Roma vs. Bayer Leverkusen score: Jose Mourinho’s familiar template takes him closer to another European title


Twenty years on from his first European triumph, the Jose Mourinho template is still paying dividends. Let the opposition have the ball. Let them make the mistakes. Bayer Leverkusen were totally free to drive themselves to distraction at the Stadio Olimpico, a team eager to play the match at pace dragged into a turgid, tetchy affair they could never win.

Now Mourinho finds himself 90 minutes away from another European final with Roma, a chance to go back-to-back with first Conference League and then Europa League. He will be the last person who needs reminding that he has never lost any of his previous five continental finals. He probably does not need telling that another European crown would give him more than Pep Guardiola, Louis van Gaal and Zinedine Zidane.

On the basis of Thursday’s game, Roma are eminently capable of progressing to Budapest solely off the back of Edoardo Bove’s snapped effort on the hour. They might have allowed Leverkusen to have 60-plus percent of the possession but for 89 minutes of this game, Rui Patricio had only a solitary save to make. Roma spoiled, they clipped and they needled but their defense was diligent and they posed a continuous threat off set pieces. By the final whistle, they had left Bayer Leverkusen with a sense of bafflement and persecution, Florian Wirtz’s sarcastic applause of the officials typical of the distraction to which Mourinho can drive his opponents.

It was not destined to go this way. Early on Leverkusen looked like they might have the guile to prise their hosts apart, their intricate play swiftly taking themselves Ultimately they produced what might have been the best of the match inside the first minute, Moussa Diaby gliding from his perch on the right flank into midfield. Florian Wirtz took the attack on there, laying it wide to Pierro Hincapie. His cross to the edge of the box was met by a tame Robert Andrich effort, anything with a bit of ferocity might well have beaten Patricio.

Wirtz was Roma’s cheap tormentor early on, beating three midfielders and combining with Adam Hlozek before rolling a shot wide of the near post. That seemed to be the prompt for Mourinho to tighten up the defensive wall and though Roma would occasionally press the Leverkusen back three in a bid to force errors, they were more than prepared from then out to drop into a low block and challenge their visitors to charm a way to goal.

It helped that the hosts carried by far the greater threat from set pieces, Roger Ibanez drawing a superb save from Lukas Hradecky off a Lorenzo Pellegrini free kick. Roma were certainly prepared to play for dead ball opportunities and this game swiftly descended into a gritty affair where yellow cards were far more frequent than clear-cut shots on goal.

Ultimately that was a state of affairs that suited Mourinho far more than Xabi Alonso and his youthful Leverkusen side, who struggled to make the final pass no matter how many bodies they committed forward. Diaby in particular would roam far and wide in an attempt to craft a way through the Roma backline but there was always one more body back, ready to hit him firmly and attempt to draw a second yellow from the frustrated Frenchman.

As Leverkusen pushed further forward, the gaps emerged for Roma to dart through. A swift counter and Tammy Abraham found himself with his back to goal, spinning and clipping a well-struck shot towards the right corner. Hradecky might have felt he could have done more than palm the shot straight back into a dangerous area with Bove on hand to score his first European goal off the rebound. He might have had an extremely similar second soon after as Hradecky parried an Andrea Belotti effort into the center of the penalty box.

Only once did the Roma defense look like buckling, Patricio spilling a regulation cross that landed at the feet of Jeremie Frimpong. Bryan Cristante was on hand to block on the line, his arms close enough to his chest that Leverkusen appeals for a penalty were little more than the final prayer of a team who had only hope to cling to. Come next week, Mourinho will relish snuffing that out too.

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