“Up until now, it’s been highs and lows,” Francesco Totti said after the game. “Highs and lows aren’t for big teams.” Was the glass half full or empty after last night?
Coming back from a goal down twice in the match felt like a step forward for this young Roma side, but the manner in which the Giallorossi conceeded both Inter Milan goals was slack. Really slack.
At the other end, this squad continues to baffle in how many options they’re giving EDF; the same options from which he must find a Plan A and move up the league table.
Roma Don’t Settle For Draws
It’s easy to forget that, for all their individual scoring struggles in the frontline, Roma are this season’s highest scoring Serie A side at home. That alone took away Spalletti’s temptation to field a more conservative side, as he couldn’t be so sure that playing the percentages would favour Inter if it’d been a cagey match.
Spalletti choose instead to field Keita at left wing and overwhelm Roma with Inter’s attacking options. That was on paper. Roma’s daring response on the pitch was something else.
The Giallorossi disrupted Inter with some kamikaze high-pressing from Zaniolo and Nzonzi in particular, but the gamble was eventually punished by the Nerazzurri. The warning signs for Roma were there even before the controversy began.
Just past the half-hour mark, Inter found the freedom of their right wing by getting past Roma’s 4-man high press and D’Ambrosio crossing to Keita free in the box. On that occassion, Keita skied his header when it should have been a certain goal (xG 0.38 - clear cut chance).
More importantly, Roma didn’t heed the warning. They had enough reason to be buoyed by Patrick Shick’s exquisite backheel pass setting up Florenzi with a shot off the post in Inter’s area. Then Zaniolo was tripped by D’Ambrosio in the very same penalty box later on. All furor over the non-penalty call aside, Roma had time to fall back defensively - EDF telling Zaniolo to fall back several times - but chose to keep on gambling.
Zaniolo was on the ball inside Inter’s half just a minute after the penalty incident but was muscled off by Perisic. The Croat didn’t waste time catching out Roma on the numerical disadvantage
Perisic found D’Ambrosio gliding free past Florenzi on Roma’s left flank, and Inter’s full back again crossed for Keita in the box. This time, Roma paid the price and went into half-time 1-0 down, feeling a sense of injustice at yet another losing but spirited performance.
Route: Olsen, Ünder and Out
Roma’s second half response came through bringing Olsen more directly into Roma’s attack. Throughout the first half, the big Swede was over-reliant on Kolarov to play it out the back. It took only 25 minutes for Eusebio Di Francesco to send Roma’s Swedish-speaking coach up Roma’s end of the field and tell Olsen to cut it out.
The Roma coach wanted his keeper to focus on finding Cengiz Ünder’s zone of the pitch, where the diminutive Turk was often the spare man unmarked when Roma were deep inside their own half.
If Olsen didn’t manage to find Ünder directly with his kicks, there was the helping hand from Nzonzi, Schick and Zaniolo to win aerial duels just over the half way line and help Ünder put pressure on Asamoah - this was Roma’s route back into the game.
A few minutes prior to scoring Roma’s first goal, Ünder slipped the ball past Asamoah and Inter’s left back was left with no option but to take a yellow card to stop the Turk in his tracks. With Asamoah in card trouble from that point on, Ünder wouldn’t wait long after to make the advantage tell.
Inter’s midfield and left-back stood off him, giving Ünder enough space to punish any Serie A team that lets him have space with his left foot.
Minimal backlift, maximum power, Handanovic reduced to a spectator. Roma 1-1.
Inter Don’t Score From Corners... Now They Do
Then Roma found another way to defy all expectations for the worst. This Inter side is notorious for their flagrancy from corners: Spalletti’s men have taken the most in the league this season and had yet to come up with a direct goal from a corner... until yesterday.
EDF prefers a mixed marking system from corners, and barely any of it was on display when Inter retook the lead just after the hour. Just about the only men doing their jobs in the box were Zaniolo and Nzonzi. The two men were the designated zonal markers, covering the near post against Brozovic’s inswinger, though I’ve no idea why Schick was also covering the very same space between them.
The rest of the marking was non-existent because Roma were completely asleep. Every other player (besides Ünder and Florenzi on the edge of the box) was expected to mark man for man in the area.
Instead, Roma stood around and left Mauro Icardi - of all strikers in world football - free in the box. What other outcome could you expect other than an Icardi goal?
Marcelo Brozovic - Last Man Standing
The rest of the game was a case of how much Roma had left in the tank, not just mentally but physically.
Nicolò Zaniolo was coming off a mid-week performance where he’d gone down with cramp and was obviously saving himself through periods of this game but still didn’t have the full 90 minutes in him. Steven Nzonzi battled well for an hour or so, then his concentration and composure fell off a cliff as fatigue clearly set in.
On the other side, the engine on Marcelo Brozovic continued to impress. Inter’s midfielder had by far the most touches of the ball in the game (95) and his unbelievable pitch coverage continued the story of Brozovic’s transformation from bit-part player to midfield dynamo under Spalletti.
His performance alone was enough to contain a Roma side without enough energy left to really attack Inter’s weakness in midfield, once Spalletti brought on the flawed combo of Gagliardini and Vecino. Atalanta made mince-meat of this pair in possession in Bergamo and Roma could have done similar on a different day.
Both sides substitutions proved ineffective. EDF was left with bringing on the bare bones of Pastore and Perotti to go through the motions. Roma found parity through an Inter handball in the box from a corner, and Aleksandar Kolarov made no mistake when stepping up to bury the penalty with pinpoint accuracy and power.
After the game, Roma chose to send Francesco Totti for the post-match pressers. Totti threw his political weight around in drawing attention to the non-penalty call and that controversy will roll onto another day.
That call cannot be allowed to overshadow the positives of this match: Roma’s ‘reserve’ players showed they can go toe-to-toe with the ‘title-challengers’ of Inter. It’s the biggest proof of squad depth and character so far, despite the criminal lapses in defence.
This performance also leaves EDF with more options from which to forge an A-team for the season ahead, once Roma’s full choice of players get back to fitness. That’s all on the coach to do it before it’s too late for Roma’s top 4 hopes.
Roma’s following game is at Cagliari next weekend, where both Lorenzo Pellegrini and Daniele De Rossi will be back in the matchday squad; while the Isolani are stripped of their talisman Nicolò Barella through suspension.