Job Done For Roma Against Palermo – The Real Test Of Title Ambitions Is Yet To Come

Il Tempo (Alessandro Austini) No, Roma didn’t amaze anyone yesterday evening. They needed to beat Palermo to close in on Juventus and keep pace with Milan in second place, and they did. They needed to know how to maintain their concentration once they were in front, and they did – more or less, with the exception of a few minutes when they were 2-0 up and when they conceded a fortunate goal to the Sicilians 10 minutes from the end. This team, worn out by a busy fixture schedule and ravaged by injuries, needed to be managed carefully: Spalletti succeeded in this, resting Florenzi for 45 minutes and briefly evaluating Strootman’s progress. The real test of their scudetto ambitions will be on Wednesday at home to Sassuolo, but yesterday’s 90 minutes are enough to cancel out the pent-up anger caused by the farcical finish in the Europa League.

Roma’s consistency in the league is intact: a 3rd win in a row, the best attack with 23 goals, and of those 17 have come at the Olimpico which is now as impregnable a fortress as the Juventus Stadium has always been for the Bianconeri. As for individual performances, the most important came from Dzeko, who increased his lead at the top of the goalscoring charts with his 8th of the season, a fantastic moment in his Roma career after he showed all the qualities of a great finisher. He is a complete striker and a rejuvenated one, who in 2 months has already scored the same amount of goals as he scored in the whole of last season.

The first half was forgettable, the few fans present in the Olimpico (25,000) had already used up their energy in applauding Cerezo and the other former greats who were inducted into the Hall of Fame before the game. Spalletti was forced into playing a makeshift defence with Emerson starting on the right in place of Florenzi, then going onto the left where he put in his best performance in a Giallorosso shirt. Roma didn’t raise the tempo, confident that the goals would come. It could have come sooner, had El Shaarawy not missed the target from a couple of yards out. Palermo, set up in a 3-4-2-1 formation by De Zerbi, almost never threatened the Giallorossi goal, and their only opportunities were the result of errors by Manolas and Juan Jesus, who both paid for them with yellow cards. At the other end, Dzeko was enjoying trying to exploit Salah’s pace, and it was through this route that the first goal came when the Egyptian’s shot went through Posavec’s legs for his 6th of the season, and his 4th in the last 5 home games. It was a rare moment of quality. When Diamanti’s free kick went over and the players went in for half time, there was the feeling that the Giallorossi were only doing the bare minimum required.

The second half began with Florenzi on in place of Juan Jesus, and Emerson pushed out onto the left. The lead was doubled thanks to a gift from Posavec, whose misjudgement allowed Paredes’ cross from a free kick to become his first goal at the Olimpico. Game over? Obviously not, because Roma’s tendency to relax nearly resulted in them conceding straight away, but Szczesny denied first Diamanti and then, brilliantly, Andelkovic. The dangers passed and Spalletti’s team were able to take control of the game again with relative comfort, and they were given an additional hand by Strootman when he came on for Nainggolan. The third came from a fine ball squeezed through by Florenzi to Dzeko, who controlled it before placing it into the bottom corner. The crowd were begging for Totti to come on and there was enough time to give him a few minutes, although while the captain was preparing to come on Quaison scored to spoil the mood a touch, helped by a decisive deflection off Manolas. There was still time for Roma to make life difficult for themselves, but they quickly extended their lead again through El Shaarawy. Now they’re preparing to pack their bags: 3 away games in a row – Sassuolo, Empoli and Vienna – with the goal of making them dream of bigger things in the league and of qualifying for the next phase in Europe.

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