Still to get the better of their Norwegian nemesis over three previous encounters this season, Roma host Europa Conference League quarter-final opponents Bodo/Glimt at Stadio Olimpico on Thursday.
The teams reconvene in the Eternal City for the second leg, having been separated by a late goal in Glimt’s 2-1 win last week – their second straight home victory over the Serie A side.
Followed by some fiery confrontations between members of the Roma coaching staff and their opposite numbers from Norway, the first leg of this tie not only showcased the hosts’ remarkable resilience but also the limitations of Jose Mourinho’s side.
Leading at half-time thanks to captain Lorenzo Pellegrini, the Giallorossi were unable to maintain their advantage at Aspmyra Stadion; ultimately following up October’s 6-1 humbling with a 2-1 defeat when Hugo Vetlesen notched an 89th-minute winner for the hosts.
Criticised for his actions and comments before and after the game, Mourinho has clearly developed a complex about Kjetil Knutsen’s team, who also held Roma to a 2-2 group stage draw at Stadio Olimpico, and another slice of his credibility is at stake when the Norwegian champions return to Roman soil.
Defeat last Thursday, though, finally brought a nine-match unbeaten run to an end for the side that sits fifth in Serie A, and was their first since being eliminated from the Coppa Italia back in February.
Roma previously returned from the international break – before which they beat Lazio 3-0 in the Derby della Capitale – with a 1-0 win at Sampdoria, before getting the better of rock-bottom Salernitana last weekend, when Chris Smalling was the unlikely match winner in another late comeback.
There have recently been several such revivals, including at the very end of the previous round in Europe, when a 2-1 aggregate victory over Eredivisie outfit Vitesse was sealed by Tammy Abraham’s 90th-minute strike.
So, despite their travails against Thursday’s opponents, Mourinho’s men – who have won five of their last six Serie A matches – return to continental competition with an excellent record this season, two results apart.
They actually beat Glimt to top spot in the group stage by racking up 18 goals – the most of any team in the Conference League’s inaugural season – and with a first European trophy since 1961 in their sights, they will therefore remain confident of taking one step closer to May’s final.
One of two reigning domestic champions taking part in the last eight, along with Czech double-winners Slavia Prague, the improbable success story of Bodo/Glimt keeps opening new chapters by the month.
Last week’s defeat of Roma in the Arctic Circle represents a fourth win from their last five European outings, and having also successfully defended the Eliteserien title, they have a precious lead to protect in the second leg of the club’s first-ever European quarter-final.
After dropping into the Conference League earlier this season, Den Gule Horde went unbeaten through the group phase and their 12-point tally proved sufficient to earn the runners-up spot behind Roma.
Knutsen’s men then brushed aside Celtic – winning both legs and progressing 5-1 on aggregate – before enjoying an extra-time victory over Group D winners AZ Alkmaar in the last 16.
Sunday’s 2-1 win at Sandefjord – when Ulrik Saltnes, scorer of the opening goal against Roma last week, netted the winner – also ensures their latest domestic campaign continues with an unbeaten start.
Furthermore, Glimt were only denied by Roger Ibanez’s late goal on their last visit to the iconic Olimpico, so will be suitably confident prior to round four of this fascinating rivalry – but equally wary of their hosts’ ability to rise from the dead.
Roma Europa Conference League form:
Roma form (all competitions):
Bodo/Glimt Europa Conference League form:
Bodo/Glimt form (all competitions):
We say: Roma 2-1 Bodo/Glimt (Roma win on penalties)
This four-part epic battle between two unlikely opponents will conclude on Italian soil, which gives the hosts a slight edge in this second leg.
Up against well-organised visitors with nothing to lose, the Giallorossi are set to come under intense pressure, but possessing sufficient firepower to score twice, they should take the tie into extra time and even penalties.