Aleksandar Kolarov winner continues stupendous start to life at Roma
Aleksandar Kolarov strengthened his case as signing of the season as his crunching free kick gave Roma a 1-0 win from a hard-fought clash at Torino that saw the Giallorossi equal Inter Milan's record of 11 straight away Serie A victories.
The Serb brought his sensational form from the 3-3 draw at Chelsea in midweek to the Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino and bagged Roma's winner with their first shot on target, 69 minutes into a tense battle at a ground where they hadn't won for four seasons.
Eusebio Di Francesco rotated heavily in view of the four matches his team had to face in 10 days heading into the weekend, with two home games against Crotone and Bologna coming up after Sunday's win and ahead of Chelsea's visit to Rome next Tuesday. As a result, and despite dominating the play like they did at Stamford Bridge, Roma didn't sparkle, with Radja Nainggolan struggling on the right wing alongside a below-par Edin Dzeko (who had been hit with a heavy stomach bug the night before the game), and both Kevin Strootman and Daniele De Rossi sluggish and sloppy in possession.
The team's frustration almost boiled over just past the hour mark when Dzeko fumed at Strootman for not passing when in a promising position, but Kolarov stepped up 10 minutes later to calm nerves and end any chance for a Torino side that, shorn of the injured Andrea Belotti and with Roma centre-back Hector Moreno impressive on his full debut, failed to land a single shot on target.
After the game Kolarov said that he's "been here three months but it feels like two years," and he meant that in a positive way. Sunday was the second away match the left-back has won with a free kick, following his cheeky strike at Atalanta on the opening day of the season, and Roma fans have taken the Serb to their hearts despite a few still refusing to look beyond his Lazio past.
He looks like he's been marauding up Roma's left flank for years and on Sunday looked very comfortable alongside Moreno, who in turn worked well with Juan Jesus in snuffing out Torino. That Roma were so solid with both their starting centre-backs out injured is hugely impressive.
After such a swashbuckling display at Chelsea there were hopes Roma had finally got into their attacking rhythm, but this performance was stilted and lacking in imagination. Nainggolan didn't look comfortable on the right of the attack and was eventually shifted back into midfield when Cengiz Under replaced Lorenzo Pellegrini in the second half. Dzeko was starved of service and only had two (off-target) shots all game, and despite having over 60 percent of possession Roma failed to create a single clear cut chance in open play, with their only other real opportunity, from a Kolarov corner, fluffed by Strootman.
Manager rating out of 10
6 -- That Roma have only conceded five league goals and kept the same number of clean sheets is down to the way Di Francesco has drilled his side. They are solid and aggressive and whether in his preferred 4-3-3 or shifting into a 4-2-3-1, they keep their shape and defend as a unit.
However, his attempt to replicate Gerson's performance at Chelsea with Nainggolan on the right-wing didn't work, while sometimes his team can lack imagination and guile.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Alisson, 5 -- Could have spent the afternoon drinking mate.
DF Alessandro Florenzi, 5 -- A funny afternoon for the Italian, who struggled with M'Baye Niang and made no impact going forward.
DF Juan Jesus, 7 -- Excellent alongside Moreno. Snappy in the tackle and rarely out of position.
DF Hector Moreno, 7 -- A fine debut in which he conceded very little. One block, on a Cristian Molinaro cross with Umar Sadiq lurking, was particularly impressive.
DF Aleksandar Kolarov, 8 -- A brilliant winner and a superb all-round display that highlighted the impact he's had on this team.
MF Lorenzo Pellegrini, 6 -- Losing the ball 14 times in the first half was not like him at all, and neither was this performance.
MF Daniele De Rossi, 6 -- Won the ball back 11 times, but is too slow to move it once in possession.
MF Kevin Strootman, 5 -- Scuffed a great opportunity in the first half and ruined the counterattack that led to his row with Dzeko. An off day.
FW Radja Nainggolan, 6 -- Struggled at right-wing, but was much better once moved back to midfield.
FW Edin Dzeko, 6 -- Did his duty despite being under the weather, but it was an afternoon to forget.
FW Stephan El Shaarawy, 6 -- An anonymous first half saved by a much better second. Won the free kick that led to Kolarov's winner.
FW Cengiz Under, 6 -- Livened things up but seemed to have trouble striking the ball.
FW Diego Perotti, N/R -- Kept the ball well when the clock needed running down.
DF Bruno Peres, N/R -- Four minutes was long enough for him to give the ball away in a dangerous position and let Torino counterattack.
Terry is based in Rome and is ESPN FC's AS Roma blogger. Twitter: @T_Daley