MILAN: A slick second-half brace from Mohamed Salah sealed a 4-1 Roma romp at Pescara that virtually sent the Serie A strugglers back to Italy’s second division on Monday (Tuesday in Manila).
Roma’s 24th win of the campaign helped close the gap on leaders Juventus to eight points, although the Turin giants remain firmly on course for a record sixth consecutive scudetto.
“This was a crucial win for us,” Roma coach Luciano Spalletti told Mediaset Premium after seeing Roma build their lead on third-placed Napoli to four points.
“The lads deserve to finish in second place and with five games remaining Napoli remain a threat.”
The only blip for Roma on the day they appointed former Sevilla goalkeeper Ramon Rodriguez Verdejo, known as Monchi, as the club’s new sporting director was striker Edin Dzeko being caught on camera launching a tirade at Spalletti after he decided to replace the Bosnian with Frenchman Clement Grenier 20 minutes from the end.
Dzeko is tied with Torino’s Andrea Belotti on 25 goals at the top of the Serie A scoring charts and was denied the chance to add to his tally, which is now under threat from Inter Milan hitman Mauro Icardi, on 24 following his hat-trick in a 5-4 loss at Fiorentina.
Reports claimed Dzeko told Spalletti: “You’re trying to be clever again, eh?”
But Spalletti was quick to calm suggestions sparks flew in the dressing room, adding: “We went back to the dressing room, we saw each other and we made up.
“If he knew why I did it, then he’d understand. We have three key games coming up and we can’t do without him. He’s the only centre-forward I have.”
Dzeko had to settle for an assist on the night as Dutchman Kevin Strootman, Radja Nainggolan and Salah, with a second-half double that featured a superb counter from a wayward Pescara corner on the hour, got their name on the scoresheet — although Stephan El Shaarawy starred as well with three assists.
As Roma tired, Pescara finally came fighting back in a promising final third in which Wojciech Szczesny was forced into action on several occasions before finally being beaten by Ahmad Benali when he got in behind Kostas Manolas to meet a crisp cross from the right.
It was scant consolation for the rock-bottom Adriatic coast side. Now 15 points behind Empoli and the safety zone with five games remaining, they are all but mathematically on their way back to Serie B.
Veteran coach Zdenek Zeman, brought back to Pescara last month in a bid to beat the drop, had tried to instigate his usual brand of all-out attacking football only to find resources limited the league strugglers.
Sitting two points behind Palermo, he said: “Now, we will do our best not to finish last.”
After a recent run of four consecutive wins, Roma’s title hopes were dented by a 1-1 draw at home to Atalanta last week.
Spalletti’s men were creative from the outset but it took until the 44th minute for the visitors to break the deadlock, Stephan El Shaarawy powering into the box to deliver a perfect square ball for Strootman to tap home.
When Dzeko chased down Salah’s overhit cross to the left of goal a minute later, he picked out Nainggolan with a precision pass for the Belgium midfielder to drill past Vincenzo Fiorillo.
Roma resumed in commanding fashion ater half-time, Salah beating Fiorillo down low at his near post with a great curling strike from the edge of the area on 48 minutes.
The Egyptian created his own double, snatching a wayward corner from Pescara to power up the middle and exchange a one-two with El Shaarawy before firing low past Fiorillo.