Roma’s run of four consecutive victories came to a halt at the Castellani thanks to the heroics of Lukasz Skorupski.
The Giallorossi were seeking a fifth consecutive Serie A victory and could consolidate second place. Francesco Totti, Alessandro Forenzi, Mario Rui, Thomas Vermaelen and Moustapha Seck missed the trip, but Antonio Rudiger had his first start since rupturing the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee in May. The hosts had scored a pitiful two goals in 10 rounds, the least prolific side in Europe’s top five leagues. Vincent Laurini was injured, but Alberto Gilardino pushed Massimo Maccarone to the bench.
Empoli haven’t beaten Roma, home or away in all competition, since February 2007, managing two stalemates and five defeats going into this weekend.
In the first couple of minutes Lukasz Skorupski, who is on loan from Roma, flew to fingertip an Edin Dzeko header out from under the crossbar. Moments later he was called into action quite spectacular again, one-handed to deny Mohamed Salah’s strike from 12 yards.
There was a curious moment when Giuseppe Bellusci brought down Dzeko on the edge of the area and the referee flashed a yellow followed by a red card, but quickly realised it was a case of mistaken identity and it was the defender’s first booking.
Stephan El Shaarawy saw a couple of efforts deflected off target, but Empoli also threatened just before half-time when Manuel Pasqual’s free kick swerved just past the upright.
Bruno Peres returned from injury for the second half and drilled just wide of the upright, while Massimo Maccarone’s finish was too central to trouble Wojciech Szczesny.
Yet Empoli were inches away from taking the lead on 81 minutes when Saponara somehow kept the ball in play to pull back for Maccarone in the six-yard box and the angled drive shaved a coat of paint off the base of the far post.
Roma threw everything at the Tuscans and in the final minutes Dzeko rose to meet a corner, but the header was cleared off the line by Pasqual.
In stoppages Skorupski completed his man of the match performance with another great save on El Shaarawy’s volley. On the resulting corner Salah went down under a possible tiny shirt-tug, but the flailing of the arms prompted the referee to book him for simulation.
Skorupski was decisive again on El Shaarawy after a Salah counter, as Empoli bolted the door shut.