Leverkusen looking for Roma revenge in Europa League last four

Bayer Leverkusen are gunning for revenge on Thursday when they travel to a second Europa League semi-final against Roma in as many years after yet another late escape kept their remarkable unbeaten run intact.

Xabi Alonso’s Leverkusen staff were filmed celebrating Roma’s passage past AC Milan in the last eight, and Thursday’s first leg at the Stadio Olimpico is a chance to purge the memory of being ‘Mourinhoed’ in last season’s last four.

Already a formidable proposition last term, Leverkusen’s astonishing run of 46 matches without defeat and a first-ever Bundesliga title has them favourites to reach the final in Dublin.

And the team which broke Bayern Munich’s dominance of German football wants payback for the 1-0 aggregate loss which led to Roma’s agonising penalty shoot-out defeat to Sevilla in last season’s final.

“We have a desire for revenge, and a great hunger to win and get ourselves into the final,” said Leverkusen CEO Fernando Corro to Radio Marca.

“We want to get to the final at all costs.”

Leverkusen have scored 16 goals in stoppage time this season in all competitions, the latest coming in the 96th minute of Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Stuttgart.

And it’s been their habit for late strikes which has got them back to the Europa League semis, with former Roma man Patrik Schick scoring three times in added time over their 5-4 last-16 win against Qarabag and two more late goals helping them past West Ham in the quarter-finals.

Coach Alonso said his team’s ability to claw back results at the death was “hard to explain” after Robert Andrich snatched a point at Stuttgart but is hoping it holds out for the rest of the campaign.

“Our main objective was to become champions, but now we don’t want to stop,” added Alonso to Sky.

“The goal is clear. We want to stay undefeated until the end of the season.”

– ‘Unbeaten, not unbeatable’ –

Roma salvaged a late point of their own at Napoli on Sunday thanks to a late goal from Tammy Abraham, the England international striker’s first in a year after a long knee injury lay-off.

While Leverkusen can concentrate on Europe, Daniele De Rossi’s team have had a frantic last few weeks as they scrabble to take advantage of Serie A getting an extra spot in next year’s Champions League and aim for a third continental final in as many years.

Roma are undoubtedly tired after winning an Italian derby with Milan to reach the last four, a tie which was preceded by the Rome derby and followed by clashes with direct top-five rivals Bologna and Napoli, as well as their win at Udinese which had to be played over two acts after Evan Ndicka’s on-pitch collapse.

And their next two league fixtures are with Juventus and Atalanta — who are two points behind Roma — making the next fortnight crucial for De Rossi, who has turned his boyhood club around since replacing Jose Mourinho in January.

“I’ve got players who are trying to get something from this season,” said De Rossi to DAZN after the Napoli draw.

“We know it’s going to be difficult.. we have to find the results we need to get into the Champions League or win the Europa League.”

De Rossi will be boosted by the return of Romelu Lukaku alongside Paulo Dybala after the Belgium striker shook off a thigh problem.

Also back are Chris Smalling who missed Napoli with a groin injury and midfield lynchpin Leandro Paredes, suspended for the hard-fought draw at the weekend.

“We have to be perfect, because if they don’t ever lose and have the heart to score in the final seconds so often it means that they have something special,” said De Rossi.

“They’re unbeaten, but they’re not unbeatable.”


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