With Roma riding a three-match winning streak, Paulo Fonseca, for the first time since the restart, played the same starting lineup in consecutive matches. At this point, the 3-4-2-1 is likely to remain in tact through the remainder of the season, but given the compact nature of the fixture list, Fonseca has been turning over his squad at an alarming rate. In the early moments of tonight's match against Inter Milan, that synergy paid dividends as Roma were passing, pressing and moving at an impressive rate.
Despite that synchronicity in attack, Roma's first genuine chance of the match came off a set-piece. In only the 9th minute, Gianluca Mancini had a free header at the far post but wasn't able to convert, continuing a team-wide theme of 2020—set-pieces have been the bane of their existence lately.
Roma would continue on with their high intensity tactics, using a high line to press the high octane Inter Milan attack, but as the match moved past the opening 10 minutes or so, Roma's legs became noticeably heavy, but a set-piece would bedevil them once more.
Stefan de Vrij: 15th minute (Roma 0, Inter Milan 1)
Stefan De Vrij with a bullet header best defender in the league.— Uncle Sharma (@RSharmzz) July 19, 2020
Another assist for Alexis Sanchez pic.twitter.com/SvQR5bhccM
Following another incredible read-and-intercept play by Roger Ibañez, Inter won a corner in the 15th minute and would make Roma pay for their lax defending. With de Vrij rising in between Aleksandar Kolarov and Leonardo Spinazzola, the former Lazio man made Roma pay, heading it home with ease. It was a bit of an odd sequence in that Kolarov was tracking the ball and recognized that he had to close space on de Vrij, but the angle he took and his attempt to win the ball were pretty poor, giving the Dutchman a clean look.
Fun note: this was the 500th goal scored in a Roma v. Inter fixture, the most of any in Serie A history.
As the first half carried on, fatigue continued to plague Roma with only a select few looking energetic enough to stymie Antonio Conte's attack. Lorenzo Pellegrini and Bruno Peres continued their awkward dance from Wednesday, creating some bumbling chances on the right flank but lacking the quality and/or timing to create a clear cut chance in the box for their teammates.
Despite those heavy legs, with 89% precision and multiple chances created, Roma's passing was actually quite crisp in the first half but they couldn't quite find that cutting edge in the final third and provided virtually no service to Edin Dzeko, who only had 18 touches in the first half, second fewest among outfield players.
Thanks to some unexpected stoppage time due to an injury to Roberto Gagliardini, Roma got a bit of a reprieve thanks to de Vrij:
Leonardo Spinazzola: 46th Minute (Roma 1, Inter 1)
I don't know, you tell me: was this an own goal or not? In the run of play, it sure looked like de Vrij inadvertently redirected the ball past Samir Handanovic, but the official scorer credited Spinazzola.
Either way, it was an unexpected gift for the Giallorossi to end the half, who were Inter's equal virtually everywhere except the final third.
Roma didn't rest on their laurels to start the second half, as Edin Dzeko found Jordan Veretout with a beautifully slipped through ball in the 49th minute, one that Handanovic unfortunately read rather easily, coming off the line to eliminate any shooting angle Veretout had—nevertheless, it was a great signal of intent from Roma to start the new half.
Roma were spared by the referee's assistant in the 55th minute when Lautaro Martinez's goal was called offside thanks to some clever positioning from Kolarov.
It was a bang-bang play, but Roma would wreak a bit of havoc of their own moments later.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan: 58th Minute (Roma 2, Inter 1)
Mkhitaryan, driving through the middle of the defense, had two options here: Spinazzola busting his ass on an overlap to the left and Dzeko on a slight diagonal to the right. Mkhitaryan chose the second option, playing the ball of to Dzeko, who got a bit of an awkward touch on the ball which then ricocheted off the defender. Mkhitaryan, ever the professional, was continuing his run through the middle and found himself in the right place at the right time and guided the ball home with a gentle touch of his right boot, but you'll notice that Dzeko had the same thought in mind.
No doubt, it wasn't exactly how he pictured it but Mkhitaryan did everything right here—including continuing his forward progress—giving Roma a 2-1 lead and sending Juventus fans into hysterics.
Conte would empty the kitchen sink midway through the second half, bringing on Romelu Lukaku in the 67th minute as part of a triple change. Fonseca would counter that with a Bryan Cristante for Amadou Diawara swap in the 69th minute. Conte would then counter that with Christian Eriksen coming on for Gagliardini—this new five sub rule is three-dimensional chess, that's for sure.
With 15 minutes remaining, Fonseca continued the defensive theme with his substitutions, bringing on Chris Smalling for Roger Ibañez. He'd follow that up with a double change in the 84th: Diego Perotti and Carles Perez on for Pellegrini and Mkhitaryan, respectively.
At this point, there were three minutes left in the match and Roma were doing enough to kill the match: stringing passes together, winning loose balls and making tackles when necessary, but I struggle to describe what happened next.
(Apologies for the VHS-like quality. I'll adjust the tracking asap)
Spinazzola, in attempting to clear the ball out of the box, decided to let the ball run (perhaps in an attempt to fool Victor Moses) but instead gave him a chance to close ground and attempt a tackle. With Moses now in a threatening position, Spinazzola took a hasty swipe at the ball and actually fouled Moses...in the box, drawing a penalty in the process, which Lukaku converted without batting an eye.
Just an incredibly...incredibly stupid play from Spinazzola, who was playing excellent to that point.
And that was really that; it was probably too much to expect Roma to overcome such a crushing blow so late in the match and for the fifth straight time Roma and Inter played to a draw.
The ESPN announcers were quick to point out that the scoreline was pretty emblematic of the match tonight. And based on the stats alone, it's hard to argue with them: outside of the possession battle, this was a pretty evenly contested affair. Despite trailing Inter by 14 points on the table, there was no inferiority complex present tonight; Roma's passing was crisp, their movement purposeful and their defense was rigid yet responsive. There were no shrinking violets wearing Roman red and yellow tonight.
But, as we've said so many times before, execution matters most and today Roma blew two huge opportunities. If Gianluca Mancini converts that ninth minute header, none of this matters but thanks to his poor finishing, Spinazzola's error loomed even larger and stripped Roma of two points.
In the grand scheme of things, it doesn't really matter since the real prize—the Champions League—is long gone, but with only a two point cushion over AC Milan and Napoli, tonight's result could potentially cost Roma their spot in the Europa League next season.
But more to the point: Roma had a chance to upset a team at the top of the table, and to do so while going toe-to-toe with them. This was no fluke match, Roma were countering Conte's every move and, outside of a brief spell in the first half, were as energetic and as effective as Inter. This could have been a huge statement win for Roma, one that could have propelled them through an uncertain summer, but as it stands now it's just one of many squandered opportunities in 2019-2020.
Things get a bit easier when Roma faces SPAL on the road on Wednesday the 22nd.
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