Bosnian ace Miralem Pjanic returned from inspiring his country to World Cup qualification in sensational style with a brace over Napoli to extend Roma’s winning run in Serie A to eight matches with a 2-0 win at the Stadio Olimpico.
The 23-year-old struck on the stroke of half-time with an outstanding free-kick, before adding some shine to the victory with 20 minutes to go from the penalty spot to take his tally to three for the season.
Roma’s eight-game winning run in the Italian top-flight matches that previously of champions Juventus – but is still just one behind the all-time record of nine-in-a-row set by the Old Lady.
In the 133rd meeting between Roma and Napoli, it has been 20 games since the two sides played out a goalless draw.
Rudi Garcia has injected Ivory Coast international Gervinho with bags of confidence and he should’ve broken the deadlock after 15 minutes after striking off-balance from Francesco Totti’s cute through ball.
But the table-toppers were handed a cruel blow after half an hour when Totti limped down the Stadio Olimpico tunnel with a hamstring injury, replaced by Marco Borriello as Rudi Garcia switched to an orthodox three prolonged forward.
Without their talismanic captain, Roma were on the rails and Napoli’s ascendancy in the game should have resulted in the opening goal.
A swift counter-attack saw Macedonian lone-forward Goran Pandev steam through on goal with just Morgan de Sanctis to beat; yet despite the keeper’s touch, the warrior-like de Rossi was the last man on the line to clear.
That changed the momentum again in a pulsating first 45 minutes, as substitute Borriello held off Britos – who would need to leave the pitch before the break – to lay in Alessandro Florenzi who dragged his shot wide.
All of a sudden, the game went end-to-end after Kevin Strootman came close – but it was Napoli were kicking themselves after Insigne showed terrific balance inside the box, before skewing his shot into the side-netting.
Roma moved up the pitch at a ferocious pace through Gervinho for one last test of the Napoli defence and the former Arsenal man was bundled over by substitute Paolo Cannavaro.
And as the clock approached the third minute of stoppage time, Pjanic produced a wonderful free-kick from the edge of the penalty box to send the home fans into raptures.
Rafa Benitez probably couldn’t have asked for a better start to the second-half as Napoli came out the traps and dominated for well over a quarter of an hour, yet lacked any real scoring prowess.
Despite their territorial dominance – and while Gonzalo Higuain sat among the substitutes – only Swiss midfielder Gokhan Inler struck within worrying distance of de Sanctis.
As they grew into the match with increasing confidence, Napoli eventually pressed the self-destruct button.
A moment of madness from Cannavaro on 70 minutes put Garcia’s side back in charge after the defender was shown his second booking of the night for a rash barge on Borriello, as the striker looked to get on the end of Maicon’s cross.
As with the decision itself, there was little doubt over the spot-kick with Bosnian star Pjanic blasting the ball high into the net for his second goal of the game.
From then, Roma’s supporters cheered every crisp, bright pass from the excellent midfield trio – and there was even room for De Rossi to produce some terrific defensive interceptions around the penalty box.
But without the legendary Totti, midfield maestro Pjanic produced the goods to send Roma five points clear at the top of Serie A – until the challengers take to the field this weekend.