At the turn of the century, a Fabio Capello managed AS Roma side won their third Scudetto in the club’s history, led by the world-class partnership of Gabriel Batistuta and Francesco Totti. The Romans only lost three games all season on their way to the title, first one coming at the hands of the Nerazzurri at San Siro.
As Inter prepared to take on Roma in round four of 2000-01 Serie A season, the club was struggling to reestablish itself after a tumultuous start. Manager Marcello Lippi was fired after losing the season opener 2-1 at Reggina and was replaced by Marco Tardelli.
First two games in charge produced polar opposite results, while the team comfortably beat Napoli at home, it was comprehensively beaten 3-0 away to Udinese under the leadership of Luciano Spalletti. To make matters more difficult, Inter lost both their star strikers in Christian Vieri and Ronaldo to injuries and had a makeshift attacking partnership of Robbie Keane and Hakan Sukur.
The visiting AS Roma side had gotten off to a flying start. They had obliterated their opponents with a combined score of 9-1. Batistuta and Totti both scoring three goals through first three games, were simply unstoppable. Going into the match, Capello’s side were favorites to walk away from Milan with three points in the bag.
However, the underdog home side, was eager to turn the season around and was hungry for a statement victory to jumpstart the campaign.
Capello had his side lined up in a 3-4-1-2 formation. In goal was Francesco Antonioli, with the defensive trio of Walter Samuel, Zago and Alessandro Rinaldi. In midfield was former Inter midfielder Cristiano Zanetti, Vincent Candela, Damiano Tommasi and Cafu. Francesco Totti was in his trequartista role behind Gabriel Batistuta and Marco Delvecchio up front.
Marco Tardelli’s side were lined up in a 4-3-1-2 formation with a young Sebastien Frey in goal and defensive line of Ivan Cordoba, Laurent Blanc, Matteo Ferrari and Bruno Cirillo. The midfield trio was Luigi Di Biagio, Francisco Javier Farinos, Vratislav Gresko with Clarance Seedorf as a trequartista behind Alvaro Recobba and Hakan Sukur in attack.
Right from the start, the match lived up to the hype. Both sides showing a clear intent to attack and impose their respective style of play. Inter, took the more cautious slow build-up approach, playing from the back and pushing up from the fullback positions while the Seedorf-Recoba partnership created scoring opportunities for Hakan Sukur.
Roma, instead relied on quick counter-attack transition from defense to link up with the Totti-Batistuta-Delvecchio trident in attack. The chemistry between the Roman attackers was evident in their attempts to play quick, one-touch passes to open spaces in the Nerazzurri defense.
Inter managed to get the early break through as Hakan Sukur headed home a Clarence Seedorf corner kick around the eighteen-minute mark. Following the corner kick, Cafu’s misplaced clearance unintentionally assisted Sukur’s goal by playing the ball in his direction, completely unmarked. Antonioli, left rooted to the spot watched the ball into the back of the net.
After jumping to the early lead, Nerazzurri midfielders were cautious of the constant counter-attack thread posed by Roma and didn’t commit forward as much. Seedorf and Recoba were playing off of each other to create scoring opportunities for the home side.
Cafu, eager to eradicate his mistake, pushed forward more often to provide more width to the Roman attack, targeting Totti and Batistuta as targets inside the box, with Delvecchio dropping back often to transition the ball with speed and accuracy. Roma retorted with a number of scintillating counter-attack moves, however, the Nerazzurri defense were up to the task and managed to keep a clean sheet.
As the match went on, frustration was mounting for the visitors. Desperate to score the equalizing goal and keep the winning streak alive, Totti dictated the flow of the Roma attack and often bet on his own long-range shots to test the young goalkeeper instead of connecting with Batistuta and Delvecchio as they were attacking in first half.
The home side, unphased by the Roma attack, comfortably dealt with the attacking onslaught and allowed Recoba to add a second and decisive goal for Inter around sixty-eight minute mark. Gresko made a deep run into the box, dragging defenders out of position then laying the ball off for an unmarked Recoba who struck a pile-driving shot into the near post for Inter’s second goal of the night.
Game ended with further attacking onslaught from Batistuta and Totti, both with tremendous solo efforts, however Nerazzurri defenses stood strong and kept a clean sheet to secure three crucial points against the eventual champions AS Roma side.