MILAN: Roma battled back for a 3-2 Serie A victory over Genoa to give beleaguered coach Eusebio Di Francesco a lifeline at the Stadio Olimpico on Sunday despite goalkeeper Robin Olsen’s early blunder.
It ended Roma’s five-match winless streak dating back to a 4-1 triumph over Sampdoria on November 11, and lifted Di Francesco’s side to sixth — two points behind AC Milan in the final Champions League berth.
Napoli earlier beat Cagliari 1-0 in Sardinia to pull back to within eight points of leaders Juventus, who won their derby against Torino by the same scoreline on Saturday thanks to a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty.
Roma got off to the worst possible start in a tense atmosphere among the 29,000 crowd in Rome where fans had a silent protest in the first ten minutes at the club’s management and transfer strategy.
“I have to congratulate the lads for how they played in a very surreal environment, for them it was not easy,” said Di Francesco.
“The team is still sick, but I saw the pride and the desire to bring home the three points.”
The hosts were trailing after Swedish keeper Olsen let the ball slip through his legs and hands to allow Polish striker Krzysztof Piatek pounce in the 17th minute.
Piatek slid in for his 12th goal of the season to overtake Ronaldo as Serie A’s leading scorer.
But goals from Federico Fazio and Justin Kluivert twice pulled Roma level before the break, with Bryan Cristante grabbing the winner just before the hour mark.
Di Francesco was reported to be set for the axe if his team failed to deliver a win against Genoa, who are now 16th.
And amid an injury crisis, the 49-year-old switched things around after his side’s Champions League defeat midweek with Nicolo Zaniolo in a new attacking role.
“I chose above all players who were fresh, young and free of the pressure,” said Di Francesco.
“My only other option in attack was Patrik Schick, I had no options off the bench in midfield, while in defence I picked Juan Jesus because he is tough and I needed that in this game.
“We had a lot of technical errors, but the most important thing was a show of character.
“Genoa are in good shape and they knew that they were up against a Roma side that was a little frightened, so they tried to make the most of the situation.”
Roma next travel to seven-time defending champions Juventus who remain unbeaten with 46 points from 16 games.
– Milik lifts Napoli –
Earlier, Polish striker Arkadiusz Milik’s superb injury-time free-kick kept Carlo Ancelotti’s side eight points behind Juventus.
Milik scored the winner in the 91st minute with a perfectly curled effort which left Cagliari goalkeeper Alessio Cragno with no chance.
Ancelotti had rung the changes after Napoli’s Champions League exit to Liverpool but the visitors struggled in attack against the well-organised Sardinians.
Milik had a chance to break the deadlock on 68 minutes but his header hit the bar, with Cragno rushing to prevent Kalidou Koulibaly’s attempted finish from the rebound.
But Napoli poured forward in search of a winner with Milik settling the game with his eighth goal of the season and fourth in three games.
“Anfield was a big blow, but the lads immediately responded as I expected them to,” said Ancelotti.
“I chose a fresher initial line-up to give us energy throughout the match. It was a mature victory with intensity.”
Cagliari, in 13th position, suffered their first home defeat of the season.
Fiorentina ended their eight-match league winless run with a 3-1 comeback victory over Empoli, and are now four points off fourth-placed AC Milan who play Bologna on Tuesday.
Fabio Quagliarella, meanwhile, continued his fine form, scoring in his sixth straight Serie A game to seal a 2-0 win for Sampdoria over Parma.
Gianluca Caprari scored the opener in the 66th minute in Genoa with Quagliarella further punishing Parma with a second three minutes later for his ninth goal this season and seventh in six games. —AFP