Roma entered this match uncertain of many things—of the stadium situation, of Alessandro Florenzi’s knee, of their own identity and, of course, their opponent—yet nearly from the jump they were dictating the pace on location of play, focusing intently on attacking through the middle.
However, despite those good intentions, the first 30 minutes were relatively even keeled, as each side had their fair share of shots and were passing the ball around with ease. But the man who would kick this match open was, ironically, the Karate Kid himself, Emerson Palmieri.
Emerson: 32nd Minute
This was a bit of an odd goal in that in started with a lovely bit of team play, but was ultimately the product of a Villarreal turnover. After Antonio Rüdiger played a long ball to Stephan El Shaarawy, SES got a bit too cute for his own good, back heeling the ball towards to Emerson who was bombing down the flank. After the ball was picked off, Emerson, who was practically still running towards the intended path of SES’s backheel, stole the ball, then cut-in while dragging the ball around the defense before lofting it into the far (and I mean far) corner of the goal. Top class. You simply cannot say enough about this kid’s development this year.
We could go on and on talking tactics and intensity, but a funny thing happened in the last half hour of this match: Edin Dzeko made the Ceramica his own personal playground...
Edin Dzeko: 65th Minute
Man, this thing was a beauty. Luciano Spalletti’s decision to bring on Mohamed Salah paid off immediately, as Roma’s #11 exploded on the counter, cut the ball back past two defenders and played the ball into space. Now, here comes the genius of this play, watch how Dzeko sort of simultaneously plants, pivots, dummies, turns and cradles the ball over to his left foot, leaving the defender twisting like one of those spikes you tie a dog to—just a wonderfully constructed goal from start to finish; Dzeko and Salah couldn’t be any more different as players, which makes them nearly perfect foils for one another.
Edin Dzeko: 79th Minute
Between Dzeko, Emerson and Juan Jesus, you would have been hard pressed to find three more maligned players on this squad at the start of the season, so it was quite fitting that Rruan set up this goal, putting the match officially (well, unofficially if we’re being strict) to bed. Rruan put this one on a platter, finding Dzeko from a touch past the midfield stripe. From there Dzeko just fucking nailed this one—you’ll notice how he sort of chopped his steps, setting himself up for a picture perfect volley off the bounce. This is Dzeko at his best; decisive, dominant and brimming with confidence.
But he wasn’t done yet....
Edin Dzeko: 86th Minute
Edin Dzeko's third goal. The Bosnian is now top scorer in the Serie A and the Europa League. pic.twitter.com/wjeOH1NfLN— CALCIO SQUARE (@calcio_square) February 16, 2017
Dead Eye Dzeko (a nickname that started off draped in sarcasm but somehow seems appropriate now) saved his best for last. I mean, just look at this one, who knew he was that agile? Once again, he settles/turn/pivots/fires all in one move, leaving the defender quaking in his wake. It’s one thing to score a goal using his size, but quite another to completely juke a defender like this—Dzeko is in another stratosphere right now.
Dzeko’s hattrick pushed his season total to 28 goals in all competitions, which is, I mean, indescribable, right? Who in their right mind saw this coming a year ago? Edin fucking Dzeko is the leading scorer in all of Europe right now. Unreal.
Thanks to Dzeko’s heroics, Roma has essentially waltzed into the quarterfinals, gifting Spalletti an opportunity to rest several starters during next week’s return leg at the Olimpico.
Take a bow, Edin. You more than deserve it.