Edin Dzeko, Mohamed Salah ensure Roma don't miss Francesco Totti
If Roma's players were affected by the row that exploded between coach Luciano Spalletti and club legend Francesco Totti, they certainly didn't show it on Sunday night. A 5-0 hammering of Sicilian travelling circus Palermo gave the Giallorossi their fifth straight win to keep them in fourth position, two points from the Champions League places, and let their captain know that they can get on just fine without him.
Spalletti dumped Totti out of the squad after he made his discontent both at not playing and a lack of contract extension public on the evening news, and with Totti looking on from the stands, Roma's other attackers went to town on poor old Palermo, with Edin Dzeko and Mohamed Salah both scoring twice and Seydou Keita bagging his first of the season.
The chanting of Totti's name that came at the start faded away and were replaced with cheers for man-of-the-match Dzeko and the return of Kevin Strootman, who ended his knee injury nightmare with a sedate 13 minutes in a match that had been long since won.
What Totti saw on Sunday was a team that doesn't revolve around him like it once did. Dzeko topped and tailed this routine win in the 30th and 89th minutes with a smart left-foot finish -- just seconds after possibly the miss of the season -- and a bullet header, while Salah's brace was possibly even better.
The Egyptian smashed home Dzeko's delicate flick from an acute angle to make it three on the hour and curled in an impossible-looking second from the byline just two minutes later. January signing Diego Perotti got in on the act with the cross for Dzeko's second, while Miralem Pjanic excelled in a more advanced role alongside Salah, setting up his compatriot's opener and offering the sort of creativity with which Totti made his career.
With third-placed Fiorentina hosting title hopefuls Napoli next week, Roma have a great chance to snatch the final Champions League spot with a win at Empoli. It couldn't have gone much better for Spalletti, who is moving an extremely talented squad in the right direction. Totti or no Totti.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Wojciech Szczesny, 5 -- Being paid to watch a game of football is a privilege few ever have. The Pole had it tonight.
DF Maicon, 6 -- Should have had an assist when Dzeko somehow scuffed his low cross wide from inches out, but can otherwise be happy with a solid display.
DF Kostas Manolas, 8 -- Roma didn't have much to deal with from a rank Palermo team, but the Greek marshalled the backline beautifully.
DF Antonio Rudiger, 8 -- The German has improved enormously under Spalletti and is starting to build a sound looking partnership with Manolas. He even looks calmer on the ball.
DF Lucas Digne, 6 -- Always keen to get forward and much improved defensively, but he needs to start being more accurate with his crossing.
MF Radja Nainggolan, 7 -- The Belgian looked a lot more comfortable in midfield than he has done in behind Dzeko. Always pleasingly snappy in the tackle.
MF Seydou Keita, 7 -- By toeing in Roma's second after Alessandro Florenzi's cross flashed to him, he ended any real chance of Palermo getting anything from the game, and was as slick in midfield as usual.
MF Alessandro Florenzi, 7 -- Provided Keita with his first of the season with a vicious corner, and drove at Palermo every chance he got. The Italian simply looks so much more at ease in midfield than at right-back.
FW Mohamed Salah, 8 -- Only just misses out on man-of-the-match to Dzeko, despite becoming Roma's leading scorer with 10 after a wonderful brace.
FW Edin Dzeko, 9 -- A smaller man would have wilted after that miss, but instead Dzeko rolled up his sleeves, banged in two excellent finishes and set up Salah's first. Without doubt his best performance of the season.
FW Miralem Pjanic, 8 -- The Bosnian was sublime, picking out Dzeko with his eighth assist of the season for the opener, hitting the post with a first half free kick and in general moving with extreme style and grace. A joy.
FW Iago Falque, N/R -- Had the hardest act to follow in coming on for Pjanic, and did little of note.
MF Kevin Strootman, N/R -- The Dutchman was welcomed back to the Stadio Olimpico with a rousing ovation, and smartly decided to keep it low-key. Fingers crossed this is a new dawn for a wonderful player.
FW Diego Perotti, N/R -- Replaced Salah with just minutes to go, but still had time to pick out Dzeko for his second with a peach of a cross.
Terry Daley is based in Rome and has covered Italian football for both Reuters and AFP. He has written for Vice Sports and Mirror Football. Twitter: @T_Daley