The big question heading into tomorrow’s match against Inter, besides how many clear cut chances will Edin Dzeko miss or how badly willy Juan Jesus play, is can Roma carry over their midweek momentum into Sunday’s home match against Inter Milan? Roma’s 4-0 victory over Astra Giurgiu in the Europa League seems like enough to propel the Giallorossi to greater heights, but standing in their way is a reformed and revamped Inter side.
The New Nerazzurri
While Inter’s sudden dismissal of Roberto Mancini seemed like it would leave Roma’s northern neighbors reeling, his replacement, Frank de Boer, has gotten the new look Inter off to a rather hot start. Although they stumbled last week against Bologa, Inter has won three of their past five matches, vaulting them into third place, albeit only one point ahead of seventh place Roma.
Roma v. Inter: October 2, 20:45 CET, 2:45 EDT. Stadio Olimpico, Roma
Propelled by Mauro Icardi, de Boer’s attack has look ferocious, grabbing six goals in their past three victories, one of which was over Juventus. Wanda’s husband/top client has an impressive six goals through his first six appearances and seems all but assured to ascend to international stardom this season. And to think that he’s only 23-years-old and cost Inter all of €13 million...astounding.
Beyond Icardi’s expected hot start, Inter’s other new signings have been immediate contributors as well. Between Joao Mario, Ever Banega and Antonio Candreva, Inter has an incredibly deep and versatile attack, as those three have accounted for six assists already.
So despite the brief period of instability Inter suffered after Mancini’s firing, de Boer has more than corrected course and has Inter on course for a top three finish, so how will Luciano Spalletti counter his newest threat?
Roma’s resounding victory over Astra wasn’t perfect by any means, but one needn’t look any further than the players reactions to see how this was the perfect tonic for what ailed their spirits. Sure, the level of the opponent has to be considered, but Spalletti’s switch to a 4-2-3-1 seemed to bring the best out of several of his charges, most notably Kevin Strootman, Leandro Paredes, Diego Perotti, and, well, Francesco Totti.
While the King’s 90 midweek minutes probably means he’s out of this one, Paredes and Strootman’s combined performance against Astra portends something quite lovely for Roma, though not enough to make us forget about Totti, of course. Against their Romanian opponents, Paredes and Strootman ran the show, taking over 300 combined touches and completing over 94% of their passes. And while Strootman’s goal would make him seem like the ostensible offensive half of this double pivot, Paredes was masterful from his position, hitting on four of six long balls, ripping off four shots and creating one chance. So whether we call it Pirlo or Pizarro esque doesn’t matter, Paredes has shown glimpses of excellence so far in his young Roma career; Thursday’s match may just be the beginning for Lovely Leo.
However, if there has been one pervasive theme throughout this young season, or more aptly, one gigantic 800 pound gorilla in the room, it’s been the performance of Roma’s midfield, where both Daniele De Rossi and Radja Nainggolan look completely gassed. And really, all of Roma’s Euro 2016 competitors have either been wildly inconsistent or simply not up to snuff. Between DDR, Radja, Alessandro Florenzi and even Thomas Vermaelen, Roma has been definitely bitten by the Euro bug.
So, if Paredes and Strootman can step up and take some pressure off Nainggolan and De Rossi, not to mention offering Spalletti a completely different tactical option, Roma will be able to weather the storm for a bit longer until they either find new reinforcements or more consistent roles for Paredes and Gerson.
But on the balance of the season, it’s hard to peg down one specific area in which Roma has been lacking, a point to which Spalletti spoke during a pre-match press conference:
There are actions and stats which people don’t care to think about," he noted. "We have the obvious figures like ball possession, goals, assists. But there are a number of other ones that you perhaps aren’t familiar with, or aren’t so interested in, which actually give a good idea of how balanced the team is.
Doubling up on opponents, closing down of passing lanes, the number of times getting in behind the defensive line. There are numbers that newspapers don’t pick up, but are very important when you look at a game.
While we can’t necessarily argue with that—goals, possession and assists don't always tell the whole story—it does put the spotlight on his club’s most glaring weakness: their lack of execution. While consistent buildup play, an active defense and shot creation—even when the don’t show up on the scoreboard—are indicators that tactics are working, they mean fuck all when, to borrow a basketball term, the shots aren’t falling.
And as we’ve seen many, many, many, many times over the past few years, those little misses weigh heavily on the club’s collective psyche, throwing the team into a tailspin.
So, if Kostas Manolas can manage to wrangle in Icardi, and Nainggolan, De Rossi or whomever can negate Banega and the offense can capitalize on their chances, we may look back at this match as the turning point in the season.
I hate Inter, you hate Inter, well hate Inter, so let’s knock them on their asses and send Wanda home crying in her designer handbags.