Roma moved a step closer to automatic Champions League qualification after crashing five goals past Chievo on Saturday evening in a frenetic, disorderly display that highlighted their defensive failings as much as it did their attacking strengths.
Braces from star man Stephan El Shaarawy and the frustrating Mohamed Salah put Roma over the line after twice going down to cheap goals from a surprisingly lively Chievo, before Edin Dzeko capped off a big win with a thunderbolt of a strike to take his all-competitions total to 38 and make him the first Roma player to score 28 Serie A goals since 1931.
El Shaarawy capitalised on Chievo's dozing defence, letting Federico Fazio's clearing header sail past them to nip in and slip home Roma's first equaliser in the 28th minute before beautifully collecting Kevin Strootman's clever through ball 12 minutes after the break and firing Roma into a lead that they never gave up despite Roberto Inglese's late strike.
Luciano Spalletti's side stay a point ahead of Napoli, who kept up with the Giallorossi later on Saturday night with a 4-1 thumping of Fiorentina, and go into the final week of the season knowing that a win over relegation-threatened Genoa would guarantee them second place and give the club a huge shot in the arm going into the summer transfer window.
Dropping points at Chievo a week after beating Juventus would have been the most Roma thing possible, but after first falling behind to Lucas Castro's fine volley and then leaving Roberto Inglese a square mile in which to head the hosts back in front, they kept their heads and eventually made their quality count. El Shaarawy has had a wonderful month and made the absolute most of two innocuous situations to bag his two goals. He fully deserves his spot on the team after months in the second string.
Comeback or not, the defending for all three of Chievo's goals would shame any Serie B team, let alone one with pretensions of challenging the Juventus hegemony. It boggles the mind how four international-class defenders can leave three people queueing up at the back post as they did for Inglese's first, and it wasn't until Salah scored his second with 14 minutes to go that Chievo ceased to be a threat.
Manager rating out of 10
6 -- Spalletti rested Radja Nainggolan, who played through the pain against Juventus last week, and changed formation to a more orthodox 4-3-3 from his usual 4-2-3-1. Visibly outraged by his team's loose interpretation of his initial tactics, he repeatedly shifted the lineup to try and close the huge gaps being left for Chievo's midfield. Despite the big scoreline, for most of the match Roma failed to impose themselves on Chievo and went to sleep far too often at the back. That is at least in part his responsibility.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Wojciech Szczesny, 6 -- Abandoned to fend for himself for all of Chievo's goals.
DF Antonio Rudiger, 5 -- Too late back to cover for Castro's opener and wobbly all day on right flank. He belongs in the centre of defence.
DF Kostas Manolas, 5 -- Lost the duel that led to Chievo's first and looked out of sorts all afternoon.
DF Federico Fazio, 6 -- An uncharacteristically distracted performance partially saved by his accidental assist for El Shaarawy's first.
DF Emerson Palmieri, 6 -- Below par. Apart from being nowhere when Inglese headed Chievo in front, he didn't offer much going forward.
MF Leandro Paredes, 6 -- Kept it simple. It didn't ever look like he was extending himself, however.
MF Daniele De Rossi, 6 -- Did enough in a crowded midfield.
MF Kevin Strootman, 6 -- Two sweet passes to lay on El Shaarawy and Salah, but too often drifted off to the flanks when Spalletti wanted him to stay central.
FW Mohamed Salah, 7 -- A typically weird display, with one fluky deflected strike, a missed sitter and a well taken second. 19 goals and 12 assists suggests he must be doing something right, however.
FW Edin Dzeko, 7 -- Toiled up top with little joy until late in the second half, when his efforts were rewarded with neat assist and a crunching 38th goal of the season.
FW Stephan El Shaarawy, 8 -- Two beautifully taken goals, his third and fourth in three games, all of which have come at crucial times. A fine end to an otherwise so-so season.
MF Radja Nainggolan, N/R -- Brought on to mirror Chievo's midfield and to stick the boot into them. Mission accomplished.
FW Diego Perotti, N/R -- His neat, close dribbling offered a nice contrast to El Shaarawy's more direct wing play.
FW Francesco Totti, N/R -- Five minutes of applause, but little impact.