Claudio Ranieri marked his return to the Roma bench with a cagey 2-1 win over Empoli at the Stadio Olimpico on Monday.
The former Leicester City boss replaced sacked Eusebio Di Francesco in the Lupi hot seat last Friday and goals from Stephan El Shaarawy and Patrik Schick either side of a Juan Jesus own goal in the first half helped him get off to a winning start, although Alessandro Florenzi was sent off late on.
El Shaarawy curled in his ninth goal of the season after just nine minutes, but Roma were back to square one three minutes later when Jesus powered a header into the bottom corner of his own net.
Empoli captain Manuel Pasqual almost turned the game on its head two minutes later when his wonderful free-kick hit the angle between crossbar and post.
Roma restored control of the game and began to probe, Nicolo Zaniolo coming close when he was sent through on goal by an El Shaarawy back heel, but his left-footed finish flew wide.
The Giallorossi regained the advantage on 33 minutes when Schick rose to power in Alessandro Florenzi’s free-kick with his head.
Empoli rallied in the second half and laid siege to the Roma goal for the final 10 minutes after Florenzi was shown a second yellow card.
They thought they had found a late equaliser when Rade Krunic swept a finish into the net, only for the goal to be chalked off following a VAR review for a handball in the build-up.
Ranieri’s wish list
The new boss alerted the public to some of the items on his wish list ahead of the game. One was a call to arms to the fans, a plead to back the team again and show some love.
While the atmosphere of protest and confrontation that was evident in Eusebio di Francesco’s latter days in charge had dissipated somewhat, Ranieri’s name itself was greeted with by far the biggest cheer from the supporters, while many of the players were grumbled at or ignored completely.
Results and performances will help turn this around and one player Ranieri had spoken of his plans for was Schick, restored to the starting line-up tonight with Edin Dzeko suspended.
The new boss will hope that his faith in the youngster to finally fulfill his promise in a Roma shirt will be rewarded and it was an encouraging start as he rose to power in the winning goal.
Empoli sinking fast
It’s hard to find positives for Empoli fans right now. With this defeat and Bologna’s win over Cagliari at the weekend, the Tuscan side are now just one point above Sinisa Mihajlovic’s men – and the drop zone.
Since mid-December Empoli have statistically been the worst team in Serie A, picking up the fewest points (6) and conceding the most goals (27).
With Bologna looking revived under the former Milan boss, it is essential that Empoli take three points from their clash with Frosinone next weekend and remain ahead of the Rossoblu before they go head-to-head on 28 April.
After all, Empoli will need to have built up a safe distance before their final two games of the season, when they face Napoli at home and Juventus away.