Barcelona were once again involved in a miraculous Champions League comeback, but unlike against Paris-Saint Germain, the Catalans were on the wrong side. Outclassed from the opening whistle, Barcelona were playing catch-up against a highly motivated Roma side. Buoyed by an early Edin Džeko strike, Roma were flying high while Barcelona were looking to defend the lead with disastrous results, giving up two goals in the second half, courtesy of Daniele De Rossi from a penalty kick and Kostas Manolas.
Barcelona started the match with the same eleven as they did the first leg, and despite Roma’s high press it was the Catalans who threatened first. The first scoring chance of the match came in the fourth minute when Lionel Messi found Sergi Roberto on the right side. In space, Roberto had time to take aim, but fired a relatively tame shot right at Alisson Becker who made the easy save.
Even though Barcelona had the first look on goal, the hosts took the lead in the 6th minute. Džeko eluded Jordi Alba and Samuel Umtiti to receive a deep ball from de Rossi to get into a scoring position. From a good spot, the Bosnian flicked the ball on goal and beat Marc-Andre ter Stegen to put Roma in front and make it a two goal game on aggregate.
Smelling blood, Roma continued to attack, pinning Barcelona deep into their area looking to make it just a one goal game. The hosts had a good chance to do so in the 14th minute when Patrik Schick got onto the receiving end of a corner kick. Ter Stegen left his line but couldn’t get to the ball. Schick had an empty net to shoot at, but his try went high and wide of the net.
The Catalans were clearly struggling on the pitch, having all kinds of problems in possession with Roma’s high press, and not looking comfortable in defense where Džeko proved a difficult man to contain. Even the additions of Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta – compared to the Leganes game - didn’t add a whole lot of calming presence to the team. Roma were playing very aggressively, trying to force the issue, committing an impressive six fouls in the opening 20 minutes, while Barcelona didn’t make a single one.
Despite all off Barcelona’s star-power, the Catalans oftentimes found it incredibly difficult to simply get the ball across the midfield line. Roma were playing man-to-man defense all over the pitch and not even ter Stegen could find an open man on goal-kicks. Roma’s plan of breaking up play in whatever way possible was working very well as the Catalans looked far from comfortable on the pitch. From turnovers that were inevitable, Roma tried to launch counter-attacks whenever possible.
The hosts had a good chance in the 29th minute with Schick heading the ball from inside the area, but missed the target. Two minutes later, Schick looked to shoot on goal again, but was block by Gerard Pique deep in the Barcelona area. Roma were outworking Barcelona in all facets of the game – they were faster to the loose ball, and quicker and more determined on the pitch. Seemingly out of nowhere, Džeko had a chance to double Roma’s lead in the 37th minute, but ter Stegen made a great save to preserve Barcelona’s lead on aggregate.
After showing some life in the early stages of the match, Barcelona didn’t really get deep into Roma territory until the 40th minute when Suarez won a free kick 26 yards from goal. However, similarly to the try he had earlier in the half, Messi’s shot again missed the target quite badly. Surprisingly, even with a couple long stoppages in play, referee Clément Turpin whistled for halftime as soon as the 45 minutes were over. Roma went into the break up by one, but still needed a pair of goals to advance.
The main questions before the second half was whether Roma can keep up the pace they set up in the first half and if Barcelona can get anything going. As it turned out, the answers were yes to the first nad not to the second. While Barcelona looked to play more aggressive football, playing higher up but again the Catalans were outperformed by their counterparts. Barcelona were seeing more of the ball, but in the 57th minute, clumsy defending from Pique brought down Džeko inside the area for a penalty. De Rossi took responsibility and emphatically brought Roma within a single goal. Ter Stegen did guess right, but the Italian’s shot was too powerful for the German to have any chance.
With their seemingly safe lead reduced to the tiniest of margins, Barcelona pinned Roma deep – as if Barcelona needed some incentive to play, earning their first corner kick of the match in the 63rd minute. Even though Barcelona didn’t create anything of from the set-play, it was a sign that the Catalans were still alive and kicking. But as a result of Roma’s constant pressure all over the pitch, Barcelona did not look comfortable on the ball at any point of the match.
Roma, however, remained the better team on the pitch and they continued their search for what could’ve been the tie-decided goal. In the 68th minute, Radja Nainggolan had a chance to put Roma up by three, but ter Stegen made the save. The very next minute De Rossi headed one just wide of the goal. In the 73rd minute, Roma refreshed their attacking ranks Cengiz Ünder replaced Schick.
A burst of aggressive play from Barcelona caused a turnover in the 74th, leading to a counter attack with Messi taking aim from the edge of the area, but his shot went right at Alisson. Eusebio Di Francesco brought on more attacking dynamite moments later in the likes of Stephan El Shaarawy who took the place of midfielder Nainggolan. Roma had a brilliant chance to put them in front on aggregate in the 79th minute. Alessandro Florenzi sent a perfect cross to the far side where El Shaarawy snuck behind Nelson Semedo to tap the ball on goal, but was denied by ter Stegen.
Ernesto Valverde made his first substitution in the 81st minute when he took of Iniesta and replaced him with Andre Gomes. Roma continued with their attacking efforts and they were rewarded with the aggregate lead in the 83rd minute. Manolas outmuscled Semedo to the swung in corner kick and flicked the ball out of ter Stegen’s reach in inside the far post.
Now in desperate need of a goal, Valverde brought on Ousmane Dembele in place of Semedo. The Catalans had a chance to go back in front in the 86th minute, but just before Pique could tap the ball in, Manolas cleared the ball away. Paco Alcacer also joined play in place of Busquets as Barcelona threw everything they had at the Italians. Moments later Manolas made another crucial clearance. While Barcelona tried to reverse the travesty that was the previous 85 minutes, Roma, who was the only team that showed up in Rome, deservedly advanced to the semi-final.
Barcelona’s hopes of a treble therefore ended in the venue of such previous joy, the Stadio Olympico, and they can only blame themselves.