Roma produced arguably their finest display of the season against Villarreal, demolishing their Spanish hosts 4-0 and virtually guaranteeing their safe passage through to the Europa League Round of 16.
Other than a 10-minute spell early in the second half, with the score at 1-0 and the Yellow Submarine threatening an equaliser, it was a complete European away performance by Luciano Spalletti's team.
In the first leg of a tie tipped to be a close affair, scarcely anything went wrong for the 57-year-old Coach at the Estadio de la Ceramica. Roma were confident with and without the ball, picking off their opponents with increasing ease as the game wore on. Although Edin Dzeko's hat-trick ensures the Bosnian will again claim the majority of the headlines, this was a clinically executed team effort by the men in yellow and red.
The Giallorossi's three-man defence gave up precious little in the way of opportunities all evening, while Daniele De Rossi and Kevin Strootman completely bossed the midfield. Bruno Peres and Emerson Palmieri added their usual verve down the flanks, with the latter scoring one of the goals of the season for good measure – with his weaker foot. It ended 4-0, but it could have been even more.
The result should render next week's second leg at the Stadio Olimpico a formality, after which attention will turn tantalisingly to the Round of 16 draw and the possibilities it offers. This, after all, is a Villarreal team with the best defensive record in La Liga and who reached the semi-finals of this competition last season. Even Spalletti admitted in the build up to this encounter that he would rather not be facing Fran Escribà's team.
As it turned out, if Roma can dispatch the Yellow Submarine with such ease as they did here, there is every reason for Giallorossi fans to now genuinely believe the club can finally claim a first ever piece of European silverware. The likes of Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur and Shakhtar Donetsk may have something to say about that, but if they can recreate last night's performance when it matters later in the competition, they will take some stopping.
In a wider context, the result was also excellent news for Serie A as a whole. Italy's top flight has become much maligned in recent years, suffering the ignominy of losing a Champions League place to Germany's Bundesliga, struggling to attract the game's best talent and finding it hard to rid itself of its age-old perception as being a League for defensive, pragmatic football above all else.
Performances like Roma's, and Napoli's in parts against Real Madrid on Wednesday, show that there are other teams on the peninsula besides Juventus who possess genuine quality and can take the game to high level opposition. Fiorentina also registered their first ever victory on German soil, a Federico Bernardeschi masterclass of a free kick stunning Borussia Monchengladbach.
The Giallorossi may come up short in their pursuit of the Old Lady for the Scudetto, but if Spalletti can keep his squad fresh in the coming weeks and consistently get his team playing to the levels they reached in Spain, there is every chance they will be crowning their progress with a trophy come May.
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