Roma's early Champions League rout nearly upended by Qarabag
Roma showed all their old failings but escaped from a rain-soaked Baku with a narrow, scrappy 2-1 victory over Qarabag -- their first away win in the Champions league for nearly seven years. Roma couldn't build on an impressive opening 25 minutes and nearly chucked away an early two-goal lead.
Well taken finishes from Kostas Manolas and Edin Dzeko, whose rifled strike was his sixth in four games, put Roma 2-0 up after just 15 minutes, but despite having an iron grip on the game early they almost let it slip as the hosts from Azerbaijan overcame their nerves and applied serious pressure.
Maxime Gonalons had a terrible night and was at fault for letting Qarabag back into the game, being cheaply dispossessed by Dino Ndlovu in the 28th minute before the South African fed Pedro Henrique to pull a goal back. Ndlovu also nearly snatched a point for The Horsemen in the final seconds, flashing a header narrowly wide. In between that Roma struggled to keep the ball, with Lorenzo Pellegrini and Radja Nainggolan fading badly after bright starts, and looked nervy in the face of Qarabag's enthusiastic pressing. However, a win's a win, and coming away from such a hard night and such a clunky display with the three points is in itself a positive sign.
For 25 minutes Roma looked like the slick, well-oiled machine that had so comfortably seen off the dross of Serie A over the previous 10 days. When the opportunities came Roma were clinical enough to take them and give themselves the cushion that allowed them to creep away with a win despite stinking out the place for well over an hour.
If it's a myth that 2-0 is the most dangerous score line in football, for Roma it's definitely true. After Dzeko doubled the lead, it looked like they would give Qarabag a Chelsea-style walloping, but almost immediately fell into bad old habits by letting the hosts back into the game with an individual error and then struggling to regain control of the match.
Manager rating out of 10
5 -- While the rotated starting lineup made perfect sense given Sunday's trip to the San Siro to face AC Milan, once Roma began to struggle manager Eusebio Di Francesco took far too long to substitute Gonalons, who looked like he'd have struggled to remember his name he was so out of sorts. He'll no doubt be annoyed that he had to bring out the big guns given the importance of the weekend's match.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Alisson, 6 -- Only had one shot to deal with all night, despite Qarabag's pressure.
DF Bruno Peres, 6 -- Not a bad night's work, all told. Seems a lot more solid and less gung-ho than last season.
DF Kostas Manolas, 7 -- Kept Qarabag at bay when the midfield couldn't.
DF Juan Jesus, 6 -- Nervy on the ball, but solid alongside his central defensive partner. No complaints.
DF Aleksandar Kolarov, 5 -- A noticeable drop in form compared to the strolls in Serie A.
MF Lorenzo Pellegrini, 6 -- A smooth operator in the opening 20 minutes, but lost his way badly as the match progressed.
MF Maxime Gonalons, 4 -- His sloppiness in getting caught for Henrique's goal was mirrored in a nervy, error-ridden display.
MF Radja Nainggolan, 5 -- Strangely quiet. Didn't seem capable of taking the game by the scruff of the neck when Roma were under the cosh.
FW Gregoire Defrel, 5 -- Missed a great opportunity to make it 3-1 at the break, and struggled to impose himself on the game before being subbed with a thigh injury.
FW Edin Dzeko, 6 -- Took his goal with the confidence of a man in form but had to spend the rest of the match toiling with much success.
FW Stephan El Shaarawy, 6 -- A fine assist for Dzeko's goal and full of running as usual, but faded badly.
FW Alessandro Florenzi, 6 -- More of a threat than a blunt Defrel. Good to see him back as an attacking player rather than a right-back.
MF Daniele De Rossi, 6 -- Couldn't help but be better than Gonalons. Put his foot on the ball and calmed things down.
MF Kevin Strootman, N/R -- Eight minutes was enough to show that Pellegrini has a bit to learn.
Terry is based in Rome and is ESPN FC's AS Roma blogger. Twitter: @T_Daley