Curtains have been drawn on another tempestuous and ultimaely, disappointing Serie-A season for AS Roma. Manager Paulo Fonseca’s ‘Project Revamp’ took a u-turn as Lu Lupa’s European dreams were shattered in the second half of the season. A muddled 7th place finish, caused by an unprecedented injury crisis, meant that Fonseca’s journey with the Italians came to an end. It’s time to dig deep and find out the reason for the ‘Fall of the Roman Empire’ as we review Roma’s 2020/21 campaign.
Nobody would have predicted that Roma’s season would fold out the way it did. A perfect start to the campaign as they looked to regain the Italian throne but controversies on and off the field saw the Roman chariot’s wheels fall off.
Hard-fought draws against favourites Milan and Juventus, saw Fonseca’s team still be in control of the Serie-A league table. But within a fraction of a second, their season went on the wrong track. Fonseca’s managerial tactics faltered and Roma couldn’t replicate their old performances. Losing easy matches in the Serie-A, conceding unnecessary goals, and failing to outshine weaker opponents was their highlight of the season.
A thrashing at Old Trafford cut short their European dreams as United demolished AS Roma 6-2. A disappointing defensive performance against the Red Devils meant that the Italians were knocked out after the second leg.
In the Coppa Italia, Roma had to bow out in the Round-of-16. Underdogs, Spezia knocked out Fonseca’s army three goals to none. Another poor outing by the back-line suggested that Roma would soon require a reboot.
The poor results were brought about by a massive injury crisis, especially in defence, in the second half of the season. Roma were consequentially thrown out of the European spots. A 7th place finish in the Serie-A, no European trophy to fight for, and a shambolic defeat to Spezia put Fonseca’s job under the scanner.
Fonseca was sacked at the final stage of the season with another Portuguese manager replacing him. Jose Mourinho, the ex-Tottenham manager will take over at Stadio Olimpico and Roman fans will look for a fresh start under Mourinho.
BEST MOMENT OF THE SEASON
AJAX 1-2 ROMA ( UEFA EUROPA LEAGUE QUARTER-FINALS)
Undoubtedly Roma’s greatest performance in their degrading season came against Dutch champions AFC Ajax. The Dutch team looked to continue their habit of writing fairy tales as they looked to conquer AS Roma. Paulo Fonseca’s troops however had other plans as they turned antagonists of Ajax’s story, defeating them at home.
The Dutch club broke the shackles as Davy Klassen opened the scoring just before the first-half interval. Roma was dominating the game but couldn’t find the back of the net for most parts of the first half, hurting their chances of silverware.
However, Lorenzo Pellegrini brought his side back into the game. A set-piece was taken with perfection and soon there was pin-drop silence in Amsterdam.
A hard-fought battle was heading to a draw as the game inched towards the final whistle. Tired legs, bodies, and minds suggested a stalemate but a mouth-watering climax awaited everyone.
Just three minutes before the designated 90 minutes were up, Roma’s centre-back Ibanez blasted a rocket of a volley into Ajax’s net following a Pellegrini corner. The celebrations began as Roma was going to go back to Italy with an extremely pivotal away-goal advantage. A 1-1 draw at Rome meant Fonseca’s side received a ticket to the semi-finals.
Honourable Mentions: Roma 2-0 Lazio, Roma 5-0 Crotone
WORST MOMENT OF THE SEASON
MANCHESTER UNITED 6-2 AS ROMA ( UEFA EUROPA LEAGUE SEMI-FINALS)
The match that most starkly marked the decline of the Italian club, was their disappointing outing at the Theatre of Dreams. One of United’s most memorable victories was they ran riot at home. The Italians were bashed by the Red Devils with six thunderous goals.
Paulo Fonseca’s side faced a setback within 10 minutes of kick-off as United’s magician Bruno Fernandes opened the scoring for the Red Devils.
Roma’s perseverance and determination got them back in the game as Lorenzo Pellegrini dispatched a perfect kick from the spot. With just 10 minutes to go before the first-half whistle, Edin Dzeko, a villain in the minds of United fans given his Manchester City past, gave Roma the much-awaited lead.
Unfortunately, La Lupa switched off their game in the second half. The Comeback Kings of England found the back of the net on regular intervals as Solskjaer’s smile widened. Within the blink of an eye, the Red Devils lead the Roman Devils 6-2 in the Europa League semi-final.
The final whistle ended the Roman misery but a second-leg awaited. The win in the second-leg was barely a consoloation and didn’t spoil the party as the Red Devils marched into the finals while Fonseca’s team packed their bags.
(Dis)Honourable Mentions: Lazio 3-0 Roma, Roma 0-3 Spezia
THE SEASON MVP
Once dumped by Manchester United and Arsenal, Henrikh Mkhitaryan has risen from the ashes to establish himself as a true warrior. A crucial part of the ‘Roman Revamp’ the Armenian scored 13 goals and bagged 11 assists for Fonseca’s side.
The scorer of Roma’s quickest Europa League goal shone brightly in a gloomy campaign. Dominating the heart of Fonseca’s midfield, Mkhitaryan created the perfect openings for his strikers.
Inch perfect passes, covering every part of the grass, and helping his defence out in misery were some of Mkhitaryan’s positives this season. Though he did all of that at Old Trafford too, something that puts him head and shoulders above is his output tally.
For a midfielder to bag more than 10 goals in one season is a commendable job and Mkhitaryan deserves all the praise. The Armenian time-to-time made those steamy runs into the box to aid his attack.
Lorenzo Pellegrini, the captain of the Roman Chariot, was helped out constantly by Mikhitaran’s presence giving the former more space and time to perform his magic. Though AS Roma had a shambolic outing, Mkhitaryan proved to the world why he can also be called the ‘Special One.’
Honourable Mentions: Borja Mayoral, Pau Lopez
From a legend at the Theatre of the Dreams to a villain at the Stadio Olimpico, Smalling’s football journey has taken a huge hit. Chris Smalling turned out to be a headache rather than a helping hand for AS Roma.
Once a towering defender for the Red Devils, Smalling is way past his glory days. Unfortunate errors, poor clearances, and lack of smart defending saw him start just 37 per cent of the total matches he participated in.
The 31-year-old English defender gave away penalties, fouls and suffered a lot of injuries as well. Perhaps it was the stop-start season caused by injuries that caused his problems when he did play. However a signing that should have bolstered Roma’s defence turned out to be a weak link for Giallorossi.
When Roma faced United in the semi-finals of the Europa League, Smalling was destined for an astonishing return to Old Trafford. Unfortunately, the English defender had a disappointing reunion with his old club as Roma lost 6-2.
Smalling’s injury in the second leg, the last nail in the coffin as Fonseca and his men were knocked out of the European competition.
Smalling could have easily turned around Roma’s fortunes with his experience and defending abilities but the mountainous defender could soon be shown the exit door by AS Roma.
(Dis)Honourable Mentions: Pedro, Justin Kluivert
‘The Magic One’ will join hands with the ‘Special One’ next season to reach new highs. Roma will be looking to put this season’s woes to bed. The alarm bells were ringing through the campaign and the topsy-turvy ride finally ended. Paulo Fonseca’s revamp plans drastically failed as Roma were dominated by weaker oppositions in Italy leave aside the stronger teams. With no European trophy to fight for next season, Mourinho will look to re-establish Roma’s authority in Serie-A next year.