Last week's Serie A results went according to the script, with two notable exceptions: Spezia shocking Napoli 2-1 at the newly minted Stadio Maradona and Claudio Ranieri and Sampdoria scoring a 2-1 upset of their own over second-place Inter Milan. While it's always nice to see Napoli lose, the Inter result provided Roma with a golden opportunity to claim (or at least share) second place with the Nerazzurri, provided they could topple Antonio Conte's side this afternoon at the Olimpico.
Given the importance of this fixture, it wasn't surprising to see both clubs take a more subdued approach in the early phases of this match, as the opening 10 minutes saw both clubs feeling each other out rather than really trying to flex for a goal. But, with the match creeping towards the quarter-hour mark, Inter's league-leading attack would start to wake from their slumber.
And, as you probably guessed, it was all thanks to the dynamic duo of Lautaro Martinez and Romelu Lukaku, who each started to carve out space in Roma's backline after that initial feeling-out period. Martinez was first to threaten, finding space down Roma's right flank and firing a shot at the near post only to find Pau Lopez covering the acute angle completely.
It was a rather unexpected attempt, but it set in motion a flurry of chances for Inter. First up was Lukaku, who came close to scoring off the ensuing header when he forced Pau Lopez into an incredible leaping save. After Lopez's fingertip effort, Lukaku sprang back into action, forcing Chris Smalling into a splayed-out blocked shot in the box.
With the 10-minute introductory phase of the match in the rearview, Inter started to force the issue here, ripping off a two to three minute stretch of utter dominance, using Martinez's intuitive movement and Lukaku's brute strength as inspiration.
Despite their best efforts, Roma would actually find the game's first goal thanks to an incredible sequence kickstarted by Jordan Veretout.
Lorenzo Pellegrini: 17th Minute (Roma 1, Inter 0)
What an incredibly strange sequence of events leading to this goal, With Nicola Barella surging down Roma's right flank, Jordan Veretout completely mugged him from behind, stripping the ball from Barella without batting an eye. And while Barella protested for a foul, Veretout was busy charging in the other direction, starting a blink and you'll miss it counter, finding Dzeko down the left channel. From there, Dzeko laid it back to Pellegrini, who calmly slotted it low and away past a hapless Samir Handanovic to give Roma the lead.
Taking a page out of Inter's earlier playbook, Roma wouldn't rest on their laurels and nearly doubled their lead moments later when Veretout fired a rocket from distance at Handanovic, which was quickly followed up by a snapshot from Mkhitaryan at the edge of the box.
Roma and Inter would continue this back and forth dance in the waning moments of the first half with Martinez and Lukaku once again finding space deep in Roma territory. Martinez, in particular, came close to equalizing, making a late run into the box in the 36th minute, finding a free header in the box but firing it well over the bar. Martinez would have another golden chance in the 40th minute when Lukaku sprung him on a one-v-one in the box, and while Martinez actually beat Lopez low and away, he was promptly flagged offside.
Inter came to life down the stretch but Roma did well to keep them at bay before the half-time whistle sounded and clung to a slim 1-0 lead at the half.
With no changes for either side to start the second half, the match resumed right where it left off: with Inter slowly but surely imposing their will on Roma's backline, once again flexing their muscle via Martinez and Lukaku, with the latter nearly busting the match open in the 47th minute when his header sailed wide of the mark—granted, he pushed Ibañez to get the position in the first place, but it was a harbinger of things to come in this half.
Lukau and Martinez would continue to make their presence felt in the opening stages of the second half. Moments after Lukaku's missed header, the Belgian played the role of facilitator. Working down the left flank, Lukaku sprung Martinez into the box, setting up a one-v-one against Pau Lopez, forcing the Spanish keeper to come off his line to make a brilliant save.
At this point—10 minutes into the new half—it was clear as day: Inter wanted all three points from this match and would only be denied for so long.
Milan Skriniar: 56th Minute (Roma 1, Inter 1)
Pretty basic stuff here. Skriniar was left practically unmarked in the area and snuck into the tiny pocket of space between Veretout and Chris Smalling, heading it past Lopez with ease. It wasn't the worst bit of setpiece defending we've seen this season, but Skriniar had a pretty clear path to the ball.
Ten minutes into the new half and most Roma fans were probably having flashbacks to the Giallorossi's epic second-half collapse against Atalanta earlier this season. Unlike that disaster, which was fueled primarily by Josip Ilicic, there wasn't one main hero (or villain, depending on one's view); Inter completely flipped the script on Roma, looking more aggressive, more purposeful, and simply just better than Roma to start the second half.
Despite that lax defending, the match was still knotted at one apiece with roughly 30 minutes to play, so the match remained up for grabs. Unfortunately, Inter were more equipped to grab it than Roma...
Achraf Hakimi: 63rd Minute (Roma 1, Inter 2)
Nah this is UNREAL, Hakimi golazo on his weak foot, WHAT A PLAYER pic.twitter.com/oKGNf6Gcuo— thomas (@FClMthomas) January 10, 2021
This goal kicks off the classic “great attacking or poor defending” debate. While we don't want to take anything away from Hakimi (this goal was pure class), just look at how much space he's afforded by Spinazzola here. Spinazzola was in a dicey position here—had he pressed, Hakimi could have dribbled past him—but Hakimi, much like Skriniar before him, didn't face much resistance on his path to scoring.
Down 2-1 with 25 or so minutes remaining, Roma should have been more desperate, but with Paulo Fonseca sitting on five subs and Inter continuing to press, one got the feeling this match wouldn't end 2-1.
Fonseca would finally go to the bench, swapping out Spinazzola for Bruno Peres in the 73rd minute and changing Veretout for Bryan Cristante in the 79th minute. While Cristante played a few nice balls immediately, Roma's equalize would come from a rather unexpected source.
Gianluca Mancini: 86th Minute (Roma 2, Inter 2)
Hey, look at that! Roma scored off a short corner! There isn't much to dissect here, this was just a lovely little left-footed chipped ball from Villar, who picked out Mancini in the middle of the box. From there, Mancini did well to twist and contort his body to flick the ball past Handanovic at the far post. This was probably the last combination we'd expect to rescue Roma, but top marks to Villar and Mancini for executing this training ground move under the bright lights.
With five minutes of stoppage time, both clubs had ample time to find a late winner, but apart from Cristante just missing Pellegrini with a through ball in the box, neither side had a clear cut chance down the stretch and the final whistle blew on the sixth straight draw between AS Roma and Inter Milan.
Well, when the fixture list came out many months ago, most of us would have been satisfied with a draw here, right? Holding a 1-0 lead against Inter Milan (the league's most potent attack) was probably always a fool's errand, so the odds of the match ending like that were incredibly slim. And while for a few moments in the second half it seemed like Inter were set to wipe the floor with Roma, the Giallorossi did well to remain in the match, grabbing an unexpected but sorely needed late equalizer.
So, while the headlines of Fonseca failing against a top side yet again were averted, one can't help but think Roma wasted a chance here. Nevertheless, Roma ends Round 17 precisely where they began it: in third place.
The Derby della Capitale on Friday!
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