Feb 25, 2021 at 8pm UK
Dzeko (24'), Perez (75'), Mayoral (90+1')
Veretout (57')
FT(HT: 1-0)
Cristante (88' og.)

Preview: Roma vs. Braga - prediction, team news, lineups

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Sports Mole previews Thursday's Europa League clash between Roma and Braga, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.

Well placed to reach the last-16 of the Europa League for the second season in succession, Roma host underdogs Braga at Stadio Olimpico on Thursday evening, holding a 2-0 lead from the first leg in Portugal.

Faced with ten men for most of the second half last week, the Serie A side established a comfortable advantage and will be strong favourites to see off the talented Iberian outfit on home turf.

Match preview

In the clubs' first-ever meeting last Thursday, former Roma captain Edin Dzeko, now reintegrated into the team after a major fall-out with coach Paulo Fonseca, made his first start of this season's continental campaign, taking just five minutes to give the Italian giants the lead.

The Bosnian forward's strike - his 17th career goal in Europe's second-tier competition - was bookended by his erstwhile deputy Borja Mayoral's late goal to seal victory at Estadio Municipal. With the hosts down a man from the 54th minute, the Giallorossi were clinical in cementing a considerable double away goal advantage ahead of this week's Roman return.

Sitting fourth in the Serie A standings after an underwhelming goalless draw away to ten-man Benevento at the weekend, Roma generally dominate more modest opposition but have tended to crumble when facing their main top-four rivals, such as Juventus, Atalanta and city rivals Lazio - each of whom they have lost to in the past few weeks.

After crashing out of the Coppa Italia to humble Spezia last month and having subsequently dropped off the pace in the Scudetto race, Fonseca is now expected to steer his team on towards May's final in Gdansk by completing the job against his former Braga colleagues.

Despite their reverse to Roma last time out in Europe, Braga continued a fine run of league form at the weekend, which has seen them win five of their last six Liga NOS games. A 4-2 victory over Tondela sees Carlos Carvalhal's men sitting third in the Primeira Liga table, two points ahead of Benfica and just one point behind second-placed Porto.

Nonetheless, the disappointment emanating from their capitulation on home soil, as Ricardo Esgaio was dismissed before the hour mark, remains.

That defeat was their second straight home loss without scoring in the last-32 of the Europa League, as the former finalists look set to miss out on a spot in the final 16 once again.

Precedent is also against them, as Braga have never overturned any UEFA tie in which they lost the first leg at home, the most recent of six such instances being the 2015-16 Europa League quarter-final against Shakhtar Donetsk. In fact, the only time they have ever won the second leg after losing the first at Estadio Municipal was back in 2012, versus Besiktas, when they went out on aggregate in any case.

To date, the stars of this year's previously positive campaign have been Ricardo Horta (the diminutive ex-Malaga man has three goals in the competition so far) and Galeno - the Europa League's top assist-provider, with five - as the Minhotos have racked up 14 goals in seven outings; leaking 12 at the other end.

Surely they will need one or even both to produce some further magic in the Italian capital this time out, if they are to keep their name in the hat for the next round.

Roma Europa League form: DWWWLW
Roma form (all competitions): WWLWWD

Braga Europa League form: WLDWWL
Braga form (all competitions): WDDWLW

Team News

Roma, who routinely field a three-man central defence, had only two fit senior centre-backs available at the weekend, after losing Bryan Cristante and Roger Ibanez to injury during the jaunt to Portugal. Cristante limped off just 10 minutes into the game, while Ibanez had to be substituted in the second half due to a thigh strain.

A serious defensive headache for Paulo Fonseca has barely eased since, as options such as Chris Smalling, Marash Kumbulla, Davide Santon and Riccardo Calafiori remain out of action, while Juan Jesus and Federico Fazio were not included on the UEFA list. Versatile midfielder Cristante may therefore be rushed back ahead of schedule and Leonardo Spinazzola can also continue to deputise in an unfamiliar role.

After impressing upon a rare start in the first leg, Amadou Diawara is poised to come back into the XI, with further changes also possible - including a return for Edin Dzeko and an opportunity for Stephan El Shaarawy - as Fonseca is mindful that his men must face Milan in the league just three days later.

For the visitors, Ricardo Esgaio will be ineligible due to suspension incurred for his red card in the first game and coach Carlos Carvalhal has several other absences to cover, including star centre-back David Carmo, who is now sidelined with an ankle injury. The much-coveted defender is set to be joined by Andre Castro, winger Iuri Medeiros and left-back Francisco Moura, all of whom remain out with injuries.

Andraz Sporar could struggle to regain his place in the starting lineup, having failed to score in four matches since his loan arrival from Sporting in January, with Abel Ruiz in contention for the nod as Braga's central striker. Experienced campaigner Nico Gaitan, formerly of Benfica and Atletico Madrid, comes back into the team in support of the front man.

Roma possible starting lineup:
Lopez; Mancini, Cristante, Spinazzola; Karsdorp, Diawara, Veretout, Peres; Pedro, El Shaarawy; Dzeko

Braga possible starting lineup:
Matheus; Ze Carlos, Tormena, Sequeira, Silva; Al Musrati, Fransergio, Gaitan; R. Horta, Galeno; Sporar

We say: Roma 2-2 Braga

Roma's much-changed XI could encounter a number of difficulties at the Olimpico, as Braga will not exit Europe lightly and could potentially punish their hosts' makeshift back line at least once.

However, the Giallorossi possess the final-third nous and individual quality required to get the job done and give them a shot in the arm ahead of a major Serie A clash with reeling Milan on Sunday.

Top tip

Our expert tipster partners at Sporita.com are predicting a home win in this match. Click here to find out what else they are predicting for this game and for more of their tried-and-tested football tips.Home Win:data

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