Lethal Bayer Leverkusen beat AS Roma to take command of Europa League semi-final

AS Roma's Europa League hopes took a massive blow as Bayer Leverkusen won at the Stadio Olimpico, meaning it will take a historic display for Daniele De Rossi's side to reach the final.

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STADIO OLIMPICO (Rome): AS Roma’s ambition of avenging last year’s Europa League final defeat is not dead, but Bayer Leverkusen‘s visit to the capital has left it on life support.

The German champions raided the Eternal City and took a commanding 2-0 win home from their semi-final first leg on Thursday. Xabi Alonso’s side, now unbeaten in 47 matches in this most remarkable of seasons, were worthy winners as they avenged their defeat at this venue and this stage just one year ago.

Daniele De Rossi will have some regrets, not least Romelu Lukaku’s crossbar-crunching header, Tammy Abraham‘s astonishing late miss and Rick Karsdorp’s calamitous error for the opener, but he can have little complaint about the victory for the slick Bundesliga winners.

Florian Wirtz slid home the opener after 28 minutes when Karsdorp’s ill-judged backpass handed Bayer the goal on a platter, before Robert Andrich thumped in a laser-guided long-ranger after the break to seal victory.

Bayer Leverkusen Wirtz
Bayer Leverkusen’s Florian Wirtz celebrates. [@bayer04fussball]

AS Roma have a mountain to climb in Germany

With a return leg still to come at the BayArena next week, the tie is far from over, but Roma will be left in little doubt about how momentous a challenge they now face in Germany.

A rematch this may have been, but that didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the home fans as thousands flooded the streets with flares and flags to welcome the team bus to the stadium.

When a Curva Sud choreography was neatly unveiled before kick-off to another heart-thumping rendition of ‘Roma, Roma, Roma’, the expectation on the players was written large and clear: ‘Avanziamo’ – or, in less attractive-sounding English, ‘let’s go through’.

Once the referee peeped his opening whistle, an intriguing battle unfolded as Alonso’s side sat deep in a 5-4-1 off-the-ball but looked to strike quickly and directly on the counter while morphing into a 3-4-3 shape.

Both sides had some early pot-shots as the game took shape, but midway through the first half the crowd roared in frustration when a corner was worked back into the box to Lukaku, whose powerful header struck the bar.

Jeremie Frimpong wasted a good opening when he was slipped in but could only hit the side netting from a tight angle, but Leverkusen didn’t have to wait long for their opener, Wirtz profiting from the carelessness of Karsdorp, who was drafted in with Zeki Celik suspended.

Both sides posed a threat, with Leverkusen more clinical

Dybala Roma Europa
AS Roma’s Paulo Dybala on the ball against Bayer Leverkusen. [@OfficialASRoma]

Roma were shaken by the goal and lucky not to go further behind as Leverkusen squandered a string of good chances, Mile Svilar saving a Wirtz effort, Frimpong fizzing a dangerous shot just wide and Andrich forcing a flying save from the Roma keeper.

Lorenzo Pellegrini got the Olimpico faithful back on their feet with a dangerous effort that hit the goalkeeper’s water bottle as it whistled narrowly wide, but Leverkusen still had the final say before the interval when they failed to convert a five vs three breakaway.

Both sides had good chances from corners early in the second half but neither Piero Hincapie nor Bryan Cristante could put efforts on target, the latter glancing a near-post effort across the face of goal and wide of the far post.

Roma Lukaku Europa
AS Roma’s Romelu Lukaku heads the ball against Bayer Leverkusen. [@OfficialASRoma]

Leverkusen hinted at their attacking threat once more when a twisting and turning Frimpong fired over in the area, and five minutes later Andrich unleashed a 25-yard missile into the top corner to make it 2-0 and dampen the Olimpico atmosphere.

Sardar Azmoun, on against his former club for Lukaku for the closing stages, had a chance to pull one back late on but could only snatch at a tame finish while under pressure from Hincapie.

The home crowd was then left in disbelief in the final few seconds when another substitute, Abraham, somehow headed over from three yards out with an empty goal gaping in front of him.

It could prove to be a costly miss before Roma look to do something no team has achieved this season next week: beat Bayer Leverkusen.

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