Clement Grenier steps up for second string Roma in Palermo win
A makeshift Roma warmed up for Thursday night's massive return leg with Lyon in the Europa League round-of-16 by seeing off lowly Palermo in Sicily and maintaining second spot in Serie A.
Luciano Spalletti made six changes to the team that collapsed at the Parc OL ahead of the visit of the Ligue 1 side to Rome midweek, starting the barely-seen likes of Clement Grenier and Mario Rui, and it was second string Stephan El Shaarawy who gave Roma their 22nd-minute lead that thanks to some spirited Palermo pressure they struggled to defend for large parts of the game, tapping in Grenier's beautiful chipped pass before substitute Edin Dzeko and Bruno Peres made the scoreline more flattering in the dying minutes.
Despite continued uncertainty at the back -- Wojciech Szczesny can thank eagle-eyed officials for not gifting Palermo a fifth minute lead following his soapy handling of offside Ilija Nestorovski's tame early shot -- Roma could have easily wrapped up the result long before Dzeko expertly collected Radja Nainggolan's through ball and dinked his 20th Serie A goal of the season around Andrea Fulignati and Peres finished off a blistering stoppage time counter. That profligacy in front of goal needs to disappear if they're to overhaul Lyon and get their fading season back on track.
Spalletti desperately needed his reserves to step up on Sunday night and in large part they did. In his first Roma start Grenier could easily have had another assist for El Shaarawy while Rui proved a fine replacement for Emerson Palmieri, with Palermo focusing their attacks -- as all teams do -- towards the gaps left by Bruno Peres down Roma's right. Dzeko getting back among the goals, with a classy finish to boot, is also a good sign for Thursday.
Palermo have picked up just 10 points since the end of September, and have scored a measly seven times at home all season, yet too often Roma needed a last ditch block or midfielder charging back to cover the breaking home team. The hosts also worked out very early that Roma do not like being pressed high, even with the pace of Mohamed Salah a constant threat over the top.
Manager rating out of 10
6 -- Spalletti gambled a bit with his team selection, giving El Shaarawy the task of leading the line on his own, and starting with both Kevin Strootman and Daniele De Rossi on the bench, and at times his team looked like they were missing leadership. However, the coach hardly had any choice given the importance of Thursday night and the way his first XI collapsed in France last week. In the end it paid off, although he would have liked not to bring on both his starting midfielders and Dzeko to see out the result.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Wojciech Szczesny, 6 -- Saved by the officials from ending up in an end-of-season goalkeeping bloopers reel, but recovered from that early embarrassment to make some typically fine stops.
DF Antonio Rudiger, 6 -- Haitam Aleesami caused the German far too many problems. Fingers crossed he's more focused midweek.
DF Federico Fazio, 6 -- Still not at his best, but always on hand with timely interceptions and clearances.
DF Juan Jesus, 7 -- Unrecognisable from the hapless disaster area that so infuriated Inter fans last season. The Brazilian looks completely at ease in this back three.
MF Bruno Peres, 5 -- His striker's finish for the third can't negate the way Palermo used his flank as a motorway all night.
MF Leandro Paredes, 6 -- Perfectly acceptable performance but doesn't play with the desire of someone who wants to carve out a spot in the first XI.
MF Clement Grenier, 8 -- Rumours of the Frenchman's existence appear to be true. Turns out he's quite good at football too. A fine debut start.
MF Mario Rui, 7 -- Despite having only played three league minutes all season the Argentine was solidity personified.
AM Mohamed Salah, 6 -- One of those matches when you remember just how frustrating the Egyptian can be. Angered Spalletti with his wastefulness.
AM Radja Nainggolan, 6 -- Could probably have done with a rest too, truth be told. Fluffed a great chance to score but his assist for Dzeko was pure class.
FW Stephan El Shaarawy, 6 -- Full of running as ever, and timed his run perfectly to tap in Grenier's delicious clipped pass. His overall play is too predictable, however.
FW Edin Dzeko, 6 -- Took his 30th goal of the season in the confident manner of someone who hadn't just seconds earlier humped a presentable chance towards the Hubble telescope.
MF Kevin Strootman, N/R -- A smooth assist for Peres and an overall commanding 20-minute cameo. If he plays like this on Thursday, Roma have a fighting chance.
MF Daniele De Rossi, N/R -- A five-minute run out that told us nothing other than that he will start on Thursday.
Terry is based in Rome and is ESPN FC's AS Roma blogger. Twitter: @T_Daley