If you caught the first 15 to 20 minutes of this match then headed out for the evening, you probably expected to come home and see some sort of seven or eight goal binge, this match was that wide open in the early goings. Roma was charging forward at will, and when their shots went wide or their passes were poorly played in the final third, Inter was more than happy to return the favor. What the match lacked in precision, it more than made up for in excitement.
Of course, the flipside to such an early surge is that the first half slowed to a crawl after the half hour mark, with players on both sides looking equally exhausted and frustrated. Don't get me wrong, Roma still looked dangerous, but they were just missing that final move, the one that pulled it altogether, much like The Dude's micturated upon rug.
While Stephan El Shaarawy and Mohamed Salah were able to run circles around Inter's wide defenders, and Pjanic and Radja Nainggolan were able to play long balls over the top of the defense, Roma just couldn't seem to string together those tidy little sequences of give and goes on the edge of the 18, the ones which enabled Diego Perotti, Salah and Pjanic to play off one another so well in recent weeks, catching El Shaarawy or Florenzi or whomever behind a stretched and confused defense.
The first half started with a flurry but finished in frustration.
Roma wasted little time in the second stanza, as El Shaarawy fired almost immediately at Samir Handanovic's goal, only to be found wanting; an enduring theme of the second half. We could talk about all the subtle tactical changes, the substitutions and the referee decisions, but the second half was a story of three key moments--a well-executed goal, a horrific miss, and a bit of dumb luck.
First up, the well-executed goal:
Ivan Perisic: 53rd Minute
GOAL Perisic! Roma 0-1 Inter pic.twitter.com/StAfIgDzSo— Serie A News (@TransfersCalcio) March 19, 2016
I engaged in a Kostas Manolas vs Wojciech Szczesny debate on Twitter about this goal, but run it back, and they're both complicit in this cock up. The most glaring error, of course, rests with Manolas--why he was acting so cavalier with the ball in such a crucial spot is beyond me, and further, I have no clue why he chipped it either, there was plenty of open pitch between him and Seydou Keita, certainly enough for a quick ground pass, but the site of his hands on his head shows you how excruciating this error was in the moment and remains in the bittersweet hereafter.
Manolas' horrid passing aside, I can't help but lay a sizeable portion of the blame at Woj's feet. Yes, the true antecedent of this play was Manolas, but that's simply part of the keeper's job, reacting when your defense makes a mistake. Rather than coming out a tad and cutting down the angle, Woj started shaking his feet like a puppy entering the bath, completing ceding the initiative to Perisic.
So, we'll call it a 60/40 split between Manolas and Szczesny, respectively. One that nearly cost Roma three points.
But, just when you thought Woj would be the scape goat, Edin Dzeko, the Andrea Bargnani of Serie A (that will make sense to NBA fans) come through again with yet another stunning miss.
Field goal is good from Dzeko pic.twitter.com/lgUmPsTc63— Serie A News (@TransfersCalcio) March 19, 2016
I mean, what can we say at this point? Just when it looked like Dzeko was starting to turn it around (four goals in his last five league matches), ugly Edin reared his ugly head once more, sending this shot into the rafters. But, on the bright side, this was better than his match winning save (for Inter) on Mohamed Salah late in the second half.
Dzeko was "involved" in the final key moment of this match, "assisting" Radja Nainggolan's equalizer.
Radja Nainggolan: 84th Minute
Where to begin on this one? Not only did Dzeko flub his attempt on goal, he missed a clear opportunity to lay it off to a wide open Alessandro Florenzi. However, fortune was on Roma's side this evening, as Dzeko's mealy mouthed attempt on goal just happened to trickle towards Nainggolan, who, to his credit, acted quickly, seizing upon the ball and scoring an equalizer from the seat of his pants.
Hey, Roma's winning streak may have come to an end, but thanks to this moral victory, Roma remains unbeaten in nine matches, and that's nothing to sneeze at. The first half was really a microcosm for the entire match, El Shaarawy and Salah ran roughshod over Inter's wide defenders just as they've been doing for months now, but that final link in the chain simply wasn't there tonight.
While I'm not quite sure what to chalk it up to, Inter's compacted defense, fatigue or simply "one of those days", I'd caution you not to read too much into it; there were still several positive signs from this match--the wide players were able to get into space, the defense, Manola's brainfart notwithstanding, played well and there were no shortage of shots; they simply weren't as crisp as they needed to be in the final third, and when they were, they were ably thwarted by Handanovic.
However, that does not mean they're immune to criticism. Can someone please explain to me why Luciano Spalletti waits so long to make such critical changes? He's quick on the draw for the early second half swaps, which is fine, but this match was screaming for an offensive change after the hour mark, yet anyone who could've made a shred of difference-- be it Francesco Totti, Iago Falque and even Maicon--were left wasting on the bench while Spalletti opted for a Lucas Digne-Emerson exchange. It just makes no sense.
Roma got lucky in this one, capitalizing on Dzeko's failed shot attempt come assist, but that won't always be the case. But, at the end of the day, Roma still has a five point lead over Inter and, at worst, a three point edge over Fiorentina, so we're still in solid shape in the race for third.