Szczesny, Fazio help Roma hold onto gritty win at Genoa
Roma started 2017 by taking three points from one of Serie A's toughest grounds on Sunday afternoon, with a gritty win in icy temperatures and on a bumpy pitch at Genoa. This win showed that the notoriously flaky Giallorossi can mix it up away from home and also gives supporters hope that they can take their blistering home form on the road.
A clumsy own goal from Armando Izzo nine minutes before the break gave Roma a deserved half-time lead that they had to dig deep to defend, but a makeshift defence led by the totemic Federico Fazio and safe hands from the ever alert Wojciech Szczesny put the brakes on an enthusiastic if disjointed Genoa. With Champions League-chasing Napoli, Lazio and AC Milan all bagging dramatic late wins, this was a win - at a ground where both Milan and Juventus were destroyed, remember -- as vital as it was ugly.
Fazio must be one of the surprises of the season, from any of Europe's major leagues. The Tottenham Hotspur cast-off has come on bundles since his first appearance in a Roma shirt and is now a fixture in his team's vastly improved defence. Edin Dzeko put in a massive shift as a lone striker, and only a magnificent early save from Mattia Perin and the post denied the Bosnian his just reward, while midfielder's Kevin Strootman and Radja Nainggolan got at their aggressive hosts from the first whistle. But above all it was watching Roma dig in as a team and see out a single goal victory that must have warmed the cockles of the freezing away supporters who travelled north.
The pitch at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris wasn't the best, but that's no excuse for how easily possession was given away at times, nor for the poor quality of the final ball when in promising attacking positions. At times Dzeko was bringing down almost impossible seeming passes and playing in teammates, only to see the next pass fly into the stands or limply to opposition players. When your team is under the cosh that's the last thing you want to see.
7 -- Choosing a three-man defence with his only match fit centre-backs was a mini gamble that paid off for Luciano Spalletti, with Juan Jesus holding his own on the left of the backline alongside Fazio and Antonio Rudiger. Wing-backs Emerson Palmieri and Bruno Peres also put in a shift, covering the defence and supporting Daniele De Rossi and Kevin Strootman in midfield. Roma stifled Genoa and frustrated the home crowd, and that helped Spalletti to his 150th Roma win.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Wojciech Szczesny, 7 -- His superb injury-time stop saved the three points for Roma. Always alert.
DF Antonio Rudiger, 7 -- A bit agricultural with the ball but a solid defensive presence alongside Fazio.
DF Federico Fazio, 8 -- A leader. Kept a cool head as Genoa ramped up the pressure in the second half. Does Kostas Manolas have a rival for his position as Roma's star defender?
DF Juan Jesus, 6 -- Whether playing a back-three turned out to be the right decision or not hinged on his display, and he acquitted himself well up against Nikola Ninkovic.
MF Bruno Peres, 5 -- His lack of defensive discipline was handily covered by a bolstered central defence. More annoying is his poor final ball, despite his "assist" on Izzo's own goal.
MF Daniele De Rossi, 6 -- Alongside Strootman, provided excellent protection to the backline, but tried too many Hollywood passes.
MF Kevin Strootman, 7 -- A warrior in midfield, but rushed possession when in the final third.
MF Emerson Palmieri, 7 -- The Brazilian is another one that has made huge progress this season. If he carries on like he played on Sunday Mario Rui will have to wait for a starting place once he's back.
MF Radja Nainggolan, 7 -- Still a bit too rushed with the ball to look like a natural in behind a striker, but his aggression is a vital part of what makes this Roma team tick.
MF Diego Perotti, 6 -- The scruffy pitch hampered the Argentine's ability to dribble effectively, and thus dulled his effectiveness.
FW Edin Dzeko, 8 -- The ball came flying at the Bosnian from all angles on Sunday, but it stuck almost every time. On another day he could have had a brace and at least one assist.
FW Stephan El Shaarawy, N/R -- Offered an enthusiastic 16-minute contrast to a frustrated Perotti.
DF Kostas Manolas, N/R -- Slotted soundly into a back four as Spalletti tried to see out the final minutes.
MF Leandro Paredes, N/R -- In six minutes managed to show just how classy he is in possession.
Terry is based in Rome and is ESPN FC's AS Roma blogger. Twitter: @T_Daley