Mohamed Salah, Miralem Pjanic star as Roma hammer Fiorentina
Not even Luciano Spalletti could have imagined that his return to the Roma bench would have started anywhere near as well as it has. His side's 4-1 hammering of Fiorentina on Friday night was their seventh Serie A win in a row and has given them a key advantage in Champions League qualification.
The reason for that is the way Spalletti has got his team playing and the discipline he seems to have instilled in a side that just two months ago looked finished. Mohamed Salah gave Fiorentina fans more reason to be bitter about his controversial summer loan move to Roma from Chelsea, setting up Stephan El Shaarawy's 22nd minute opener, and extending the home side's lead two minutes later with the help of a massive deflection off Davide Astori before sealing the points just before the hour mark when he stroked Miralem Pjanic's magnificent chipped pass between the hapless Ciprian Tatarusanu's legs.
Both Salah and Pjanic were superb on Saturday, expertly exploiting the acres of space in behind Fiorentina's naive backline to devastating effect. Also excellent were El Shaarawy -- who now must be close to cementing his place in Italy's side for Euro 2016 -- and Diego Perotti, who again fulfilled the role of false No. 9 to perfection and was duly rewarded with a goal seven minutes before the break.
Roma also showed their new mental toughness when they failed to panic after Lucas Digne gave Fiorentina a lifeline on the stroke of half-time when he stupidly chopped down Cristian Tello and allowed Josip Ilicic to pull one back from the penalty spot.
In the end there was even time for a 15-minute Francesco Totti run-out, allowing the Stadio Olimpico to give him a rousing standing ovation that would have turned into a roar had his beautiful injury time free-kick been a couple of inches to the right.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Wojciech Szczesny, 5 -- Given the tiny amount of actual goalkeeping he's having to do at the minute, it's a wonder he doesn't work more on his poor distribution.
DF Alessandro Florenzi, 6 -- Was extremely lucky to not give away a penalty but was otherwise perfectly solid at right-back.
DF Kostas Manolas, 7 -- Alongside Antonio Rudiger he managed to keep Nikola Kalinic and Federico Bernardeschi very quiet indeed.
DF Antonio Rudiger, 7 -- The German is looking more solid than ever defensively, but was very jittery on the ball and was clearly intimidated by Fiorentina's high pressing.
DF Lucas Digne, 5 - Was beaten by Tello in giving away the penalty that gave Fiorentina a brief hope of a comeback, and never looked comfortable against the pacey Spaniard.
MF Miralem Pjanic, 9 -- Excelled after a shaky start in which he struggled with Fiorentina's intense pressure. The Bosnian is clearly loving life under Spalletti.
MF Seydou Keita, 6 -- Quietly hummed away in front of the defence, keeping the ball moving and letting his more mobile teammates do the bulk of the attacking.
MF Radja Nainggolan, 7 -- The Belgian is everywhere in midfield at the moment, chasing down opponents and snapping at their heels.
FW Mohamed Salah, 9 -- There was an absolute chasm between Fiorentina's centre-backs and Salah, with the help of Pjanic, exploited it to the full. A brilliant display.
FW Diego Perotti, 7 -- The Argentine is doing a fantastic job as a false No. 9 and thoroughly deserved his second Roma goal after having already hit the post.
FW Stephan El Shaarawy, 8 -- He is a player reborn. The striker's opener was a simple enough finish but the tricky set up for Perotti's goal was a sign of his confidence.
MF William Vainqueur, 7 -- A smooth midfielder who manages to slot in whenever Spalletti calls upon him; the Frenchman barely put a foot wrong as a substitute for Perotti.
Francesco Totti, N/R -- Almost signed off a perfect night when his delicious free kick skimmed off the post.
Edin Dzeko, N/R -- The Bosnian replaced Salah with four minutes left and had hardly any time to make an impact.
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