Roma comprehensively defeated Viktoria Plzen in their Champions League encounter on Tuesday night. Our columnist looks at four key points from the contest...
On a historic night at the Stadio Olimpico, one that saw Edin Dzeko become the first ever Roma player to score a Champions League hat-trick and Justin Kluivert become the club's youngest ever Champions League goalscorer, the Giallorossi produced their finest showing of the season.
Defeating Viktoria Plzen 5-0, Eusebio Di Francesco's men were at their free-flowing best, with Lorenzo Pellegrini linking play beautifully, Bryan Cristante shining in midfield, Dzeko back in form and the two wingers wreaking havoc throughout.
In addition, the defence looked much better and the Wolves pressed with far greater aggression and cohesion, rarely allowing Plzen any joy.
“We showed consistency in this respect and actually I was really pleased with the team," Di Francesco said.
"Our midfielders are beginning to move better and interchange play well, which is what we’ve been working on in the last few days with the 4-2-3-1, but without losing the mentality of trying to get our wingers into the area.
"I’m pleased with how they went about the game; we got onto the right track early on. It’s never easy to win in the Champions League, but we played well and entertained the public. Scoring plenty of goals in the group stage makes a difference.”
Lorenzo Pellegrini was brilliant
Following on from his encouraging outing as Roma's trequartista vs. Lazio, Pellegrini was given another chance to prove himself in this role. And he duly took his opportunity against Plzen with both hands by putting in a sensational shift.
Bursting with energy and intensity, the Italian's athleticism and work rate, plus his spatial awareness, constantly saw him take up strategically beneficial areas to progress Roma's attacks. He'd smartly drop deep to generate 5v4 or 3v2 numerical superiorities, drift into the half spaces, perform slick positional rotations with his fellow attackers or pick up space in between the lines.
Moreover, his driving runs in behind gave Roma another dimension, for these runs had a destabilising effect on their Czech rivals, who struggled to track his runs from midfield.
Technically sound, the 22-year-old's wonderful link up play, slick flicks, backheels and all-round passing game did a brilliant job of unlocking Plzen's backline. Indeed, his precise assist for Cengiz Under's goal and his wonderful pass in behind to instigate the move that culminated in Kluivert's goal aptly demonstrated his quality here.
Producing two successful dribbles, a remarkable nine shot assists and completing an impressive 41 of his 47 passes further underlined his fantastic body of work.
“I’m delighted for Lorenzo, I really wanted to bring him to Sassuolo and he developed alongside me there," Di Francesco said.
"He’s often played in attacking midfielder, but I’ve used him in that position before in a 4-2-3-1 and he’s responded really well there. He can cause damage in that position."
Dzeko bagged his second hat-trick against Plzen of his career, in a match where the visitors struggled to contain the Bosnian hitman, whose strikes saw him move into Roma's top 10 all-time scorers list.
Always probing to create openings for himself or his teammates, Dzeko's movement, hold up play, tidy passing and clinical finishing ensured he was a real menace.
A particularly promising element of his display came from his relationship with left winger, Kluivert, as the pair's switches of position served as the catalyst for two of Dzeko's goals. Dzeko's first saw him pull wide with Kluivert moving centrally, which effectively disrupted their adversaries. This then saw Dzeko take advantage of the slight confusion to latch onto Aleksandar Kolarov's neat through ball to masterfully finish home.
The second goal saw a more subtle switch, but it was just as crucial.
In doing so, Dzeko could now be placed against the smaller Plzen right-back, Radim Reznik, instead of a more physically capable central defender. The 32-year-old went onto exploit this advantage fully, taking the ball down strongly with his chest before finishing with a lethal volley.
Central presence adds dynamism in final third
Playing in their 4-2-3-1, a key element of this formation has been the way Roma's central attacking presence has helped make them far more dangerous. With Under and Kluivert typically coming infield from the wing to occupy spaces in the half or 10 spaces, this gave Dzeko and Pellegrini vital additional nearby options vs. Plzen.
Upon factoring in how they'd all vary their movement, with some moving towards the ball, in behind, making diagonal runs, rotating with one another or drifting laterally in between the lines, they proved a rather elusive proposition.
Always asking questions of their opponents, the Czechs often found themselves in 4v4 scenarios with the Giallorossi's four most advanced attackers, thus minimising their room for error and increasing Roma’s potential to get into promising locations.
With another terrific outing in this shape, and the goals now flowing, Di Francesco looks to have finally found the ideal solution to get the best out of his side.