At the risk of sounding like a broken record, outside of professional pride, there wasn't much on the line at the San Siro this evening. Inter Milan, the newly minted champions of Serie A, sewed up the title two weeks ago while Roma, now officially out of the Europa League, were merely playing out the string, trying to alternatively impress their new boss, José Mourinho, while hopefully giving their current boss, Paulo Fonseca, some good game tape to add to his resumé.
Really, the only point of intrigue in this match was Inter debuting their fourth kits, which look like they were ripped straight from an Ocean Pacific mail-order catalog from the early 90s. For their part, Roma rocked their maroon home shirts, making for an interesting sartorial matchup.
Like most Roma matches in 2021, it took a good 10 minutes or so for the club to shake off the rust, as the Giallorossi looked uncertain how to approach this match. Was Inter simply going to coast for 90 minutes or would they flex their muscle and bury Roma before the match had a chance to breathe?
One thing is for certain, though. Barring a few exceptions, Inter Milan manager Antonio Conte trotted out quite a few of his regulars, including Romelu Lukau, Lautaro Martinez, and Nicolo Barella, indicating that, no, Inter would not take it easy on Roma this afternoon.
While the Giallorossi looked lively after shaking off the cobwebs, Inter was able to catch them napping in only the 11th minute.
Marcelo Brozovic: 11th Minute (Inter Milan 1, Roma 0)
Roma defended this play well enough until the ball swung out wide to Matteo Darmian, at which point the goal was practically telegraphed. And with a simple diagonal ball pack to the edge of the 18, Darmian did just that, gifting Brozovic with one of the easiest goals you'll ever see. I wouldn't exactly say that Roma's defense was flat-footed, but there was a bit of inevitability to this goal—once it got to Darmian, there wasn't much they could do, and it showed.
Inter would add to their tally nine minutes later...
Matias Vecino: 20th Minute (Inter Milan 2, Roma 0)
This goal was jump-started by an absolutely gorgeous long ball over the top to Romelu Lukaku, who was simply too big and too strong to be bothered by Ebrima Darboe's challenge from behind. After shedding Darboe, Lukaku pulled the ball back and simply waited for Vecino to make his run, setting up the Uruguayan with a gimme goal.
At this point, it really felt like the wheels were going to fall off. Not only did Conte start most of his regulars, but they were also...get this...playing this match like it actually mattered! I know, crazy, right?
Roma reached their nadir in the 29th minute when Davide Santon slipped while attempting to intercept a ball meant for Alexis Sanchez. With Santon on the ground, Sanchez had a clean look at goal until Santon, who by that point had caught up to Sanchez, dragged him down from behind with a classic Roy Williams, Dallas Cowboys-style horsecollar tackle from behind. It's a miracle Santon was only given a yellow because that play was certainly not justifiable as a typical football move.
Roma would fight their way back into this match and pulled a goal back a few minutes later thanks to Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan: 31st Minute (Inter Milan 2, Roma 1)
In a goal that somewhat mirrored the one Inter just scored, Edin Dzeko did well to settle a ball over the top, before turning and setting up his teammate, finding Mkhitaryan streaking into the box, where he settled home his 11th league goal of the season with ease.
Despite nearly blowing the doors off early in the half, Inter slowed down as the match moved past the half-hour mark, giving Roma just enough room to hope for a second-half turnaround.
With a solid end to the first half, Paulo Fonseca seemed to sense an opportunity to draw level, or at the very least give Inter a run for their money in the second half. Accordingly, Fonseca swapped out the ineffective Pedro for Stephan El Shaarawy, who made his long-awaited return from injury this evening in Milan.
Much like the first half, Roma needed eight to 10 minutes to let the game come to them, but as the match crept towards the hour mark, the Giallorossi's attack started to show signs of life. In the 57th minute, Edin Dzeko unfurled a beautiful turn and fire attempt from the edge of the area. From the pass to the first touch to Dzeko's shielding of the ball, Roma played this thing perfectly. Unfortunately, Dzeko's shot clanged off the upper left-hand corner of the goal.
Roma would continue to come at Ionut Radu and the rest of Inter's backline, particularly when the ball found its way to El Shaarawy, who seemed hell-bent on making up for lost time. Shortly after Dzeko's miss, SES played another sensational ball to Dzeko, feeding the Bosnian into the box with a well-placed through ball but Radu came off his line in a flash to snuff out the would-be chance.
Rick Karsdorp, another second-half standout, fired a pinpoint cross into the box in the 62nd minute, only to see his pass turned away at the last moment. Bryan Cristante was the next man up, carving out space for a free header in the 66th minute, but he wasn't able to capitalize on Mkhitaryan's cross, pushing his header wide right.
Two minutes later, it was Lorenzo Pellegrini's turn as the Roma captain fluffed an attempt off an Edin Dzeko headed pass. Despite three quick misses, this was Roma's best sequence of the second half. Their pressing in the attacking third prevented Inter from mounting a counter-attack while their ball movement at the edges of Inter's 18 kept the Nerazzurri on their heels.
Despite controlling the ball and pumping in chances, Roma simply couldn't convert in the box. Whether it was Dzeko striking the woodwork or Pellegrini, Cristante, and El Shaarawy narrowly missing chances, the Giallorossi couldn't quite capitalize on the end-to-end action.
And that was pretty much that; the well quickly ran dry in the dying moments of the match. Outside of Karsdorp whipping a cross into El Shaarawy in the box—one SES would have converted were it not for a last-ditch deflection from Andrea Ranocchia—the final 10 minutes of the match belonged to Inter Milan, who once again caught Roma napping, bagging the third goal in the 90th minute when Hakimi and Lukaku put the finishing touches on a text-book counter-attack.
Despite coming up short against a top club again, Roma put forth a tremendous effort tonight, particularly in the second half. With a touch under 50% of the ball and 19 attempts on goal (five more than Inter), we can't exactly say that Roma was run off the pitch but Inter converted their chances, Roma didn't—sometimes it really is as simple as that.
Roma host Lazio in the derby on Saturday.