Roma will face its staunchest test to date when it travels to the San Siro on Friday to face league leaders Inter. The Giallorossi enter the match in fine form, having won four of their last five in Serie A. However, for as well as Roma has played, the Nerazzurri have been even hotter. Antonio Conte’s side has won five straight in the league en route to leapfrogging Juve to top the table this past weekend.
This one will feature the contrasting styles of Fonseca’s free flowing 4-2-3-1 against Conte’s well-drilled 3-5-2. And while those differences in philosophies make this an intriguing match-up, this encounter may yet come down to individual match ups around the pitch.
Inter Milan vs. Roma: December 6th. 20:45 CET/2:45 EST. Stadio San Siro, Milan
Although Conte’s sides are often known for grinding out results, don’t let this version of Inter fool you. They can score plenty too— Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez have been historically good. The partnership formed this summer looks like a match made in heaven, having scored 22 goals in 19 matches in all competitions.
Slowing down that dynamic duo will be one of the keys to seeing Roma get a result. That tall order will fall on Roma’s own terrific tandem: center backs Gianluca Mancini and Chris Smalling. A Giallorossi defense that was expected to struggle has been surprisingly stout thanks to those two.
Smalling, like Lukaku, arrived from Manchester United this summer, which adds another layer of intrigue to this positional match up. The Englishman and Belgian will have seen plenty of each other in training over the past couple seasons. That familiarity should make things interesting.
At the other end of the pitch, Roma will have to find a way to break down Conte’s preferred three man defense. While Inter’s defense has allowed the second fewest goals in the league (13), it has been exposed at times this season by attacking sides. Both Sassuolo and Borussia Dortmund scored three on the Nerazzurri.
The key to breaking down Conte’s well drilled rearguard could be the interchangeable nature of Roma’s attacking trio behind Edin Dzeko. Pellegrini, Zaniolo and Mkhitaryan will look to take Inter’s three center backs out of their comfort zone as they attack from all angles and provide service for Dzeko.
Pellegrini has been in fine form since returning from injury—providing assists from all over the pitch. It may come down to him being able to do more of the same if Roma are going to be able to break Inter down.
While Roma has seemingly survived its injury crisis, the Nerazzurri are in a mini crisis of their own, mostly in midfield. Conte will be without starters Stefano Sensi and Nicoló Barella, in addition to reserve Roberto Gagliardini. Those absences will force Conte to play what is far from his ideal midfield trio. It will be up to Jordan Veretout and Amadou Diawara to exploit that potential weakness.
For all of Inter’s positive results this season, there has been a common theme that Roma may be able to exploit. In all three defeats this season, Inter has given up late goals. In the league the Nerazzurri have conceded 13 goals, 8 of which have come in the second half. Meanwhile, three have come in the last quarter hour of matches— including Gonzalo Higuain’s 80th minute winner for Juve. In similar fashion, in its two Champions League defeats against Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund, Conte’s side conceded in the 77th and 84th minute.
If Roma wants to take points off Inter it may have to follow that blueprint. Wear Inter down with quality attacks until the Giallorossi are able to find a crack in fatigued defense. Recent history shows that Inter is susceptible to those late slip-ups, so if the Giallorossi can stay compact early, they may be able to take the points late. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Conte try to muck the game up and take Roma out of its comfort zone, so patience may be a virtue in this one.