Edin Dzeko, Mohamed Salah lift Roma to big win vs. Villarreal
Edin Dzeko was once again Roma's hero, bashing a second half hat-trick past La Liga's tightest defence as the Giallorossi all but booked their place in the last 16 of the Europa League with a thumping 4-0 win at Villarreal. They became the first team to score four goals at the Madrigal since Barcelona in May 2010, while the Bosnian now has an astonishing 28 goals for the season.
Emerson Palmieri also shone and set the away side up with a corking long-range opener just after the half-hour mark, while the team also showed that their improved defensive record in Italy could be replicated in Europe, successfully holding off the Yellow Submarine when their one goal lead looked precarious and bagging their 10th clean sheet in 14 games.
After years of continental humiliation, could this finally be the year that Roma make their international mark?
Dzeko will obviously and deservedly take the headlines but what is becoming clear is that this Roma side is tough. Had they not rode out a tricky period just after the break (with a little help from keeper Alisson) Mohamed Salah would not have had the chance to set up his strike partner for Roma's second and essentially kill the tie. Salah was also key to the emphatic nature of the win: his pace frightened a home side that had up to that point been pinning Roma back in their own half.
Coach Luciano Spalletti was bang on the money when he said in his post-match interview with Sky that Roma gave possession away far too easily for long periods. Daniele De Rossi, Kevin Strootman and especially Radja Nainggolan were sloppy in possession for long periods of the match, which allowed Villarreal to build that early second half momentum.
Manager rating (out of 10)
8 -- His second-half switch of Salah for Stephan El Shaarawy changed the match completely. It was a textbook example of a manager seeing a problem and solving it with his bench. With each game that passes the stamp he puts on this team gets bigger and bigger.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Alisson, 8 -- Kept Roma ahead when Villarreal with some smart saves, in particular the superb stop to deny Mario Gaspar 10 minutes after the break.
DF Antonio Rudiger, 6 -- Seemed to suffer from the same jitters that afflicted Manolas. A bit too quick to fly into tackles.
DF Federico Fazio, 7 -- Didn't have a huge amount to do beyond 10 minutes at the start of the second half, but the Argentine transmits calm.
DF Kostas Manolas 6 -- Weirdly nervy and quick to dive in to tackles all night, but he improved as the second half wore on.
MF Bruno Peres, 6 -- Didn't offer much in the way of attacking threat but is no longer the defensive liability he one was.
MF Kevin Strootman, 7 -- The best of the midfield bunch despite his occasional wastefulness on the ball.
MF Daniele De Rossi, 7 -- Excelled in his defensive duties in front of the back three, and helped steady the ship when things got wobbly.
MF Emerson Palmieri, 8 -- Thumped home a great goal and was excellent throughout in a decent battle with Gaspar.
MF Radja Nainggolan, 5 -- The effort he puts in is crucial to this team, but the Belgian was below par on Thursday night. Lacked bite and precision.
MF Stephan El Shaarawy, 5 -- Not at his best. Hardly ever got beyond Dzeko and far too often seemed to playing as an auxiliary wing-back rather than as an attacker.
FW Edin Dzeko, 9 -- Took all three of his goals wonderfully but so obviously prefers to play alongside Salahs. Almost invisible before "Momo" came on, and exploded into life when he did.
MF Mohamed Salah, 8 -- Changed the game. Almost his first act in replacing El Shaarawy was to set up Dzeko. Offered a threat down the right that was sorely lacking from Nainggolan and Peres.
DF Juan Jesus, 7 -- Set up Dzeko with a superb long pass and carried out his defensive duties with quiet aplomb.
MF Leandro Paredes, NR -- Enjoyed a few minutes on for Nainggolan in the final moments of the game.
Terry is based in Rome and is ESPN FC's AS Roma blogger. Twitter: @T_Daley