Defensive dominance the cornerstone of AS Roma’s Europa League ambitions

Chris Smalling was at his imperious best as AS Roma defended a 2-0 aggregate lead to secure a 0-0 draw against Real Sociedad, progressing to the Europa League quarter-finals.

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AS Roma booked their place in the quarter-finals of the Europa League after a defensive masterclass saw them secure a 0-0 draw against Real Sociedad, winning 2-0 on aggregate. The Lupi were back to their defensive best and kept waves of Spanish attacks out in the second half to extend their run in the competition, after a first leg win in Rome.

It was a frustrating evening for Real Sociedad in front of a boisterous and passionate Reale Arena, as Roma held their shape well and contained their hosts with a solid, narrow formation, having just three shots and 23% possession.

Superb Smalling leads from the back

A solid defensive performance was the foundation on which the Giallorossi secured their passage through to the quarter-finals, with Chris Smalling in particular marshalling the backline expertly.

Opting against width and instead focusing on keeping a tight and packed middle, Roma forced the Basque club to attempt lofted balls into the box, with Smalling, Gianluca Mancini, and Roger Ibanez clearing with ease.

A crowded final third saw Jose Mourinho‘s side block everything that came their way, with Georginio Wijnaldum‘s positional sense important and the cool heads of Leonardo Spinazzola and Lorenzo Pellegrini crucial on a fiery night in San Sebastian.

It had appeared that Smalling had fittingly broken the deadlock on the night when he bundled in from a corner on the stroke of half-time, only for the goal to be chalked off for handball.

La Real stepped up their attacking intent in the second half, but luck favoured them as Mikel Oyarzabal sensationally missed from just yards out with the goal at his mercy, and Igor Zubeldia sent a diving header wide. However, the Spaniards could not break down their Italian visitors and were sent crashing out.

The defensive trio have established themselves as one of the most reliable in Europe, whilst Mancini‘s absence was keenly felt during the weekend’s 4-3 defeat to Sassuolo in Serie A. With their three key defenders in form, Roma are genuine Europa League contenders.

AS Roma’s Leonardo Spinazzola in action against Real Sociedad (@ASRoma_Brasil)

More European joy for AS Roma?

Roma certainly have boosted their European credentials in recent years, with continental competition providing them with some of their better moments amidst forgettable domestic campaigns.

Inaugural winners of the Europa Conference League last season, the Lupi ended a long wait for a trophy with the triumph in Tirana, but even prior to that they had threatened to make an impact in Europe.

Their sensational 3-0 win over Barcelona in the Champions League in 2018 will live long in the memory, as they came back from a 4-1 first leg defeat, whilst they almost defeated Liverpool in a thrilling semi-final tie.

Meanwhile, Mourinho‘s predecessor Paulo Fonseca led the capital club to the semi-final of the Europa League in 2021, before a heavy defeat to Manchester United saw them crash out. With a trophy already in the bag, Roma must surely be eyeing a second European success in as many seasons.

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