Roma made it a second successive win of the season in Serie A, winning 1-0 away at Empoli’s Stadio Carlo Castellani on Saturday afternoon – but this was anything but a convincing display by Rudi Garcia’s team.
Indeed, Roma’s overall performance – albeit with what was a weakened side – was probably summed up by their winning goal against newly-promoted Empoli.
With the first half seemingly destined to drift into goalless obscurity, Roma’s Belgian midfielder Radja Nainggolan struck a low shot from 20 metres. The ball squirmed through a ruck of players and on to the post, only to rebound off the upright and in-off the back of home ‘keeper Luigi Sepe and into the net; an own goal in its cruelest form.
It did prove enough however for those from the capital, who were never really pressed or harassed by their hosts, despite being down on their normal levels of natural talent due to coach Garcia’s decision to field a slightly weakened side ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League game in Rome against CSKA Moscow.
So there was no leadership or inspiration from Francesco Totti, while resting Ivory Coast winger Gervinho meant a lack of natural width and guile against a well organised Empoli, who enjoyed the majority of possession and may even have taken a lead when a Mirko Valdifiori corner picked out centre-back Lorenzo Tonelli who saw his header deflected over the crossbar.
As a result, it took the visiting outfit a while to establish themselves. Indeed, it wasn’t really until the 41st minutes that Roma caused Empoli any real distress, when Brazilian defender Maicon drifted into the penalty bux to turn Alessandro Florenzi’s header against the Empoli post, while it required some desperate defending to block out the follow up attempt from Miralem Pjanić.
Roma keeper Morgan De Sanctis was called upon to save a Francesco Tavano free kick before his opposite number Luigi Sepe made the most unfortunate, and telling, contribution of the game.
Maicon again nearly netted on the hour mark, played in off a one-two with Florenzi, but was denied by Sepe from point-blank range.
The Empoli cause wasn’t helped when coach Maurizio Sarri was sent to the stand after 72 minutes for his vociferous protests after his side were denied a penalty Levan Mchedlidze went over in the box while marked by Kostas Manolas.
Empoli though appeared galvanised by that double injustice, and Mchedlidze forced a good stop from De Sanctis, shooting from distance, as the home side chased what many would have seen a deserved equaliser.
In the end however, Roma took the win to make it two from two starts, while Empoli have suffered back-to-back losses in what could be a long season for the Tuscan new boys.