Roma does the impossible: We sit down with Wayne Girard to discuss an eternal evening in Rome
It was a magical evening in La Citta Eterna on Tuesday evening, as Roma beat Barcelona 3-0 to overcome a 4-1 deficit from the first leg. It is the first time Roma will be in a semifinal of the Champions League and the first time since 83/84 that they have reached the semis of the European Cup. To get a good understanding of the match, we sat down with Wayne Girard (Twitter: @WayneinRome) to hear his thoughts on the tie itself and who he would like to see Roma play in the semifinal.
Claudio: So heading into the second match against Barcelona, what were your feelings? As an outsider, in the first match Roma were a bit unlucky as they obviously had the two own goals, the fourth goal given up was an absolute blunder by Gonalons, and outside of the Champions League Roma had lost to Fiorentina and tied Bologna in the past couple of weeks. So it defintely seemed like a mammoth task, what were your thoughts going into it?
Wayne: I was excited that Roma could have a great event - not so much a game that would be played to win. Just having Barcelona there, and with so many fans, it was going to be an experience in itself. It's very rare that Roma gets to the quarter-finals of the Champions League. I was very disappointed with the first leg, and felt Roma were the better side, and were really hurt by poor refereeing decisions. That really hurt, because my boys gave it their all.
Roma has struggled to find consistency, but I knew that they had it in them to beat the biggest of teams. Yet, Barcelona are the best team of their generation, so in the end, I was just hoping for another solid showing - without any bad luck or referee blunders.
Claudio: I have to agree with you that Roma were the better side over the two legs, including in the first game. Even if they maybe wouldn't have won the first leg, the 4-1 scoreline was definitely unjust.
What did you think of Di Francesco's change to three at the back prior to the match? Were you nervous about it or did you think it was the right move?
Wayne: It was what myself and the fans have anxiously been awaiting. Overcrowding the midfield and playing high-pressure with five defensive-minded players was the perfect recipe. With Florenzi as an all-in-one player, that helped tremendously along with Kolarov, as both are capable of finding their own space and creating around the opponent's goal. I wasn't nervous because Roma had nothing to lose, so it was the perfect match to experiment. It also released tension for Di Francesco, as he has been criticised for no tactical flexibility. No one can logically doubt him now.
Claudio: I have to say, when I saw the change I was a bit optimistic because it didn't seem like a change just for the heck of changing things. It seemed like he had identified something in particular that could hurt Barcelona and that's why he was changing. It also took guts from him because, as you and I both agree, Roma played very well in the first leg, so to change things despite playing well was a risky move.
As for the match itself, I was most impressed by Roma's ability to press and keep up the intensity for the full 90 minutes. I've seen teams do that to Barcelona for 30-45 minutes, maybe 60 at most, but they usually wear down and are exploited. I have never witnessed a team do that for the entirety of the match. What really stood out to you in the match in terms of Roma's play?
Wayne: I 100% agree, as I also believed that pressing so high they were likely to run out of steam around the 60' mark. But it was the goals, and the sold-out stadium which helped the players find the grinta (hard-working grit and spirit) they didn't know they had in them. Edin Dzeko has been unbelievable. He was never my favourite player but that was one of the best performances I have ever seen from a number nine. Juan Jesus, Kostas Manolas, and Federico Fazio were stronger than Hadrian's Wall. Kevin Strootman was digging deep, and Radja Nainggolan was top notch. Alisson is so good, truly and without challenge the best keeper in the league, and you could see his presence putting fear in the eyes of Leo Messi when he took his free kicks from the top of the box.
Claudio: All very great points. I thought Roma missed Nainggolan in the first match, and he played very well for the time he was on the pitch in the second match. In addition to all you have mentioned, Daniele De Rossi really stood out to me. I don't think I have seen him play like that in years and it was truly great to see him at his best again for a full match. I also believe that his experience in these types of matches for Italy and Roma in the past really gave a sense of calm to the rest of the squad. What were your thoughts on De Rossi? Out of all of the players mentioned, who do you think stood out the most for Roma that night? (Tough question I know!)
Wayne: Looking at all the players it really is so hard to pick just one, but you have to select the captain as being the Man of the Match. His performance was out of this world. De Rossi's career has never been free from criticism, and the unlucky touch in the first leg was so unjust as he was having an awesome game. Nor have I seen him play like that in years, and it could go down as the greatest performance of his life. The first ball to Edin was a masterclass, the perfect rainbow that hit the pot of gold at the end. Then to step up and take the penalty kick for the second goal took nerves that none of us can comprehend. Colder than ice. I have met Danielino in real life, and he is such a humble and nice guy - he took time to read an article with me that I wrote about him. To see one of my role models put in that performance, and make history, is a dream come true. I'm so happy for him.
Claudio: I could imagine that personal touch of you actually meeting him made it even more special for you! So moving on to the semis, who would you most like to face and how can you rank the teams in order from 1-3? Number one being the team you would most like to face...
Wayne: I would like to face Liverpool. In Roma's only European final, hearts were broken when they lost to the Reds in the 1983/84 European Cup Final. Liverpool won in a penalty shootout, in Rome. It was a tragedy, and I don't think the fans who experienced that will ever accept that day until retribution is served. I will make a trip from New Jersey to Anfield if that's the case. The last team I would want to face is Real Madrid - they are Europe's most dominant team of all time. Bayern Munich don't scare me, but Lewandowski is undeniable. Most of all, I want another shot at Liverpool.
Claudio: I agree, I would love to see them face Liverpool. I know they have history there, but more importantly I would like to see Salah face Roma. If anyone knows how to stop him it has to be the giallorossi players who played with him! Real Madrid are definitely the most talented so I agree with that as well. I think on its day though, Roma's midfield can compete with anyone and that is a real strength of this team in big matches.
Lastly, turning to Serie A. How great would it be if the derby is played between a team in the Champions League semifinal and a team that is in the Europa League semis (if Lazio pass through this evening)? What are your expectations for the derby and Roma's fight for a top four spot?
Wayne: When it comes to Lazio, I think very little of them. Any Roma fan's external goal is for Lazio to do as worse as possible, with Serie D or bankruptcy being optimal. Jokes aside, it would be a testament for Italian football. However, Lazio do not have a long term plan, and will forever be a boutique class under this ownership, so this is an awesome run for them. The Derby is a match within itself, which doesn't reflect form or patterns. It's always a fight to the death. Before the advance over Barcelona, it felt like Roma were about to start fighting between the fourth and fifth spot, but this belief they have found will carry them comfortably into the top four. Rome has a growing positive mentality, and that fighting spirit will become consistent with a little more time. The Lupi are so close now.
Claudio: Quick final score prediction for the derby?
Wayne: 1-1 draw
If you enjoyed this article please share it and as always, give a follow to Wayne on Twitter (@WayneinRome) and myself @CPerfetto11.