Roma will take a slight advantage to their Champions League last-16 second leg after they beat Porto 2-1 at home.
After a tight opening 70 minutes, Roma stormed to a 2-0 lead with Nicolo Zaniolo scoring twice in quick succession. But Adrian Lopez pulled one back for Porto with what could prove to be a vital away goal for the Portuguese side.
So, who were the winner and losers on the night?
Winner: Nicolo Zaniolo
It may not go mentioned much, but Roma’s deal to send Radja Nainggolan to Inter Milan may just have been one of the moves of last summer.
Roma might have been losing a midfield general in Nainggolan, but it brought the arrival of exciting teenager Nicolo Zaniolo for the minimal fee of €4.5m.
70′: ⚽️ Nicolò Zaniolo
77′: ⚽️ Nicolò Zaniolo
Two goals in his first Champions League knockout game for Roma’s 19-year-old. 🌟 pic.twitter.com/KxqN5wwIHp
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) February 12, 2019
Zaniolo endured a fairly quiet start to life at Roma but has really burst into life these past few months. The 19-year-old got his first goal for the club shortly after Christmas and what a goal it was.
Against Sassuolo, the midfielder ran in on goal from the right flank, beat Gian Ferrari with a delightful Cruyff turn and dummy causing the defender to go to ground. The dummy also sent goalkeeper Andrea Consigli to the floor, leaving Zaniolo with no option but the delicately chip the ball over both and into the back of the net.
The goal brought early comparisons with Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba, which were furthered by Italy manager Roberto Mancini, who said: ““Zaniolo plays as a ‘trequartista’ at the moment for Roma, but considering his athleticism and technique, I see him as a box-to-box midfielder in the style of Pogba.”
And, after his performance against Porto, it’s not hard to see why.
Roma weren’t playing too well and looked to be struggling to break down a tough Porto defence. But something clicked in the second half, with Edin Dzeko bullying his opponents and Zaniolo profiting.
Nicolò Zaniolo’s game by numbers vs. Porto:
4 fouls won
3 shots on target
A star in the making. pic.twitter.com/bVJRleMCBl
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 12, 2019
First, the teenager was on the receiving end of a Dzeko pass to drill the ball past Casillas before grabbing his second of the game moments later, reacting quickest after the Bosnian’s shot had rebounded off the post.
There would be no dream hat-trick for the youngster as he was taken off with five minutes remaining with Eusebio Di Fransisco looking to secure the win, but Zaniolo certainly made his mark on a night the real Paul Pogba was floundering in Manchester.
Loser: Aleksandar Kolarov
Roma have not had the best of times this season, but Aleksandar Kolarov seems to be getting the most criticism from home fans.
It all started prior to Roma’s 7-1 Coppa Italia defeat to Fiorentina in Kolarov took exception to heckling from the Roma Ultras, who responded with more abuse aimed at the Serbian.
The abuse led Roma boss Eusebio Di Francesco to interject, reminding the fans of a time when Kolarov played for a month with a broken foot, proving his dedication to the club.
But it appears things have not been forgotten at the Stadio Olimpico with Kolarov the target of an insulting banner in addition to negative chants.
Winner: Edin Dzeko
Edin Dzeko has been Roma’s main man for goals this season, but with just 10 in 24 matches across all competitions, the Bosnian’s record is not one you’d want from a top-class striker.
Of those 10 goals, five have been scored in Champions League home matches, so Roma would have understandably been hoping Dzeko could add to the tally on Tuesday.
Leading the line against Porto, Dzeko did not have a bad game. The 32-year-old put himself about a lot, giving Porto’s defenders a tough physical battle, while also finding space well to exploit.
But for the most part, it looked as though Dzeko would be let down by his finishing. The Bosnian produced the highlight of the first half, cutting inside the area with a move which deserved a goal, but his effort from close range was straight against the right post and bounced away.
And it was more of the same in the second half as he could not test Iker Casillas in the Porto goal. That was until he decided to turn provider.
The Bosnian picked the ball up inside the Porto box with his back to goal, managing to hold off a push from Pepe before playing it across to Zaniolo who finished neatly.
Dzeko was involved again in the second goal as his shot rebounded off the left post to the feet of Zaniolo.
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Winner: Eder Militao
Porto may have conceded two goals in quick succession, but for most of the match, the Portuguese side defended fairly well.
Lining up with Eder Militao, Felipe, Pepe and Alex Telles across the back, Porto made it hard for their hosts to break them down at times, giving Edin Dzeko very little luck in the first half.
But there star man among the four was highly-sought after right-back Eder Militao, who showed just why he is being tipped with a move to the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Liverpool.
The Brazilian ensured Stephan El Shaarawy had a tough game during his time on the pitch, winning five of his six attempted tackles – the joint-most alongside team-mate Otavio.
He also made two clearances and two interceptions to go with three aerial duels won, to round of what was a very impressive defensive performance.
Porto will need Militao to be on his game once more as they look to overturn the tie next month, but a similarly solid performance may just bring the end of his time at the club.
Loser: Yacine Brahimi
Sometimes things just don’t go your way, no matter how hard you try.
During his time on the pitch, Yacine Brahimi was by far and away Porto’s best attacking player, and the heart of everything positive the Portuguese side did.
But his game was cut short at the wrong moment for Porto, with Brahimi finally succumbing to the rough treatment afforded to him by the Roma midfield – punishment for his trickery.
The forced change saw the game swing in Roma’s favour as Adrian Lopez could not have the same effect on the game as his Algerian team-mate. It may not be a coincidence that Porto conceded just two minutes after Brahimi was taken off.
Although the game ended in defeat, Porto are certainly still in the tie with a 2-1 scoreline a dangerous one for Roma to protect. But Porto may have to fight back without their star man in Brahimi if his injury is severe enough to rule him out for a few weeks.
The last-16 of the Champions League brought a historic moment with VAR being used for the first time in the competition.
As it has done at the World Cup and various leagues around Europe, VAR is in the Champions League to offer support to the referees when making decisions conversing match-changing situations. These include goals, incidents in the penalty area, red cards and mistaken identity.
In the first half at the Stadio Olimpico we had a glimpse of VAR being in use to check a potential Roma penalty, with the ball striking Pepe’s hand. But the decision was not given and did not stop the game in any way as the check was done and decision given to the referee while play was still going on.
VAR will get bigger tests and scrutiny in the Champions League this season, but it was a smooth start for the technology in Rome.