Kevin Strootman, Edin Dzeko help Roma overcome struggling Sassuolo
Roma returned to the humdrum everyday action of Serie A after Thursday's disappointment against Lyon with a functional but uninspiring win over struggling Sassuolo that maintains the Giallorossi's grip on second place and automatic Champions League qualification.
The scoreline might make Sunday night's victory look comfortable, but it wasn't until substitute Edin Dzeko bagged his 21st league goal of the season -- the Bosnian playing a delicious one-two with star man Kevin Strootman and bashed past Andrea Consigli in the 68th minute -- before the sparsely-populated Stadio Olimpico could breathe easily.
Sassuolo took a deserved ninth-minute lead through a gorgeous first-time hit from Gregiore Defrel, and the boos that accompanied much of the first half would have continued into the break had Leandro Paredes not thumped home a spectacular equaliser seven minutes later. Mohamed Salah got away with an outrageous stoppage time foul on Federico Peluso before bundling home his ninth of the season to give Roma a half-time lead.
Luciano Spalletti's side now head into the international break with a chance to take stock of a season that is salvageable, and prepare for a comeback attempt against Lazio in the Coppa Italia semifinals.
It was good to see the players respond when Spalletti decided to switch his formation with the introduction of Dzeko. They improved on their lacklustre efforts up to that point and helped out Strootman, who had been practically doing it all on his own. Their centre forward playing like a proper forward when brought on was another plus, especially given the strange funk that afflicted him in the one-goal aggregate defeat against Lyon. If Roma are to take anything from this season they'll need Sunday night's Dzeko, not Thursday's.
Roma can count themselves lucky that Defrel had to leave the field with an ankle knock before the hour. The Frenchman was causing the hosts all sorts of problems, and his replacement, Alessandro Matri, didn't offer anything like the same threat. Too often Roma's defensive line was pulled out of position by a team that in any other season would be looking over their shoulders and worrying about relegation.
6 -- Made the right substitutions when he had to, and his second-half change from a back three to a back four gave his team extra stability, but his starting front line of Radja Nainggolan, Salah and El Shaarawy didn't work.
GK Wojciech Szczesny, 7 -- When Roma were wobbling the Pole was there to stave off further embarrassment.
DF Kostas Manolas, 6 -- Much like Federico Fazio, the Greek seemed all at sea in the opening period but was much more comfortable once Defrel hurt his ankle and Roma moved to a back four.
DF Federico Fazio, 6 -- Didn't really know what to make of Defrel, and struggled to get a hold of the game for a while. His great pass for El Shaarawy did lead to Salah's goal, however.
DF Antonio Rudiger, 7 -- Solid both on the left of the back-three and as a right-back following Bruno Peres' removal.
MF Bruno Peres, 5 -- Another odd display to add to his growing collection. Needs to look over the other side of the pitch and take notes.
MF Leandro Paredes, 7 -- Unlucky that Strootman was in such fine fettle, otherwise people would have been talking about him and his superb goal instead.
MF Kevin Strootman, 9 -- An immense display at the heart of the midfield capped off with a delightful assist for Dzeko.
MF Emerson Palmieri, 8 -- Crashed the bar with a thumping first-half shot and carried out his defensive duties with rare purpose.
AM Radja Nainggolan, 6 -- The Belgian has been below par ever since starring against Inter Milan a few weeks back, and this was another low-key evening.
AM Stephan El Shaarawy, 6 -- It's hard to work out what kind of player he wants to be. Full of effort but lacking guile, he was nowhere near his thunderous midweek display.
FW Mohamed Salah, 6 -- His goal, which should have been ruled out, can't mask that he struggles without Dzeko alongside him.
FW Edin Dzeko, 7 -- Could easily have had a hat trick within 10 minutes of coming on. Took his goal brilliantly and gave Roma another dimension.
AM Diego Perotti, N/R -- Offered more in 15 minutes than Salah did for 75. Wasted on the bench.
MF Daniele De Rossi, N/R -- Three minutes at the end of a match that was already over as a contest.
Terry is based in Rome and is ESPN FC's AS Roma blogger. Twitter: @T_Daley