Edin Dzeko finds form with a hat trick, Bryan Cristante shines as Roma thrash Viktoria Plzen
Edin Dzeko shook himself out of his weeks-long funk by bashing home a casual hat trick against a dreadful Viktoria Plzen as Roma bagged their first Champions League points and officially brought their early season crisis to an end. Just over two minutes had gone when the Bosnian opened the scoring, taking full advantage of an inexplicable offside trap with no pressure on the ball to charge in from the left flank and end a seven-game goal drought.
Immediately the heavy air that has surrounded him since the opening day of the season was lifted, and suddenly a different player was leading the line. He ended the match as a contest five minutes before the break, bringing down Cengiz Under's high, floated cross under no pressure just outside the six-yard box and lashing home his second.
In-between times Roma had put poor Plzen through the wringer, creating chance after chance and looking a completely different side to the one that struggled through the first six weeks of the campaign.
Justin Kluivert and Under were irresistible on the flanks, while Bryan Cristante was a dark horse for the man-of-the-match award that most casual observers would have given to Dzeko for his goals. The Italian international was crucial in Roma's third and fourth, first winning back the ball and launching the move from which Under made it three with a cheeky finish, then sending the Turk through with a superb long pass that led to the attacker drawing a fine save from Matus Kozacik that Kluivert was on hand to tap home for a well-deserved first Roma goal.
All that was left now was for Dzeko to secure the match ball by heading home Alessandro Florenzi's corner completely unmarked. That goal took his career tally against the Czech side to nine -- truly they were the perfect opposition for the striker, and this was a perfect night for Roma.
Where to start? Apart from the obvious good news about Dzeko rediscovering his shooting boots, everyone played well, and a raft of players who were previously being jammed into round holes suddenly look like they were born to wear Giallorosso. Lorenzo Pellegrini was a delight in behind Dzeko just as he was against Lazio, while Cristante was authoritative and measured as a deep-lying playmaker. At last Roma have an identifiable style of play which is bringing out the best in the players, and it gives hope for the rest of the season.
The only real downer for the night was Patrik Schick still being completely out of sorts. It probably didn't help that Dzeko was still on the field when he was brought on, but the Czech is not in the best of shape psychologically at the momnt. He needs a chance up top when Dzeko is rested, otherwise it's difficult to see how the issue of his form can be resolved.
Manager rating out of 10
8 -- From leading the sack race to King of Rome is a week, Eusebio Di Francesco has found a formula that gets the best out of his charges, and he seems convinced enough by it that he's going to stick with it. It was great to see him give Kluivert a chance to start on such a big stage, while playing Cristante behind Pellegrini was a counter-intuitive but inspired move. More please.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Robin Olsen, 6 -- One first-half brain fart with the ball at his feet aside, the stopper was sturdy in the little he had to do.
DF Alessandro Florenzi, 7 -- Faced with very little opposition, the Italian was able to push forward and created a lovely partnership on the right with Under. Great corner for Dzeko's third.
DF Federico Fazio, 6 -- Had a couple of wobbles in the first half, but otherwise assured and calm.
DF Juan Jesus, 6 -- It was a testament to the quality of opposition on display that you hardly noticed he was there.
DF Aleksandar Kolarov, 7 -- Set up Dzeko's opener with a lovely ball, and kept it solid for the rest of the night.
MF Bryan Cristante, 8 -- A productive night protecting the back four, constantly breaking up play. Crucial for Roma's third and fourth. Excellent.
MF Steven N'Zonzi, 7 - Solid alongside Cristante, he helped snuff out Plzen with ease.
MF Cengiz Under, 7 -- A real livewire all night, his pinpoint cross to Dzeko effectively sealed the three points.
MF Lorenzo Pellegrini, 7 -- Was excellent reprising the attacking midfielder position that won him plaudits against Lazio. A constant threat.
MF Justin Kluivert, 7 -- His first Roma goal was just reward for a truly super performance. Always on the front foot and aware of his teammates' positioning.
FW Edin Dzeko, 8 -- Took full advantage of the pitiful opposition to take home the match ball. The big man is back.
DF Luca Pellegrini, 7 -- Power and pace in abundance, the youngster looks like one for the future.
MF Nicolo Zaniolo, 6 -- Different class of opposition compared to the Bernabeu, and a different level of performance from the youngster.
FW Patrik Schick, 5 -- Possibly the only bum note of the night. The Czech is way, way off the pace and knows it.