Edin Dzeko scores again, Roma win after withstanding Empoli pressure
Edin Dzeko continued his upturn in form as Roma made it four straight wins in all competitions to move third in Serie A with a 2-0 win over Empoli. After a midweek Champions League hat trick, the Bosnian striker made sure of a hard-fought three points with his fourth goal in as many days when, with just over five minutes left, he combined with Stephan El Shaarawy before lofting a tidy finish over Pietro Terracciano.
The goal ended resistance from dogged Empoli, who kept plugging away after going behind to Steven N'Zonzi's powerful first-half header and could easily have come away with something from the game. Francesco Caputo was the main thorn in Roma's side, giving Federico Fazio a terrible time with his effort and running.
He would have had a deserved equaliser but skied a penalty just before the hour mark and also wasted two other presentable opportunities. Five minutes after the break Ismael Bennacer had gone even closer with a swirling free kick that hit the post with Roma stopper Robin Olsen rooted like an oak tree.
Indeed, such was the home side's dominance as the match wore on that Eusebio Di Francesco played a back five to close out the game and it was more by accident than design that Roma got their second. The ball that Dzeko knocked down was no much more than a hopeful punt and it was down to his individual brilliance and El Shaarawy's neat through-ball that the away fans could relax in the final minutes.
The first half was solid from Roma, who kept the ball moving and, despite not creating much, managed to have the home side on the back foot. Lorenzo Pellegrini looks comfortable as an attacking midfielder and his set-piece deliveries are becoming something of a weapon; after delivering for Fazio in the Rome derby last week, he put in another sumptuous ball for N'Zonzi's opener.
After a euphoric last couple of games, this was more prosaic stuff as Roma struggled to create chances and conceded 19 shots against a team in the bottom three. They retreated into their own half when put under pressure by Empoli, who can consider themselves unlucky to not have snatched at least a point.
Manager rating out of 10
5 -- Eusebio Di Francesco made some eye-catching changes that had his side playing with five defenders for the last 15 minutes. He should thank Dzeko for calming nerves with his crucial strike and, above all, Caputo for bashing his spot kick into orbit.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Robin Olsen, 6 -- Was rightly angry at the way his side allowed too many counterattacks but nonetheless kept a clean sheet.
DF Davide Santon, 6 -- In his third straight Serie A start, he was solid and unspectacular on both flanks.
DF Kostas Manolas, 6 -- He is doing the work for two people at the moment; it is not a coincidence Caputo went after his partner and not him.
DF Federico Fazio, 4 -- Struggled to keep a lid on Caputo, who targeted the area between him and Luca Pellegrini to great effect.
DF Luca Pellegrini, 5 -- Started strongly on his full debut but had to be substituted on the hour after being booked for a careless tackle.
MF Steven N'Zonzi, 6 - Brilliantly headed home the opener but suffered as Empoli pressed in the second half.
MF Daniele De Rossi, 5 -- One of the worst culprits when Roma dropped back in the second half, he often found himself in the back line instead of pressing the ball.
AM Cengiz Under, 5 -- Unlucky to give away the penalty, but otherwise not his usual dynamic self.
AM Lorenzo Pellegrini, 6 -- Set up the winner with a beautiful set-piece delivery but failed to light up proceedings as he did in midweek.
AM Stephan El Shaarawy, 6 -- Provided the pass for Dzeko to end the discussion, but otherwise this was a mixed bag.
FW Edin Dzeko, 7 -- Hustled, bustled and sealed the points with a lovely finish to maintain his recent form.
DF Alessandro Florenzi, 6 -- Offered his useful puppy-dog enthusiasm when it was needed.
DF Juan Jesus, 5 -- Brought on to offer a bit of security, but was nervy and of little help.
MF Bryan Cristante, 5 -- Nowhere near the towering performance he inflicted upon Viktoria Plzen a few days ago.