After going winless in the previous five league games and a well needed two–week break, Inter welcomed fellow UEFA Champions League chasers in the form of Roma to the San Siro with both teams desperate for the three points in order to leapfrog themselves above one another and create a bit of a cushion, albeit not much of one.
On paper, it was the same old for the home side and Spalletti as he stuck with his well-structured, 4-2-3-1. Two changes were made from the draw in Florence a fortnight ago as the returning Miranda stepped in for Ranocchia and Candreva replaced West Ham United and Everton target, João Mário. New Argentine defender Lisandro López who joined on loan a week ago from S.L. Benfica with the option to buy took his place on the substitutes bench.
Eusebio Di Francesco’s Roma came into this one off the back of a 2-1 home defeat at the hands of TIM Cup Semi-Finalists, Atalanta. The former Sassuolo manager stuck with his 4-3-3 however Belgian star, Radja Nainggolan was brought back into the line-up after recent reports of a move to China replacing Gonalons and the only other change was Perotti out for Gerson. Bosnian striker Edin Džeko started up top in which may be his final game for the giallorossi with Chelsea eyeing up the forward.
The game got off to a frantic start as expected as both sides were fully recovered and raring to go for one of the biggest matches of the season. Inter looked to have made amends to their woeful press in Florence as they pushed in numbers forcing Roma to go back to Brazilian shot stopper, Alisson who was also pressured immensely. A positive start by the Nerazzurri however the quality in the opponent’s locker allowed them to deal with it and force Inter into giving the ball away just as much. An energetic opening phase.
Inter‘s press in numbers
Roma‘s press in numbers
Inter’s press was done very well as Roma were forced to go all the way back to their goalkeeper or look for a long ball. Inter however forced themselves into going backwards due to players simply not having the awareness of where to be in able to keep possession and progress forwards. In the example above, that is highlighted with Vecino who I also pointed out for the same issue in the last match. Both of which almost led to goals.
One instruction Spalletti noticeably instructed his team to do was maintain a high line. Reason for this? Edin Džeko. The Bosnian is not renowned for his pace so if there is a high line, he is further away from the goal causing their main threat to be nullified, a smart move by the boss.
A common theme throughout was Gerson playing almost as a LCM with Nainggolan operating between the lines finding pockets of space. Di Francesco went for this approach to allow Radja the freedom to drift wide or sit right behind the striker, whatever was necessary for him to find space so he could pick up the ball. This led to Gerson being sacrificed to track back and cover the space left with Strootman sitting deeper to also help stop any fast breaks. Ultimately, it forced the majority of Roma’s play to run through their right-hand side.
On paper before the match, it looked like Luciano had committed to his 4-2-3-1 but that wasn’t actually the case. Instead, Inter matched their opposition going for a 4-3-3 with Gagliaridini as the holding midfielder and the one who started attacks off from the midfield. Another smart move by the ex Roma manager as it allowed for a more attacking style of play forcing Roma back as they only allowed Nainggolan to really drift forward but even when he was unable to get back, their wide man (Only Gerson since Pellegrini would maintain his position) was told to cover so this allowed the home side to really put a stamp on the game which they did.
Just before the 30th minute, the away side took the lead through former Milan player, Stephan El Shaarawy. Just like a number of the goals Inter have conceded in recent times, it wasn’t anything amazing or well worked, it was just silly errors and this goal was no different. The lead up to the goal started with Alisson who is capable with his feet and the players should be aware of this given the preparation time, planning etc. However, Santon didn’t seem to get the memo. Roma played with one actual wide player, El Shaarawy. Now he was on Santon’s side so he needs to be aware that he is his man and that if they go long, it will most certainly be on his side so he needs to have #92 in his sights all game. He didn’t. The high line came into play but it was simply a lack of judgement and awareness by the left-back which caused the goal as the Brazilian pinged a pass over every single player for the Faraone to run onto and slot the ball away. 0-1.
After the goal, Inter tried to keep hold of the ball to get a hold on the game but struggled to really create anything going forward as Roma tucked in not allowing the men in blue and black to attack through the middle, instead forcing them out wide yet the fullbacks were not very offensive at all, even João Cancelo who always likes to get forward. Something I found odd as Gerson/Nainggolan always operated in the left half space allowing 32-year-old Aleksandar Kolarov to bomb forward but if Inter attacked with both Cancelo and Candreva, it might have pinned Kolarov and Roma as a team back a bit more.
Marcelo Brozović was introduced at half-time in place of the wasteful Roberto Gagliardini with Borja Valero dropping into the position Gagliaridini was in and the Croatian international filling Borja’s now left position. A move that needed to be made as Roberto was simply not good enough and not composed on the ball leading to him being disposed causing a number of issues whereas Valero’s calmness allowed him to string passes together and get the ball moving up the field more importantly.
In the first half, Inter pressed well which was the opposite to what happened against Fiorentina however in the second half, that same awful press crept back into the play as only some of the team would press allowing the giallorossi to keep possession or find pockets of space between the lines. Example below of how Icardi pressed Manolas into going back to Alisson who calmly moved the ball across to Fazio who also had time on the ball and all of that is because neither Candreva nor Perišić closed down the options which would have forced the goalkeeper to kick the ball long.
Below is an example of a good Inter press further into the game as Icardi cut off the passing lane to Manolas forcing Alisson to go with his left to a side which is fully marked.
At the 70th minute, both sides made a change with Bruno Peres replacing the injured Gerson but the system remaining the same and Éder coming on for Candreva but playing a lot closer to Icardi, more like an inside forward to offer support allowing Cancelo to attack the flank and to cause more problems for that Roma defence. A great example of exactly what Éder was told to do and why is shown below as prior to him being on the pitch, both Fazio and Manolas would be dealing with only Icardi here and then whichever one is not marking the #9 will pick up the oncoming Brozović but now they can’t do that creating a massive problem.
In the 74th minute, just after Icardi hit the post from a counter attack down Bruno Peres’ side, Eusebio Di Francesco took off goal scorer El Shaarawy for defender and former Inter man, Juan Jesus and switching to a 5-3-2 in the hope his side would be able to contain the immense pressure being poured onto them. Dalbert was also introduced a minute later for the error prone, Davide Santon which pinned Roma back with his pace and attacking qualities.
The formation change fell into Inter’s hands as it just allowed them to pile on the pressure for a solid 15 minutes with absolutely no attempt from Roma to get forward given the instructions the manager set out. Something which in the end cost them and I’m sure Di Francesco will look back and regret his decision to go as defensive as he did because had he of kept El Shaarawy on, they might just have been able to catch Inter on the break to seal the game.
It remained attack vs defence up until the 85th minute when Vecino got on the end of an inch perfect Brozović cross (who put in a very good shift) to nod home. A lot of credit goes to Marcelo here however Dalbert drags away his man due to the overlap allowing the Croat to have enough time to pick out a cross. One of the reasons I have been crying out for the left-back to be given more of a chance since Santon is not much better, if at all.
The Nerazzurri maintained the pressure for the final five minutes as Roma came out of their shell a little bit but neither side could find a winner.
A game which neither side wanted to lose but, in the end, one that Inter most certainly should and would have won had it not been for some poor finishing and a world class save from Brazilian number one, Alisson. It took Inter until about the 65th minute to really kick into gear but from then on out, it was one-way traffic and we were very, very unlucky to not pick up all three points. Also, Roma were good but nothing special. They had one shot on target all game and scored from it and that chance was gifted to them by an individual error so on any other day, we would be celebrating a win but it just wasn’t to be. A positive is that the next five games are against opposition in the bottom nine leading up to the Milan derby so five wins has got to be the aim and hopefully we can get back into form.