AS Roma ran out 3-1 winners over rivals Napoli at the San Paolo on Saturday afternoon - a victory which takes Luciano Spalletti’s side above their opposition and into second. Two goals from Edin Dzeko and a late, match-clinching third from Mohamed Salah saw Roma inflict Napoli’s first home defeat since May 2015, and, on the back of an impressive victory over Inter prior to the international break, things are starting to look more positive for the Giallorossi following a slow start to the campaign.
Confidence going into the game was slightly hampered by injuries: both Kevin Strootman and Bruno Peres were unable to feature and as a result the much-maligned Juan Jesus and young midfielder Leandro Paredes were brought in to the line-up. Such changes forced Radja Naingallon into a less comfortable offensive role, supporting lone striker Dzeko, whilst Alessandro Florenzi was pushed back into right-back - a position which he is now more than familiar with, but often where he is not at his best.
Fears that the enforced changes would lead to a disjointed Roma performance looked like they would be merited as Napoli dominated the early proceedings. Roma struggled to obtain any real stranglehold on the game as Napoli pushed high and the fragile Roma back four (the two full-backs being particularly exposed) were under pressure for large periods. Without wishing to bask in the misfortune of another, Spalletti’s side can count themselves fortunate that Arkadiusz Milik picked up a serious cruciate ligament injury during the international break - for all of their possessional dominance Napoli lacked a focal point, something which Milik would surely have provided.
Nonetheless, Roma survived and just as it looked like we had managed to scrape through to half-time unscathed, a rare forage into the Napoli half resulted in Edin Dzeko firing us into the lead. Napoli’s centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly was easily dispossessed by Salah near the far-right corner flag and the Moroccan duly found Dzeko with a cross, who finished well to give his side the ultimate smash-and-grab lead. The Bosnian has been subject to more than his fair share of critics during his spell at Roma but Saturday’s opener marked his sixth goal of the season - and it was soon to be seven.
In a role reversal from the opening to the first half, Roma, buoyed by Dzeko’s opener, began the second half on the front foot and within eight minutes had doubled their lead. A free-kick on the wide right by-line gave Alessandro Florenzi the opportunity to deliver an inch perfect cross for Dzeko, free at the far post, to nod in. It was a remarkably soft goal for Napoli to concede and somehow, within the space of a few minutes either side of half time, Roma had gone from struggling to keep Napoli out to having a two goal lead.
To think that Roma would now go on to comfortably see the game out would, of course, have been expecting far too much and, within just two minutes of Dzeko’s second, Napoli had halved the deficit. A corner from the right was not dealt with and when Dzeko missed his header, Koulibaly, making amends for his earlier error, headed home. Having worked so hard to get into a winning position it was frustrating to concede such a soft goal and whilst Roma did go on to win, boss Spalletti will undoubtedly still be frustrated.
With over half an hour still to play, it was now very much a case of attack against defence as Napoli poured forward in search of an equaliser and Roma tried desperately to protect their now slender lead. Kostas Manolas and Fazio, still finding his feet at the club, were put to the test and passed with flying colours as they went a large way to staving off the onslaught of blue shirts. Just as it was looking like it would either end 2-2, or Roma would hang on for a 2-1 victory, a tackle-cum-pass by Daniele De Rossi sent Salah away with just Pepe Reina to beat. It is almost impossible to ever rely on the Moroccan in such situations as he tends to spurn just as many clear-cut chances as he scores but this time, to huge relief, he slotted home with the aid of the inside of the post. The three points were won.
To go to the San Paolo with a weakened side and win by a two goal margin is an impressive feat for Roma, and, whilst the general pattern of play suggests that on another day it could have been very different, the side deserve great credit. Roma have now defeated Inter and Napoli in consecutive games and momentum is starting to build - with winnable home fixtures against Austria Wien and Palermo to come in the next week, it would take a brave man to argue that this momentum won’t keep on growing, too.