After consecutive defeats to Udinese and Ludogorets, the former by an embarrassing 4-0 scoreline, Roma were in desperate need of a victory today over Empoli. Whether it was a one-nil squeaker or a seven-goal bonanza, it didn't matter; Roma just needed three points, full stop. With so much positive momentum to begin the season, dropping three straight matches could have ruined everything Roma hoped to accomplish this season.
In keeping with their recent form, Roma was vexed by a smaller opponent, who didn't simply comply because the Giallorossi had a larger payroll to their name. Although Mourinho's men controlled possession early in the match (60/40), Empoli was the more aggressive side, firing four shots at Rui Patricio through the opening 15 minutes.
And just when it felt like we were in for another stilted first-half performance from Roma, Paulo Dybala stepped up to the plate, delivering a sublime left-footed finish from 20 yards out, redirecting Empoli's clearance into the upper left-hand corner of the goal in one fell, magical swoop.
Roma coasted on Dybala's achievement for the remainder of the first half, and just when it seemed like they'd carry that lead into the locker room, Filippo Balidinelli caught Rui Patricio flat-footed (and the rest of the defense napping) when he steered a header into the far post to level the match in the 43rd minute.
While it would have been great if that equalizer brought out the best in Roma, Mourinho's men struggled just the same in the second half, failing to string together more than a handful of passes at any given moment. With the possession tilting Empoli's way, the Azzurri seemed primed for an upset, pumping an additional 10 shots Patricio's way in the second stanza, striking the post and forcing the Portuguese keeper into multiple saves down the stretch.
With Roma at risk of dropping two critical points, Dybala, just as he's done all season long, pulled another rabbit out of his hat, peeling away from two defenders before whipping the ball across the 18-yard-box, picking out Tammy Abraham's instep amongst a thicket of defenders for the match winner.
It wasn't easy, but Roma managed to stem the tide and start a brutal three-matches-in-six-days stretch with three points. (Extended highlights)