ROME – Claudio Ranieri got off to a winning start as Roma coach with Stephan El Shaarawy and Patrik Schick's first-half goals enough to squeeze past lowly Empoli 2-1 on Monday to keep in touch with the Champions League places.
Eusebio Di Francesco was sacked after the team's elimination in the Champions League last-16 last week with Ranieri returning to the club he coached for 18 months until February 2011.
The 67-year-old former Roma player was welcomed back to the Stadio Olimpico with a banner reading “Good luck Mister Ranieri”.
“I thank the fans, as they gave us a big hand this evening,” said Ranieri. “I didn’t expect us to play better, because this was a tense team that was anxious and still dealing with recent events.
“Putting a team together when we didn't have many players, and without the bigger players, the leaders that give a sense of direction to the side, wasn’t easy,” added the former Leicester and Chelsea coach.
“I knew it was going to be tough.”
Captain Daniele De Rossi, Kostas Manolas, Lorenzo Pellegrini and Cengiz Under were all out injured with Edin Dzeko, Federico Fazio and Aleksandar Kolarov suspended.
It was nervy debut against a side who are just one point above the relegation zone.
El Shaarawy turned in off a corner after nine minutes for his ninth league goal this season only for Empoli to level when Roma defender Juan Jesus headed into his own net.
The Romans nearly conceded another when Giovanni Di Lorenzo sent just wide before Schick put the hosts back on front after 33 minutes, jumping highest to nod in his third league goal this season.
Midfielder Nicolo Zaniolo hobbled off with a calf injury with Schick also coming off injured while captain Alessandro Florenzi was sent off for a second yellow card with ten minutes to go.
El Shaarawy was then handed the captain's armband for the first time.
Empoli looked to have scored a late equaliser when Rade Krunic fired into the goal on 89 minutes but a VAR review disallowed it for a Dmitri Oberlin handball in the build-up.
Slovenian forward Zan Celar, 19, got his first start after Schick came off as Ranieri's side held on in a nervy six minutes of injury time to get back winning after their 3-0 defeat to Lazio last time out.
Roma remain fifth, three points behind Inter Milan who occupy the final Champions League berth, and four adrift of third-placed AC Milan, with the city rivals going head-to-head on Sunday.
Roma will be without Florenzi when they play SPAL next weekend.
Agence France-Presse (AFP)