Roma send a major Scudetto signal after winning a pulsating Rome derby that saw the Giallorossi dominate local rivals Lazio in a match played out in front of a packed, raucous Stadio Olimpico. After the national team's World Cup disaster earlier in the week, the derby Saturday night truly showcased the very best of Italian football.
Diego Perotti and Radja Nainggolan celebrated their respective returns to the international fold by winning the derby with two goals in four second half minutes, the first a cheeky three-step Perotti penalty won in the 49th minute by the excellent former Lazio left-back Aleksandar Kolarov and the second a trademark "Ninja" strike laid on by the Argentine winger on his 100th Serie A appearance.
The pair drove Roma to victory with outstanding displays in an excellent overall team performance, with Nainggolan in particular a powerhouse in coach Eusebio Di Francesco's three-man midfield and Perotti terrorising Adam Marusic and Bastos in the Lazio defence with precision dribbling and dangerous crosses. Their two strikes gave Roma a thoroughly deserved win that nonetheless looked less than certain once Ciro Immobile lashed home a 72nd-minute penalty for a silly handball by Kostas Manolas that after much dithering was eventually given by the video assistant referee.
However, Roma's rock solid defence swatted away the Lazio assault and gave Di Francesco his sixth straight win in all competitions ahead of their huge Wednesday night trip to Atletico Madrid, where qualification to the Champions League knockout stages is up for grabs. How far can this team go?
Once again Roma set about their task with aggression, precision and attacking intent. They easily had the better of the chances in this match, with the bustling Edin Dzeko unlucky not to have his first goal in weeks with a well-saved first-half volley. Even when under the cosh in the final 20 minutes, Roma conceded very little to Lazio, who only managed two shots on target. Every individual part of the team served the whole and they both attack and defend as a unit -- that was Lazio's weapon in their derby success last season, but now it's Roma's.
Manolas' handball reopened a match that looked for all the world done and dusted. The fact that it came from an innocuous Nani cross that Alisson could have claimed made it all the more frustrating that Lazio even had a sniff of a draw. No one could have complained if the score had stayed 2-0, such was Roma's domination of the match.
8 -- What's particularly impressive about the work Di Francesco has done with this team is how weak individual displays like Alessandro Florenzi's don't compromise the overall team structure. The system is prevailing over the instincts of the individual players and that can only be a good thing over the course of the season, as it will allow the coach to rotate his first XI and save his best players for the biggest games
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Alisson, 6 -- In reality had very little to do for most of the game. Could do nothing about Immobile's blasted penalty.
DF Alessandro Florenzi, 5 -- Not the Italian's best day at the office. Looked tired after his national team excursions and struggled against both Senad Lulic and then Jordan Lukaku.
DF Kostas Manolas, 7 -- A good display partly ruined by that daft handball that let Lazio back into the game.
DF Federico Fazio, 8 -- A class act. Has brushed aside worries that he couldn't play in a back four and on Saturday didn't put a foot wrong.
DF Aleksandar Kolarov, 7 -- Won the penalty that opened the scoring and caused havoc with Perotti down the left.
MF Radja Nainggolan, 9 -- A really well-taken goal was just reward for his best performance of the season. A midfield monster.
MF Daniele De Rossi, 6 -- Traditionally has lost his head in derby matches, on Saturday, he kept his and Roma's midfield reaped the benefit.
MF Kevin Strootman, 6 -- Helped Perotti and Kolarov penetrate down the left by doing all the dirty work.
FW Stephan El Shaarawy, 6 -- Carried out his defensive duties with gusto, but didn't get going in attack.
FW Edin Dzeko, 7 -- Hasn't scored since the start of October but does so much for the team and was unlucky not to see one of his chances converted.
FW Diego Perotti, 9 -- A cheeky penalty to open the scoring and an assist for Nainggolan was the perfect way to celebrate his Argentina comeback.
Gerson, NR -- Did a solid job in helping Roma shut up shop as Lazio pushed for an equaliser.
Bruno Peres, NR -- Like his countryman further up the field made sure the door was kept shut.
Juan Jesus, NR -- Has been much improved this season and didn't slip up when called on for the final few minutes.