Apprentice challenges Master when 1988 Uefa Cup winners Bayer Leverkusen travel to the Olympic Stadium in Italy’s capital to face reigning Uefa Europa Conference League winners AS Roma on Thursday night. Hosts boss Jose Mourinho has seen it all, been there done that, with last year’s victory in the continent’s third tier competition making him the first manager to make a clean sweep of Europe’s inter club tournaments.
Visitors Leverkusen’s boss Xabi Alonso is making waves in his first managerial appointment and was actually a player when Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool eliminated Mourinho’s Chelsea in the semifinals en route to winning the 2005 Champions League final in Istanbul, Turkey. The Portuguese tactician was a reigning European champion at the time, having won the world’s most famous club tournament a year earlier with FC Porto. Mourinho had of course won the Uefa Cup with the same side in 2002/3 and lifted the Europa League with Manchester United in 2016.
The former Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid coach will need to be at the top of his wits if the 1984 European Cup losing finalists are to prevail over a Leverkusen side that has lost just one of its last 15 matches. The visitors twinkle toed attack of Moussa Diaby, Florian Wirtz, Jeremy Frimpong and Sarder Azmoun will particularly take some stopping after it dismantled Belgium upstarts Union St Gilliose 5-2 on aggregate in the quarterfinals.
Though Roma needed extra time to progress past Dutch Eredivisie champions elects Feyenoord of Rotterdam, Mourinho’s side start as bookmakers slight favourites on account of his European pedigree. The club’s faithful are certainly counting on him to turn around dodgy form that has seen the Romans win just four out of their last ten outings.
Juventus are being tipped by bookmakers to overcome Jose Luis Mendilibar’s Europa League specialists Sevilla but Turin club boss Massimiliano Allegri knows better than to underestimate a team that has won the competition a record five times. The Andalusian club’s record of six victories in their last ten matches betters the Old Lady’s trio of wins over the same period.
AS Roma v Bayer Leverkusen,
Juventus v Sevilla