Opinion: Pjanic raises his game again to pass Napoli test

Reflecting in the aftermath of a vital victory, Luciano Spalletti will have felt his decision to start Miralem Pjanic alongside Seydou Keita in central midfield for their crunch clash with Napoli was entirely vindicated - the Bosnian maestro put in an exceptional shift against one of finest outfits in Serie A.

After coming on as a late substitute in Roma's scarcely believable triumph versus Torino last week, Spalletti deemed the man who had been struggling with some frustrating groin and thigh issues to be ready for his 28th start of the season.

And Pjanic certainly did not let him down mon Monday, playing a key role in the stirring victory to continue his terrific record against the Partenopei.

Interestingly, in Napoli's last three visits to the Olimpico – all victories for the Giallorossi - Pjanic has been decisive every time.

Pjanic scored a brace in 2013-14, the winner last season, and then had a profound impact in this fixture. They must be sick of the sight of him.

Defensively, the 26-year-old did a great job of marking the exceptional Marek Hamsik, as he tracked him vigorously and looked to apply pressure whenever possible.

With Seydou Keita playing on Allan and Radja Nainggolan or Diego Perotti taking Jorginho, Spalletti's midfield marking system ensured that Maurizio Sarri's central trio found it difficult to really impose themselves on the contest.

The fact the Roma players adhered so expertly to Spalletti's instructions illustrated their thorough preparation for the contest.

It is important to note that Pjanic would also drop back and cover for his right back, Alessandro Florenzi, in situations where the Italian had motored into in an advanced position.

By the numbers, his four tackles and four interceptions served as a testament to his manful defensive application.

On the attacking end, the former Lyon wizard used his tremendous passing ability to orchestrate so many of his team's most incisive forward passages and to dictate the tempo.

In addition, the midfielder's capacity to twist away from challenges in tight spaces and keep possession proved key in helping his side keep hold off the ball and unsettle Napoli's typically compact defensive shape.

Another key to his offensive success in the contest was the way Keita would sit back and cover whenever Pjanic would push upfield, which ensured the midfielder could still use his imagination and creativity higher up the pitch - knowing full well that Keita was there to shield the defence in case the ball was lost in the wrong position.

Notably, Pjanic would return the favour if Keita so happened to be better placed to venture forward and influence attacks.

All things considered, the set-piece specialist's tremendous contribution, on both sides of the ball, was pivotal in Roma obtaining all three points.

Roma sporting director Walter Sabatini gave a perfectly apt depiction of what a masterstroke signing Pjanic in 2011 has been for the Giallorossi when he spoke to the press earlier this week.

"I am particularly proud of Miralem, as he is a top level player who can resolve situations,” Sabatini said. “People think of him as a prince of football, but if you look at the statistics he runs as much as a defensive midfielder.

“He is now 26 years old and has Roma on his shoulders. He's reaching full maturity as a player."

With Roma pushing hard to overtake Napoli in second, the club's supporters can rest assured Pjanic will be doing all he can to ensure he helps his team win their final three fixtures of the season against Genoa, Chievo and Milan in their quest to obtain that all-important automatic Champions League qualification spot.

And wouldn't that be a remarkable achievement, considering the situation the club found itself in prior to Spalletti's arrival in January?

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