Roma beat Udinese as Edin Dzeko and Kostas Manolas impress
If the sign of a good team is winning comfortably when not at your best, then Roma showed themselves to be a quality outfit on Sunday.
Edin Dzeko and Alessandro Florenzi led the way in a 2-1 defeat of struggling Udinese, which gave Roma their eighth Serie A win and, thanks to Fiorentina's shock 1-1 draw at home to bottom club Hellas Verona, strengthened their grip on third place.
That Roma are now in the box seat for Champions League qualification, despite never getting out of second gear at the Stadio Fruili, is a huge bonus for coach Luciano Spalletti. Yes, Udinese were weak opposition and have fans in open revolt but, in a league as tight as Serie A, being able to win on cruise control is extremely encouraging for the run-in.
Just as heartening was seeing Edin Dzeko at his bustling best as a target man. The Bosnian has had such a bad time of it that rumours abound of his departure after just one season in Rome, but he opened the scoring in the 15th minute after latching onto Mohamed Salah's deft through ball and generally linked up well with the Salah, Stephan El Shaarawy and Diego Perotti.
Roma should have been home and hosed by half-time but missed several chances. Udinese came back in the second period and were unlucky not to equalise when Cyril Thereau's deflected shot was saved well by Wojciech Szczesny and Duvan Zapata hit the post from the resulting corner.
The hosts finally scored through Bruno Fernandes' low 85th-minute strike but, by that time, Alessandro Florenzi had already doubled Roma's lead with a deft touch and toe-poke from substitute Miralem Pjanic's exquisite, chipped through ball.
Roma host Inter at the Stadio Olimpico on Saturday knowing that they have a great chance to create a buffer between them and their rivals for the final Champions League spot. If they carry on the way they are going, maybe they'll be able to aim even higher.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Wojciech Szczesny, 7 -- In a match that should have been won before half-time, the Pole made some timely saves to ensure Roma didn't slip up.
DF Alessandro Florenzi, 6 -- Scored an absolute corker of a goal to seal the three points but too often was sloppy in possession, in particular when Udinese applied pressure early in the second half.
DF Kostas Manolas, 8 -- The Greek kept up his excellent recent form in central defence, snapping into tackles and marshalling the backline.
DF Ervin Zukanovic, 7 -- Roma are hardly suffering during Antonio Rudiger's injury lay-thanks to the way Zukanovic has slotted in alongside Manolas. Always dependable.
DF Lucas Digne, 6 -- Charged up and down the left flank as usual but is continuing to struggle with supplying a telling contribution with his final ball.
MF Radja Nainggolan, 6 -- Supplied bite in midfield while managing to not overdo it after escaping with a booking early on for a near neck-high challenge on Francesco Lodi.
MF Seydou Keita, 7 -- The coolest of cool heads, he was just what Roma needed when spirited Udinese came back in the second half.
FW Mohamed Salah, 6 -- Not at his lethal best but still managed to slip through a peach of a pass for Dzeko's well-taken opener.
FW Diego Perotti, 6 -- Wasn't quite as incisive in behind Dzeko as he has been as a false nine. It almost felt as though the Bosnian was getting in Perotti's way.
FW Stephan El Shaarawy, 6 -- After a bright opening the Italian faded badly and it was no surprise to seem him replaced by Pjanic as Spalletti looked to beef up his midfield.
FW Edin Dzeko, 8 -- Came back from his dreadful night in Madrid on Tuesday to set Roma on the way to a routine win with a classy finish. Excellent as a target man.
MF Miralem Pjanic, 8 -- Got his 10th assist of the season just minutes after coming on with a beautiful pass for Florenzi. Pure class.
MF Kevin Strootman, NR -- Replaced Salah in second-half stoppage time as his long recovery from chronic knee problems continued.
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