José Mourinho is gone, but the desire for revenge remains. With a good deal of anger in their stomach, German soccer champions Bayer Leverkusen flew to Rome for the new edition of the Europa League semi-final (Thursday, 9 p.m./RTL). And that even though the spoilsport from last year is no longer there.

“Football has changed a bit. But there is still a revenge open. With the whole club and the whole team,” said national player Robert Andrich. “We’re all excited for this revenge,” said Jonathan Tah. And Patrik Schick, who played for Roma from 2017 to 2019, also explained: “All the players and everyone in the club remember how they played last year. And of course we all want to give them that feeling back.”

From “disgusting” to “disgrace”

In addition to the triple of championship, cup victory and Europa League triumph, it is also the look back at the games from the previous year that serves as motivation. “We remember it very well,” said Tah. After a 0-1 draw in Rome, Bayer only managed a 0-0 draw in the second leg despite 23-1 shots on goal. And the destructive style of play, but above all the provocative time play and the theatrical interludes after duels, angered the Leverkusen team so much that they later publicly used terms such as “disgusting”, “insolence” and “disgrace”.

Sports director Simon Rolfes declared that the referee had been “taken for a ride”, captain Lukas Hradecky demonstratively kept his fingers crossed for Rome’s final opponent FC Sevilla – and Mourinho spoke with relish of an “almost epic game”.

Déjà vu reopens wounds

“The Special One” Mourinho, who was once a committed supporter of current Leverkusen champion Xabi Alonso as a coach at Real Madrid, was placed on leave in January. Successor Daniele De Rossi is completely different as a guy and as a coach. “He was my player when I was coach in Rome in 2004. He’s a great guy,” said DFB sports director Rudi Völler, for whom Roma is the second club close to his heart after Leverkusen, to “Sport Bild”: “He deserves it , because he also lets other, more attacking types of football play and is successful with it.” The coach, who was not involved last year, also avoids the confrontation and praises Leverkusen for their 46 competitive games without defeat: “We are facing an undefeated and apparently invincible team.”

But many players from the previous year are still there and the déjà vu experience reopens the wounds from that time. Meanwhile, Coach Alonso is making sure, as always, that such sideshows don’t take up so much space and that his players don’t get too excited. “A semi-final is enough motivation, we don’t need anything extra,” he said: “It’s not revenge. We’re playing against Rome again, but it’s a new situation: They have a new coach. It’s the second chance. They want it we use it and achieve a better result.”

Alonso admitted again that last year’s game “caused pain that lasted for a while. But we used that pain throughout the entire competition. Now we have a second chance.” However, he did not talk much about last year’s games before the next trip to Rome.

The starting point for the series

Rolfes also urges prudence. “Overdoing it is never good,” he said. “You only achieve dominance if you play with your head and are not just guided by emotions. But emotions are part of it and are also a driving force. We definitely have that. That’s why we’re all happy that we’re going to Rome.”

Rolfes explained that last year’s frustration in Rome was the starting point for the current dream season. “Last season’s Europa League was also a foundation stone for the championship. We drew a lot of strength from this disappointment,” he said.