Roma held to 1-1 at Palermo in Serie A
MILAN (AP) — Roma was held to 1-1 at Palermo on Saturday in another slip-up in its quest for the Serie A title.
Rudi Garcia’s team fell three points behind Juventus after last week’s derby draw against Lazio, and the defending champion can pull further ahead on Sunday when it hosts Hellas Verona — which it beat 6-1 in the Italian Cup on Thursday.
“We didn’t play in the first half,” Garcia said. “We were rooted to the spot and without any movement at all. And that’s even more of a handicap if then we’re facing a team full of confidence, and to which we give a belated Christmas present.
“Fortunately the team found itself again in the second half when we changed system and ran more, playing more intensely. But we can’t start to play well only after we concede. The truth is that, at the moment, we’re lacking consistency. The players need to change their attitude.”
Paulo Dybala returned from injury to stun Roma by firing Palermo ahead in the second minute following a defensive error. Mattia Destro levelled nine minutes into the second half.
Palermo remained level on points with Inter Milan, which was fortunate to leave relegation-threatened Empoli with a 0-0 draw.
“We all have to do something more,” Inter coach Roberto Mancini said. “We have to have the courage to take risks and to start plays right from the back. We are Inter and we shouldn’t be scared.”
Both are level with AC Milan in mid-table, but just five points below third-placed Lazio ahead of the rest of the weekend’s fixtures.
Roma knew it could move provisionally level with Juventus but had key players Daniele De Rossi and Radja Nainggolan suspended, so Garcia handed rare starts to Kevin Strootman and Destro.
Palermo was keen to bounce back after its club record nine-match unbeaten run ended in a 4-3 thriller at Fiorentina.
The Sicilian side took the lead less than two minutes in. Franco Vazquez intercepted a woeful pass from Davide Astori and immediately threaded the ball to Dybala, who struck it into the bottom right corner.
It was Dybala’s eighth goal in his past nine league matches, and his 10th this season.
Roma risked going further behind shortly before the break when Michel Morganella crossed for Edgar Baretto but Morgan De Sanctis flew acrobatically to pluck his header away from goal.
The capital side leveled in the 54th when Miralem Pjanic’s free kick was nodded on by Strootman, and Destro stuck out a leg to bundle it in.
Earlier, an insipid Inter could find no inspiration from new signing Lukas Podolski, or his replacement, Xherdan Shaqiri, on debut.
Empoli made most of the running, especially in the second half when visiting goalkeeper Samir Handanovic was made to make some fine saves to deny Manuel Pucciarelli twice, as well as Piotr Zielinski.
But Empoli saw the end of a seven-match unbeaten run it used to climb out of the bottom three.