STADIO OLIMPICO (Rome): AS Roma struck early and late to claim a 2-0 win over Real Sociedad as the Giallorossi recorded a fifth consecutive home win and clean sheet to take control of their Europa League last-16 tie.
Tammy Abraham and Stephan El Shaarawy, both reinstated to the starting side by Jose Mourinho, combined for the opener in the 13th minute, the former twisting into space and putting in a cross for the wing-back to finish on the volley.
Substitute Marash Kumbulla finished the job with four minutes to go, heading home unmarked from a corner.
Both sides hit the woodwork in an even game where the slick-passing Spaniards controlled possession for large stages but found it difficult to break down a Roma backline that has kept seven clean sheets in eight games at the Stadio Olimpico since the turn of the year.
Jose Mourinho’s men will travel to the Basque Country next Thursday to try and seal a place in the quarter-finals, with a home Serie A clash with Sassuolo to come before then.
Mourinho mixes it up
Mourinho shuffled his pack after Sunday’s 1-0 win over Juventus, with Diego Llorente earning his first start for the club and Abraham, El Shaarawy and Rick Karsdorp reinstated.
After a cagey start, the game exploded into life when Paulo Dybala led a breakaway down the right wing and fed Abraham, who cleverly spun past his marker and lofted a cross to the back post for El Shaarawy to finish.
Real Sociedad were enjoying most of the ball but faced a formidable task in breaking down a Roma defence that hasn’t conceded at home in more than a month.
They came closest when Takefusa Kubo broke into the box from the right and tried to squeeze a finish past Rui Patricio, only for his shot to cannon back off the post.
Roma fans had their hearts in their mouths when a cross looked certain to be poked home by David Silva, only for Chris Smalling to somehow stick a leg behind him and divert it wide.
At the other end, risk-taking visiting goalkeeper Alejandro Remiro was almost caught dozing when Abraham charged down his clearance and the ball bobbled up into the path of Dybala, but the Argentine could only head wide of an open goal.
Llorente’s luck was out when his first Roma start came to a premature end at half-time due to a muscular problem, and the hosts then lost Lorenzo Pellegrini midway through the second half after a nasty clash of heads left the skipper clutching an ice pack as he retreated down the tunnel.
Real Sociedad left-back Diego Rico produced a rare second-half chance when his ambitious 30-yard strike was palmed wide by Rui Patricio, while Roma substitute Andrea Belotti – their top scorer in Europe – raced after a long ball and clipped the bar with a powerful finish.
Mikel Merino squandered a good chance for an equaliser with seven minutes to go, volleying wide from six yards, and his profligacy was punished when some dozy defending left Kumbulla free to head home unchallenged from an in-perfect Paulo Dybala inswinging corner.