Their midweek stinker versus Villarreal notwithstanding, Roma are in rare form right now, winners of five of their past six league matches, a span over which they have outscored their opponents 14 to 4. However, there is a slightly more formidable opponent standing in their way tomorrow, the detestable Nerazzurri of Inter Milan. Coincidentally enough, Inter has also won five of their past six matches, outscoring their opponents 10 to 2. Crotone v. Cagliari aside, this is the matchup of the Serie A weekend.
However, as is the custom, before we dive into this one, a look back
October 2nd: Roma 2, Inter 1
Roma got the party started early in this one, as Bruno Peres found Edin Dzeko in the box in only the fifth minute of action. The bulk of this match was two man dual, as Wojciech Szczęsny and Samir Handanovic traded save after save. However, after Ever Banega levelled the match in the 72nd minute, Roma got a bit lucky as Kostas Manola’s header was deflected in (slightly) by Mauro Icardi, gifting Roma three points.
Inter v. Roma: February 26. 20:45 CET/2:45 EST. San Siro, Milano.
It was a closely fought match, one that figures to mirror tomorrow’s action. Speaking of which, let’s take a quick look at some of the key matchups ahead of tomorrow’s tilt, the 190th time these sides have squared off.
Mauro Icardi v. Kostas Manolas
While Icardi is really a concern for the whole of Roma’s defense, especially the ones who are otherwise blissfully married, the onus will fall on Greece Lighting himself. Manolas was masterful in the reverse fixture, picking off five passes, blocking one shot and clearing ten balls from harm, and while he didn’t directly strip the ball from Icardi, he was instrumental in keeping Roma’s defense from falling over, helping keep Icardi to one shot on goal.
However, make no mistake, Icardi is a concern for the entire squad tomorrow. Out of the top five scoring duos in the league, Icardi accounts for four of them, either as the scorer or the assist man. Despite what you may think of him personally, Icardi is sensational.
Edin Dzeko v. Gary Medel
Well, we might as well flip it around, right? Dzeko, as he has been all season long, was critical to Roma’s success in the first matchup, ripping off five shots (four on target), scoring a goal and dishing out two key passes. Dzeko had his way with the Inter defense, garnering 51 touches and generally doing whatever he wanted, wherever he wanted; Medel couldn’t stop him last time, and he probably won’t Sunday either.
Ivan Perisic v. Kevin Strootman
This won’t necessarily be a one-v-one matchup, but Strootman should be first in line whenever Perisic begins an attacking move. Perisic may not get as much press as Icardi, but he’s every bit as essential to the Nerazzurri. Through 23 league appearances, the Croatian midfielder has seven goals and two assists, while averaging nearly three shots and two key passes per match.
Perisic’s ability and propensity to move all over the pitch makes him a nightmare to contain, as he and Icardi can play the two-man game virtually anywhere on the pitch. If Strootman can deny him the ball or force him to pass it quickly, Roma should stand a chance of disrupting that connection, one which has accounted for four league goals this season.
Samir Handanovic v. Anyone Who Dares Shoot
In terms of the simple ability to stop a ball, Handanovic may be the best keeper on the planet. Look no further than the match from October for proof positive how he can influence a match; were it not for his lighting quick reflexes, Roma’s slim 2-1 victory could have easily been a 4-1 laugher. We’ve witnessed it first hand many, many times—Handanovic can, has and often will be the difference for Inter, remember their record in one-goal games last season? If Dzeko or Salah, or whomever, is off the mark even slightly, Roma will struggle mightily tomorrow.
We’ll close it there, but suffice it to say, tomorrow will easily be one of the closest and most tightly contested matches we see all season long.