Well, here we are. Can you believe it? For the second season in a row, Roma are in a European final, this time aiming to beat Sevilla to the Europa League trophy – which would be a first for the club’s cabinet.
Last season, Roma won their first ever UEFA trophy by beating Feyenoord in the Europa Conference League final. Now, their eyes are on the next prize up, with the chance to win consecutive European trophies capturing the imagination of the Giallorossi faithful.
Roma’s journey to the Europa League final has included wins over Red Bull Salzburg, Real Sociedad, Feyenoord and Bayer Leverkusen, after coming out of a group including Ludogorets, HJK and Sevilla’s cross-city rivals, Real Betis.
This is the first time Roma have been in this competition’s final since it became the Europa League. Previously, they reached the UEFA Cup final once, in 1991, but were unsuccessful over two legs against Inter.
Last season’s victory over Feyenoord has awakened and reignited Roma’s confidence, though, especially with Jose Mourinho still at the helm.
Mourinho has retained his record of never losing a European final, but the fact that Sevilla are the Europa League’s most successful club could make this one of his biggest challenges yet. The Spanish side have won this competition each time they have got this far in it; thus, this could be a battle of an irresistible force and an immovable object.
Both teams go into the game on the back of 2-1 defeats in the league in matches they had each taken the lead in, against Fiorentina and Real Madrid respectively. Roma are sixth in Serie A and Sevilla are 11th in La Liga, so winning this final is the only way either of them would make it into next season’s Champions League.
The two clubs most recently met in the round of 16 of the same competition back in the surreal times of August 2020, when Sevilla won 2-0. It was the only previous competitive encounter between the two clubs, but Mourinho has managed against Sevilla 10 times before, winning seven of those clashes, drawing one and losing two. He is unbeaten from four previous battles against his Sevilla counterpart, Jose Luis Mendilibar – who, for his part, has never managed against Roma.
Incidentally, Roma have already faced another side from Seville this season, losing and drawing against Real Betis in the group stage. (The only other time they have faced two different clubs from the same European city in one season was in the 2008-09 Champions League, which featured matches against the London pair of Chelsea and Arsenal). Mourinho’s men have faced and overcome another Spanish opponent since the Real Betis battles, knocking Real Sociedad out in the round of 16.
Similarly, Sevilla have faced an Italian side on their journey, edging past Juventus after extra time in the semi-final. The Andalusian side actually started this season in the Champions League, but after finishing third amid their turbulent start to the season dropped into this competition – in which they are now aiming to extend their record of six trophies.
In total, until now, Sevilla have been drawn against Italian teams 10 times in UEFA competitions – some across two legs, some being single-game affairs – and from seven knockout ties against them, they have progressed (or won a final, such as against Inter in 2020) five times. The only exceptions were when Parma knocked them out of the 2004-05 UEFA Cup in the round of 16 and when they lost the 2007 Super Cup to AC Milan.
Roma, for their part, have endured 20 different ties (mostly two-legged) against Spanish sides historically in UEFA competitions. Of those in knockout rounds, they have advanced on five out of 10 occasions. Never before, though, have they faced a Spanish side with a trophy being immediately at stake.
Now, that is the case, as Roma gear up for what many are billing as one of their biggest games of the past 15 years at least. It might not be too much of a stretch to class it as one of their biggest games ever, in actual fact.
Therefore, Mourinho will need to know who he can rely on to put in some strong performances. At his pre-match press conference on Tuesday, he has confirmed that Paulo Dybala – Roma’s leading goalscorer and source of inspiration this season – is fit enough for a 20- or 30-minute cameo from the bench.
Like Dybala, Leonardo Spinazzola has also been back in training after some injury concerns, while fears about the fitness of Stephan El Shaarawy – who was taken off at half time against Fiorentina – seem to have been allayed.
Thus, Roma’s expected lineup for the final, according to Sky Sport Italia, will be in a 3-4-2-1 formation as follows: Rui Patricio; Gianluca Mancini, Chris Smalling, Roger Ibanez; Zeki Celik, Bryan Cristante, Nemanja Matic, Leonardo Spinazzola; Lorenzo Pellegrini, Stephan El Shaarawy; Tammy Abraham.
Other sources expect Nicola Zalewski to be in with a chance for one of the wing-back roles, while Georginio Wijnaldum might start instead of El Shaarawy and Ibanez’s position on the left of the back three is up for grabs if Diego Llorente – the only Spaniard and former La Liga player in the Roma squad – can take it.
Sevilla, on the other hand, are likely to line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation. One of their usual starters – left-back, Marcos Acuna – is suspended for the final, but Alex Telles, formerly of Inter, could play in his place.
There is also the likelihood of Erik Lamela – who scored the goal that confirmed Sevilla’s place in the final – featuring at some point against his former club, Roma.
Other players with pasts in Serie A within the Sevilla squad include Lucas Ocampos and Suso (both Genoa and Milan) and Papu Gomez (Catania and Atalanta).
According to Sky, Sevilla’s setup will be as follows: Yassine Bounou; Jesus Navas, Loic Bade, Nemanja Gudelj, Alex Telles; Ivan Rakitic, Fernando; Lucas Ocampos, Oliver Torres, Bryan Gil; Youssef En-Nesyri. But the final decisions will be announced on the day.
While Roma have never won the Europa League before and Sevilla have, La Magica’s squad does contain Smalling, who previously won this competition under Mourinho for Manchester United. Player of the match in the Conference League final against Feyenoord last year, his experience will be critical again.
At the other end of the formation, his compatriot, Tammy Abraham, will be aiming to join Mourinho in completing the full set of UEFA medals after previously winning the Champions League with Chelsea and the Conference League with Roma.
Speaking of Englishmen, Anthony Taylor – who was in charge of a Premier League game in Yorkshire between Leeds and Tottenham at the weekend – will be the referee after also overseeing Roma’s 4-1 (after extra time) win over Feyenoord in the second leg of the quarter-final. It will be the fifth time the 44-year-old has officiated Roma and his fourth time for Sevilla.
The game will be staged at the Puskas Arena in Budapest – the capital of Hungary, a country in which Roma have only ever played once before, when Ferencvaros beat them in the round of 16 of the 1964-65 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup. Today’s Lupi will be hoping to acclimatise well and show Sevilla (who lost the 2020 Super Cup in identical surroundings) what they are made of.
What awaits is a potentially season-defining game for Roma and, more broadly, the Mourinho era. Who will step up and make a difference? Will it be one of the usual stars – perhaps Dybala heroically from the bench, as was the case in the quarter-final – or could it be someone unexpected, like Edoardo Bove in the semi-final? The time to find out is almost upon us.
These are the times when heroes are made. As Mourinho said in his press conference, this is an “extraordinary event” for Roma and, one way or another, it will immediately become ingrained in their history. All fans can hope is that it will be for the right reasons and that they can create similar scenes of celebration to last year.
The Europa League final kicks off at 8pm UK time on Wednesday, 31st May, and will be available to watch live on BT Sport 1.