeat by a hefty 4-0 scoreline is hard to argue to be undeserved, but it’s certainly hard on Roma and combine the refereeing decisions from the first leg and the incredible amount of missed chances in the second leg and it’s certainly arguable that the Giallorossi had an opportunity to progress.
Real Madrid dominated the statistics in terms of possession (55%-45%) and shots (38-11), but it was only after the first goal had gone in that they looked on top of things (and even then only briefly). For the most part, Roma restricted the Spanish side to shots from distance while the Giallorossi had gilt-edged chances that they should have put away. Arguably, and this is not to exculpate Edin Dzeko or Mohamed Salah, had they each had the other’s chance then it would most probably have been 2-0 Roma by the half hour. As it was, both had them on their weaker foot and ended up slicing wide. Murat Yakin, Salah’s coach at Basel, once said of the Egyptian that he would be world class if he could only finish, and he was proved right as Salah wasted further chances both before and after half time. He was not the only one who couldn’t find a way past Keylor Navas; Diego Perotti hit the post, and both Alessandro Florenzi and Kostas Manolas were denied by the keeper after half time.
Luciano Spalletti got a lot of things right in both legs against Real Madrid, and the numerous chances Roma created were just reward for his offensive line-up with El Shaarawy, Salah, Perotti, Dzeko and Pjanic all starting. It was even more of a gamble than it first appeared, as while the former 3 have established an excellent understanding already, they have only once (against Carpi) played together in a 4-2-3-1 behind Dzeko. This told against los Blancos; while Dzeko worked hard for the team, there were far fewer direct balls played up to him – instead Roma played far more through the 3 players playing off the Bosnian.
Overall it was a performance of almosts and nearlys, and one that no doubt every Roma player involved will be bitterly regretting this morning. That said, while Roma can have some satisfaction with the performance, Spalletti admonished his players live on TV during his post-game interview when he saw them content despite the defeat. “Being relaxed or satisfied with these two games worries me,” he said. “Think about the level our heads must have dropped to if we’re happy after two 2-0 defeats. We need to improve quickly, we have to make leaps forward – not small steps.”
Ultimately a defeat to Real Madrid in the Champions League is understandable, but the mentality Spalletti is trying to instil in his players is absolutely right. Roma shouldn’t be happy to have gone out as they have, as they were far from being as outplayed as the 4-0 scoreline may suggest. Equally telling is the difference between Spalletti saying he can’t be happy with the 2-0 defeats and Rudi Garcia’s “it can happen” after the 6-1 defeat to Barcelona. The change in mentality is abundantly clear, and if Roma want to make the latter stages of the Champions League in future seasons and challenge for scudetti, then that is the mentality they need to have.