Five highlights of Roma’s run to the 2020-21 Europa League semi-finals

They fell at one of the final hurdles, but it was a remarkable European campaign for Roma nonetheless.

Recording their furthest ever foray in the Europa League era, the squad did the club proud before they ultimately bowed out to Manchester United in the semi-finals.

It was a campaign of two halves for Roma; in the first part of the season, they used the Europa League to rotate, but after slipping down the Serie A table, the importance they placed on their midweek matches grew.

After topping their group, Roma won both legs against Braga and Shakhtar in the next two rounds. Then came a 3-2 aggregate win over Ajax and a topsy-turvy tie with Man Utd. Ultimately, they fell short – but not without a big effort along the way.

Here are five of the best moments from the 2020-21 Europa League journey.

Mkhitaryan’s record-breaking opener against Cluj

Roma were comfortable in the group stage and the biggest win of the campaign came when they hosted CFR Cluj in November 2020. The game at Stadio Olimpico finished 5-0 in Roma’s favour – with their intentions clear right from the beginning.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan scored after just 57 seconds of that match, heading home a cross from Leonardo Spinazzola.

It was officially the quickest goal Roma have ever scored in the Europa League, becoming the foundation for a high-scoring display.

Calafiori’s first Roma goal against Young Boys

Several academy graduates got their chance to impress in the Europa League and one of those furthest along their development path made the most of it.

Riccardo Calafiori has been a member of the senior squad throughout the season after his first-team debut on the final day of the last Serie A campaign. His gametime hasn’t been as plentiful as he may have wished, but he showed what he can do in the penultimate group match.

Roma were drawing with Young Boys as the game approached the hour mark, before Calafiori took matters into his own hands. The Swiss side failed to clear the danger after a set piece and the ball fell kindly for the left-back, who took aim from outside the box to get his first goal in Roma colours. In doing so, he became the first club academy graduate to score on his first Stadio Olimpico appearance in the 21st Century.

Milanese’s celebration at CSKA Sofia

Calafiori wasn’t the only youngster to get off the mark for Roma during the group phase. One of the revelations of that part of the season was Tommaso Milanese, who got a couple of chances in midfield.

Roma may have lost their final group match away at CSKA Sofia when there was little left to play for, but it was still a special day for Milanese. When his team were trailing in the first half, he unexpectedly got the equaliser.

The teenager showed great instincts to divert the ball home with a touch and finish – but what was even better was his celebration. There was genuine emotion in his eyes as he wheeled away after accomplishing a memorable achievement in his fledgling career.

Ibanez’s inspired goal at Ajax

One of the toughest tests Roma faced on their route to the semi-final was the preceding round against Ajax. Some felt the Dutch side were the favourites, but a strong performance in the first leg away from home gave Roma the advantage.

Playing on what would have been legendary ex-captain Agostino Di Bartolomei’s birthday, Roma won it thanks to a volley from unlikely hero Roger Ibanez. Photographs afterwards compared his technique to famous images of Di Bartolomei, suggesting he had been there with him in spirit.

That goal ensured Roma came away with a valuable 2-1 lead, which helped them secure the aggregate win. More importantly, though, it was also a reminder of the passion this club is steeped in thanks to its greatest symbols.

Fonseca’s big-game win against Man Utd

It may have been too late to overturn the tie, but something went under the radar in Roma’s last game of the European season. The 3-2 win over Manchester United represented a rare triumph against a big team for Paulo Fonseca.

One of the factors that has led to the coach losing his job has been his failure to beat direct rivals in Serie A. Last season, he only beat Milan and Napoli when they were both struggling, and Juventus when both teams used weaker sides. This season, he hasn’t beaten anyone of that calibre.

But in the first game since the confirmation of his upcoming departure, Fonseca led Roma to victory over the best team he has beaten in these past two years. As a standalone game, Roma’s second-leg performance showed immense spirit and that deserved credit; the 3-2 scoreline was a symbol of how well they fought.

Fonseca’s time at Roma has had a lot of bumps in the road, but this Europa League campaign was something to remember fondly. Although it didn’t end in glory, it still concluded in a positive way.

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