Roma offer too little, too late vs. Napoli as Diego Perotti, Mo Salah impress
Roma now have cause for concern over their hold on second place in Serie A after their second deserved defeat to deadly rivals in three days. On Saturday, they fell 2-1 to a Napoli side that came to the Stadio Olimpico and gave the Giallorossi a football lesson for 80 minutes before almost crumbling to a late Roma fightback that was only denied by an incredible stoppage time save from Pepe Reina.
A well-taken brace from the devastating Dries Mertens, who absolutely dominated the out-of-sorts Federico Fazio and could consider himself unlucky not to have had a hat trick, saw third-place Napoli closed the gap between themselves and Roma to just two points. However, despite being second best for almost 80 minutes, the hosts could easily have escaped with what would have been a scandalous draw.
The hosts' late surge brought applause from the Olimpico crowd at the final whistle, but if they perform that poorly in Lyon on Thursday, they could well find themselves fighting for their season. It was a terrible end to a week that started so promisingly at the San Siro.
The reaction in the last 10 minutes was the sign of a team that cares and gives everything even when not playing well. Only the most miraculous of saves stopped Roma from drawing a match in which they were second-best all over the park, which is encouraging.
In the first half it looked like Roma were playing a "third half" of Wednesday's Rome Derby. Luciano Spalletti's side were sluggish in possession and nowhere near Napoli's attacking trident of Jose Callejon, Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne, with a clearly tired Fazio the worst culprit and at fault for both goals.
Manager rating out of 10
4 -- Spalletti got his team selection wrong. It was clear on Wednesday that Fazio needed a rest and yet he started in an unfamiliar back four. Edin Dzeko and Radja Nainggolan could also have done with a break ahead of Lyon, with both men putting in sub-par performances. Salah, meanwhile, is in fine fettle and showed that when he replaced Stephan El Shaarawy: why didn't he start? Once the coach made his subs, Roma got back into it, but by then it was too late.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Wojciech Szczesny, 5 -- Was very slow off his line for Mertens' first goal, instead allowing the Belgian to chip him easily. Could do nothing about the second.
DF Antonio Rudiger, 5 -- Positionally out of sorts as the starting right-back. Marginally better once shifted to centre-back, when Bruno Peres replaced Fazio.
DF Kostas Manolas 6 -- A weird display that showed all his best qualities and worst faults. Dilly-dallied on the ball far too often but also made some timely tackles to deny Napoli's rampaging forwards.
DF Federico Fazio, 3 -- His worst performance in a Roma shirt. Lost Mertens for both Napoli goals and looked extremely uncomfortable in a back four.
DF Juan Jesus, 5 -- Not at fault for either of the goals, but so nervous on the ball that Napoli got tonnes of joy press his side of the pitch.
MF Kevin Strootman, 6 -- Effectively playing on his own in midfield, the Dutchman did what he could and took his goal brilliantly.
MF Daniele De Rossi, 4 -- Absolutely overwhelmed by Marko Rog and Jorginho (and then Amadou Diawara) all day and barely got a pass right unless he was shuffling the ball sideways.
MF Diego Perotti, 7 -- Roma's best player alongside Salah. His brilliant assist for Strootman came about thanks to his trademark close dribbling, while he also came so close to a stunning equaliser.
MF Radja Nainggolan, 5 -- Full of running as ever, but very little he tried came off.
MF Stephan El Shaarawy, 5 -- Plays like he's trying to impress a girl in the crowd. Gets into great positions but always tries the flashy option.
FW Edin Dzeko, 5 -- Had so little service that it's hard to judge his display. Anonymous in the first half, but much more lively once Salah replaced El Shaarawy. Still had no luck against Raul Abiol and Kalidou Koulibaly.
FW Mohamed Salah, 7 -- Changed the match when he came on, finally giving Napoli's defence something to think about. Extremely unlucky to hit the post and see another fine strike squirm wide.
DF Bruno Peres, 6 -- With the defensive duties effectively shelved at 2-0 down, the Brazilian was free to stay up Salah and load the Napoli area.
MF Leandro Paredes, NR -- Offered more composure on the ball in 10 minutes than De Rossi did in 80.
Terry is based in Rome and is ESPN FC's AS Roma blogger. Twitter: @T_Daley