Roma's forward from Bosnia-Herzegovina Edin Dzeko (L) celebrates with teammates after scoring during the Italian Serie A football match Roma vs Fiorentina at the Olympic Stadium in Rome on February 7, 2017. Roma won the match 4-0.<br />FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP
Edin Dzeko hit a brace to go top of the Serie A goal charts on Tuesday as Roma stayed in the title chase with a comprehensive 4-0 win over lacklustre Fiorentina.
Rescheduled due to Sunday’s Six Nations rugby match between Italy and Wales, Roma hosted Paulo Sousa’s men knowing defeat would leave them in third place — seven points behind leaders Juventus and one point behind Napoli.
But Luciano Spalletti’s men were in no mood for throwing away what is shaping up to be a strong title challenge and kept the scudetto race alive with a dominant performance at a half-empty Stadio Olimpico.
Roma now sit four points behind Juventus, although the Turin giants, bidding for a record sixth consecutive title, will open up a seven-point gap if they beat Crotone on Wednesday.
Often lambasted for missing easy goal chances, Dzeko hit back at his critics in style and Spalletti told Premium Sport: “As soon as he makes a mistake everyone jumps to criticise him, but tonight they can’t say anything about Dzeko.
“We’re having a great campaign, just like Napoli, but Juventus are having a wonderful season.”
Fiorentina’s heavy defeat has given a minor boost to crisis-hit AC Milan. Both are among several teams fighting for Europa League places and Milan, who suffered a third straight loss with a 1-0 defeat to Sampdoria on Sunday, moved back above La Viola to seventh.
Sousa conceded: “Roma were better than us. We didn’t capitalise on the few chances we had. We were nervous and they were clinical.”
Fiorentina started brightly and when Federico Chiesa sprung the offside trap the hosts had Federico Fazio to thank for a goalline clearance after Chiesa lobbed onrushing goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny.
Dzeko had been warned by Fiorentina’s Carlos Sanchez, who in the past has “marked lots of top players, including Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi”, that he would be hard to get past.
The towering Bosnia international must have been listening because he produced an uncharacteristically committed performance that paid dividends. Now on 17 league goals for the season, he is one ahead of Napoli’s Dries Mertens.
Stephan El Shaarawy and Bruno Peres, twice, came close to beating Ciprian Tatarusanu in the Viola net early on while the keeper did well to smother a Dzeko effort on the turn.
Sanchez was booked for a badly-timed tackle on Emerson Palmieri and the Colombian’s woes continued when Daniele De Rossi sent a ball over the top that Dzeko controlled on his chest before finishing low past Tatarusanu seven minutes from the interval.
Fiorentina looked rudderless without the pace and creativity of injured striker Nikola Kalinic and did well not to ship more than three goals in a totally uninspiring second half.
De Rossi had his second assist of the game on the hour when he delivered a free kick for Fazio to nod downwards and in off the post for his first league goal of the season.
Antonio Rudiger drilled inches wide and Dzeko was close to a second after chipping past the onrushing Tatarusanu, only for Davide Astori to rush back and clear.
When Fiorentina were caught on the counter, De Rossi sent Kevin Strootman down the left to set up Radja Nainggolan, who controlled well under pressure before coolly prodding the ball past Tatarusanu.
Dzeko had his brace minutes from the end when he caught Astori in possession and ran clear to fire past Tatarusanu.