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Lyon take control of Europa League tie as Roma slump continues

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Corriere della Sera (Luca Valdisseri) Luciano Spalletti, when he’s talking about football and not being hounded by an unhappy press, is almost always right. And when you compare to what he was able to bring to the Roma side that dominated their Champions League tie against an infinitely stronger Lyon side than this one, he wasn’t wrong when – on the eve of the game – he said that he had “become worse at everything”. That Roma side, in 2007, was spectacular and won 2-0 with goals from Totti and Amantino Mancini. This current side were beaten 4-2 in their Europa League Round of 16 first leg, bursting like a balloon in the second half after having gone in 2-1 up at half time.

It is a sign of a fitness crisis – one which the coach continues to refute in interviews – but on the pitch it’s very clear, and it’s accentuated by his decisions only to substitute players very late on despite them having shown signs of tiredness for some time. 3 examples constitutes evidence, according to the textbooks, and the defeat in Lyon was Roma’s third in a row after those against Lazio (Coppa Italia) and Napoli (league). They have dropped off a cliff, conceding 8 goals in 3 games, and yesterday was the first time they’ve conceded 4 in a game all season. They now have 2 very difficult leads to overturn: they need a 2-0 win against the French side next Thursday to get through, and they need a 2-0 win on 5th April to go to extra time against Lazio, or win the tie by winning with a 3 goal margin.

After Barcelona’s 3 goals in 8 minutes against PSG, nothing seems impossible any more, but this Roma seem to be a victim of their own coach’s stress and the lack of activity in the January transfer window. The squad is still strong, certainly stronger than Lyon’s, but it also seems exhausted. Spalletti said on the eve of the game that “Either we go there to attack them, or we give up possession and sit back in our own half. The one thing we can’t do is to do either half-heartedly, because that gives them the advantage given the pace of players like Lacazette.” The idea worked in the first half, when they turned round Lyon’s initial lead through Salah (counter-attack) and Fazio (header) and exploited set pieces.

But Tolisso scored very quickly after half time, and then Genesio’s courageous gamble to put on a fourth forward in Fekir made the final stages spectacular to watch. In an interview with L’Equipe, published yesterday but carried out some time ago, Spalletti said: “In Rome, it’s imperative to win for a number of reasons. There’s no chance of imagining gradual growth, everything is rapid and accelerated. So it’s simple: if I don’t win something, it means that I won’t have done better than my predecessors and so I’ll go home.” To finish a disastrous night, it’s also necessary to point out the incidents that occurred before the game when fans threw bottles and firecrackers at each other, forcing the French police to intervene in order to avoid any more serious clashes. Another alarm bell for the return leg.

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