Outside of Roma and Napoli, each of whom has won five straight league matches, the remainder of Italy's top ten is in the midst of a chaotic run of form, suffering fits and starts for the past month. In fact, AC Milan is currently the only other team in the top ten that has won at least two consecutive matches. Inter, which once seemed unstoppable, managed to halt a run of three straight draws by defeating Bologna 1-0 over the weekend and will play host to Roma, Serie A's current leader, Saturday evening at the San Siro.
With only two points separating the two sides, and with Juventus far, far below them, we may be seeing a rebirth of the mid 2000s when Roma and Inter battled for Serie A supremacy. Of course, we all remember how Roma played the role of perpetual brides maid to Jose Mourinho's Inter sides, but the Giallorossi have undoubtedly been the better side over the past 24 months.
In the present sense, Roma may be the hottest team in the league, and have actually fared quite well in Inter's house, so can they keep the train rolling on Saturday ?
Let's take a look...
No Need for Nutella
Roma's last minute loan of Adem Ljajic to Inter came as a bit of a shock to us Ljajic lovers. Talent and potential aside, Ljajic was Roma's leading scorer last year, so to see him dispensed so readily was a bit of a surprise. While it wasn't quite as glowing as his breakout year with Fiorentina, he seemed primed for big things. The counter to this argument is, of course, that Ljajic simply had no true place on this team and that, due to his supposed lack of commitment and desire, his enormous talent may never be fully reaped. With only four appearances to his name, it doesn't appear as though Nutella will become an even larger global phenomenon for the Nerazzurri, but there are plenty of other reasons to fear Inter.
With talents like Mauro Icardi, Stevan Jovetic and Ivan Perisic on board, you'd be right to fear Inter's attack, but Inter's ascendency this season has been a matter of defense—though those three have accounted for 80% of Inter's goal tally thus far. Led by Samir Handanovic, Inter's defense has been water tight, conceding only seven goals through the first ten weeks of play.
The thing is, though, statistically speaking, they haven't been that great. Despite only allowing seven goals, Inter is allowing 11.5 shots per match, are successful in only 39% of their tackles and have won 49% of their aerial duels—figures which all land in the 10-15 range league wide—and are dead last in interceptions. Stats like these are always somewhat subjective, but with "only" 54% possession, it's not as if they are hoarding the ball to the extent where their counting statistics are rendered moot.
The one thing Inter has done remarkably well, however, is not make mistakes. They won't berate you and hound you every step of the way, but they're well organized and smart. However, they've yet to face an attack as potent as Roma's...
Hot as Blazes
Over their past seven matches (all comps), Roma has scored a whopping 23 goals, including three over the weekend against Udinese. Out of Roma's 15 competitive matches this season, they've yet to be shutout and have scored two or more goals on 12 occasions, and all of this has come with virtually no goal scoring contributions from their biggest signing of the summer, Edin Dzeko.
Of course, with Dzeko's well having gone dry, someone has had to pick up the slack. We commented on Miralem Pjanic's superb form recently, and rightly so, but Gervinho is currently playing the best football of his life. Over his past seven matches, The Predator has scored six goals and contributed two assists, and has been virtually unstoppable with the ball at his feet, making defenders look like mincemeat as his braids flap in the wind.
If all of Roma is a stage and we're merely players, Gervinho and Pjanic are treating us all to a remarkable opening act. Look for these two to be involved early and often on Saturday.
Really, Saturday's match is a tale of contrasts: Roma's high octane offense versus Inter's stonewall defense; something has surely got to give. While Inter has struggled to escape with wins recently, they've conceded only two goals in their past four matches, while Roma, as we mentioned, can't seem to stop finding the back of the net.
So, which will win out, Roma's penchant for scoring goals or Inter's reluctance to concede them?