For the first time in more than 30 years, Roma will be playing in a European final on Wednesday, when they battle Feyenoord for the chance to be the first ever winners of the Conference League.
Roma have got all the way to the final of UEFA’s new tertiary tournament at the first attempt. Now, just one game separates them from the chance to end a trophy drought that stretches back to 2008.
Getting his hands on some silverware would be an impressive way for Jose Mourinho to end his first season in charge of Roma. Not only would it remind any doubters of his winning instinct, it would give the club’s fans emotions they have not felt for more than a decade.
Trying to prevent that will be a Feyenoord side who finished third in this season’s Eredivisie. They reached the Conference League final by coming through the qualifiers, winning their group and then knocking out Partizan, Slavia Prague and Marseille.
In their 18-match journey to the final, they have only suffered one defeat, which was the second leg of the play-off round. Yet they go into the final on the back of a domestic defeat after their Eredivisie season ended on May 15th with a 2-1 loss to Twente.
Roma, in contrast, have had slightly less time to rest, but take winning momentum into the final after a 3-0 win at Torino on May 20th.
Unlike Roma, Feyenoord do have a history of winning UEFA competitions. They lifted the European Cup back in 1970, and the UEFA Cup in 1974 and 2002. This is their first continental final since that last honour two decades ago.
Domestically, they most recently held aloft the Johan Cruyff Shield (the Dutch equivalent of the Supercoppa Italiana) in 2018, having clinched the KNVB Cup the season before.
For Roma, this is a first European final since the 1991 UEFA Cup, which they won the second leg of but lost to Inter on aggregate. Their only cross-continental honour from the past was the 1961 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, a competition not affiliated to European football’s governing body.
Despite this lack of experience as a club, there are a few members of the current squad to have graced a similar stage. Chris Smalling and Henrikh Mkhitaryan won the Europa League under Mourinho with Man Utd in 2017, Ainsley Maitland-Niles was a runner up in the Europa League with Arsenal in 2019 and Tammy Abraham won the Champions League with Chelsea in 2021 (albeit without playing in the knockout stages).
Mkhitaryan was one of the few doubts Roma had going into this game, having not featured due to injury since the first leg of the semi-final. However, the attacking midfielder is present in the group, giving Mourinho a full complement of players.
Among those most keen to make an impact will be Rick Karsdorp, who used to play for Feyenoord and supported them from childhood, and Marash Kumbulla, who represents Albania internationally – the country in which the final is taking place. However, his chances of starting at Tirana’s 21,690-capacity Arena Kombetare are not as big.
Roma’s most likely lineup would be Rui Patricio in goal, a back three of Gianluca Mancini, Smalling and Roger Ibanez, Karsdorp and Nicola Zalewski as wing-backs, Bryan Cristante, Sergio Oliveira and Lorenzo Pellegrini in the middle, and a strike partnership of Tammy Abraham and Nicolo Zaniolo. But Mkhitaryan, Jordan Veretout and Leonardo Spinazzola, depending on fitness, could be pushing for a place.
For Feyenoord, all eyes will be on left-footed centre-back Marcos Senesi, who has been heavily linked with a transfer to Roma – as has, to a lesser extent, his midfield teammate Orkun Kokcu.
Their squad also features English winger Reiss Nelson, on loan from Arsenal. Another dangerous wide man will be Luis Sinisterra, their top scorer across all competitions this season.
Tactically, Feyenoord tend to line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Their head coach, Arne Slot, has presented a 23-man squad list to UEFA for the final. Goalkeeper Justin Bijlow, full-back Tyrell Malacia and centre-back Gernot Trauner were all injury doubts, but can be called upon if necessary after all.
There have only ever been two previous meetings between the two clubs. In the 2014-15 Europa League round of 32, Roma drew 1-1 at home and won 2-1 away. Hence, they will be hoping to maintain an unbeaten record against Feyenoord.
However, manager Mourinho has a 50-50 record from his two previous games against Feyenoord. With Manchester United in the group stage of the 2016-17 Europa League – which he went on to win, representing his most recent medal – he oversaw a 1-0 defeat in the Netherlands but then a 4-0 win at home.Embed from Getty Images
From his perspective, the promising sign is that he has won all four of the European finals he has contested working for other clubs. What’s more, he is aiming to become the first coach to complete the full set of UEFA medals: Champions League, Europa League and Conference League. That said, Feyenoord are seeking to become the first club with the same full set.
Against Dutch teams in general, Roma have picked up four wins, four draws and two defeats from 10 games. The most recent were against Vitesse in the round of 16 of this competition; Mourinho’s men won 2-1 on aggregate.
Feyenoord’s record against Italians, meanwhile, reads seven wins, four draws and seven defeats from 18 games.
Another interesting subplot will be the battle between Feyenoord’s Cyriel Dessers and Roma’s Abraham for the golden boot. Dessers has 10 goals so far, one more than Abraham.
Similarly, Roma’s Karsdorp and Feyenoord’s Sinisterra are two of the players tied on four assists, a leading number in that department for the first edition of this competition.
Importantly – in case it is needed – Roma have a couple of penalty takers in their squad. Abraham and Pellegrini both scored from the spot in the last league game of the season, against Torino.
Captain Pellegrini and vice-captain Mancini have both described this as the biggest game of their careers so far. It emphasises just how much this big game means to the club.Embed from Getty Images
The match will be refereed by Romania’s Istvan Kovacs. He previously oversaw Roma’s 4-0 win over Zorya Luhansk in this season’s group stage, and a 2-0 win for the Giallorossi over Braga in last year’s Europa League. It will be his first time officiating Feyenoord.
It has been an arduous route for Roma to get to this stage, but now just one final step remains. Trabzonspor, CSKA Sofia, Zorya Luhansk, Vitesse, Bodo/Glimt and Leicester City have all been beaten; now, is it Feyenoord’s turn to taste defeat to a Roma side yearning for silverware?
The final kicks off at 8pm UK time and coverage will be live on BT Sport 1 from half an hour before the first whistle.
For those based in the UK, fan clubs in Manchester, Bristol and London are known to be hosting meet-ups to watch the match together. Wherever you will be watching from, we will all be united by the same dream.