With a Europa League final against Sevilla on the horizon, Jose Mourinho’s AS Roma first had to contend with the visit of Salernitana on Monday evening. The visitors began the day sitting 15th in Serie A with top flight football already secured for next season following another solid campaign from the Campania based outfit. Recent form has seen Roma slip away from top four contention – and their only hope of playing in Europe’s elite competition will revolve around that tantalising tie against Sevilla.
ROM: Rui Patricio; Bove, Smalling, Ibañez; El Shaarawy, Camara, Tahirović, Wijnaldum, Zalewski; Solbakken, Belotti
SAL: Ochoa; Daniliuc, Gyömbér, Pirola; Kastanos, Bohinen, Coulibaly, Bradarić; Candreva, Piątek, Dia
An open first ten minutes at a sun-kissed Stadio Olimpico was followed by the opening goal, as Salernitana took the lead in the 12th minute thanks to an exquisite finish from veteran Antonio Candreva. A pinpoint lofted long ball from Coulibaly through the heart of the Roma defense was met first time by Candreva, who guided the ball beautifully past Rui Patricio into the top corner – netting his sixth goal of the season to give the visitors an unexpected lead.
Salernitana remained resolute following the opening goal, restricting Roma to minimal chances and strikes from distance. The away side continued to pose a threat through the pace and endeavour of Dia. Stefan El Shaarawy came closest for Roma in the opening half hour, as the Italian’s first-time curling strike whistled narrowly wide of Ochoa’s left-hand upright.
Roma struggled to impose themselves on the game for the remainder of the half, with one eye evidently on the forthcoming Europa League final in just nine days time. Nicola Zalewski looked to provide Roma with some much needed impetus, but his whipped free-kick flew straight into the arms of the grateful Ochoa.
The hosts thought they had found an equaliser late in first half stoppage time but Ibañez’s close range finish following a corner was ruled out due to an unfortunate hand ball from Belotti – much to the disgust of the typically animated Mourinho. Referee Andrea Colombo brought an entertaining first half to a close with Salernitana deserving of their slender advantage.
The influential Lorenzo Pellegrini was thrown on by Mourinho to provide some spark for his side in the second half. The captain was involved immediately as his fierce free-kick resulted in the equaliser two minutes after the restart. Ochoa could only parry Pellegrini’s 25-yard piledriver, allowing El Shaarawy to react quickest and place a confident finish across the Mexican goalkeeper to the far corner.
A frenetic second half continued as Salernitana struck again in the 53rd minute to retake the lead. A floated diagonal ball across the box was controlled expertly by Polish striker Piątek whose deflected cross was swept home by Boulaye Dia with an excellent improvised finish – the sixteenth goal of a terrific season for the rising Senegalese star.
With his side staring down the barrel of a sixth league match without a win, Jose Mourinho turned to former Chelsea man Tammy Abraham for inspiration – the rangey English striker replacing Wijnaldum. Salernitana’s offensive output had begun to diminish as Roma took control of possession in search of the equalising goal.
Roma’s quest for a second equaliser was succesful in the 82nd minute through an unlikely scorer. A devilish corner delivery from Pellegrini caused havoc in the visitors box, with the ball eventually falling kindly for substitute Nemanja Matić to smash home from ten yards, levelling the score at two apiece.
The match entered seven minutes of stoppage time with Roma looking to deliver a late sucker punch. That very punch was almost delivered, but not in the conventional way as a scuffle involving Dia and Zalewski resulted in a mass confrontation between both sets of players and staff. Referee Colombo was able to restore order but not before giving Salernitana manager Sousa his marching orders as the former Fiorentina manager’s choice words were deemed to have over-stepped the mark.
A frantic second half came to a conclusion with the spoils shared between the sides. It’s an excellent point for a plucky Salernitana team who have tasted defeat just once in their previous twelve fixtures. As for Roma, the two points dropped leaves a top four finish out of their hands. Mourinho’s men will see Europa League glory as the most likely avenue into Champions League qualification for next season. A trip to Florence to face Conference League finalists Fiorentina awaits Roma on Saturday – both sides are likely to field weakened teams ahead of their respective European finals. Salernitana welcome Udinese to the Arechi Stadium and will be looking finish a successful season strongly.