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Champions League Review: Roma Beat Bayer Leverkusen

updated-champions-league-trophyRoma moved above Bayer Leverkusen and into second place in Champions League Group E thanks to a dramatic 3-2 win at the Stadio Olimpico.

The sides shared eight goals at the BayArena a fortnight ago and it did not take long – 100 seconds – for the first to arrive here. Edin Džeko fed Mohamed Salah who turned on the turbo to bear down on Bernd Leno and slot the hosts in front from a lightning counterattack.

Gervinho twice got caught offside as Roma’s game sometimes proved too quick even for their own players, but it was an approach they continued to use to lethal effect, Džeko completing their next break with a composed side-foot past Leno to make it two. Džeko could have added a third as Roma’s roving trio raced forward again, but he lifted Salah’s pass over the crossbar, leaving a sense that the Giallorossi may be punished for their profligacy.

Indeed they were, right at the start of the second half, when Kevin Kampl forced his way to the goal line and pulled the ball back for Mehmedi to fire into the roof of the net, before Hernández accounted for a sense of dejà vu as he brought the guests level at 2-2. Just as Roma had recovered from two down two weeks ago, Leverkusen did the same in the Eternal City, but the script was to have a twist in Rome.

Bayer captain Ömer Toprak sent Salah tumbling inside the area, eliciting a red card and giving Miralem Pjanić the chance to put Roma back in front. The midfielder grabbed it to take Roma a point above the Bundesliga club and into second spot in the group.

Key player: Mohamed Salah
Salah’s pace is no secret, but when it comes combined with the positional awareness and combination play he showed here, the 23-year-old is almost impossible to keep tabs on. Bayer full-back Wendell may have nightmares of the Egyptian international racing away from him in a blur on more than one occasion. Salah also earned Roma their match-winning penalty.

Where the match was won
Roma coach Rudi Garcia had hit the nail on the head with his pre-match assessment of Leverkusen, branding them deadly in attack but deficient at the back. His priority was to contain their front men yet have his own team ready to strike on the break, and as Leverkusen continued to commit too many forward, it was a ploy that paid dividends as the pace and movement of Roma’s attacking trio tore the Leverkusen rearguard to shreds in the first half. They then had enought energy to rescue a victory which, like a fortnight ago, the Giallorossi nearly threw away.