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Roma Look to Continue Unbeaten Streak Facing Inter at the San Siro

Three months of unbeaten football in the league... can it continue?

AS Roma Training Session Photo by Luciano Rossi/AS Roma via Getty Images

Although Roma’s draw against Napoli on Easter Monday was disappointing, it continued the Giallorossi’s unbeaten run and made it clear once again that José Mourinho is building a side that can have a puncher’s chance against any squad in Serie A. Tomorrow’s match against is a chance to see how far I Lupi have come during their three months without a loss in the league. A win or draw will suggest there’s something real being developed, while another embarrassing loss to the Nerazzurri will kill Roma’s last shot at Champions League football for next season and show just how much more Tiago Pinto needs to do to build a Champions League level side.

Last Match

February 8, 2022: Inter 2, Roma 0(Coppa Italia Quarter-finals)

A lot has changed for the Giallorossi since the start of the season, from the squad composition itself to the emergence of Primavera graduates like Felix Afena-Gyan and Nicola Zalewski. One constant through the ups and downs of Mourinho Year One has been Inter Milan seemingly having Roma’s number. You can brush off the home leg of this league tie because of how many injuries and suspensions Roma was dealing with, but Roma’s 2-0 Coppa Italia loss to Inter was a humbling affair. A quick goal from Edin Džeko put Inter ahead early, and Alexis Sánchez sealed the deal with a 68th minute wondergoal. The loss was similar to other negative results the Giallorossi have had this season; a quick goal throws the game plan out the window and Roma never fully adjusts. There’s not too much you can do tactically to plan for a second-minute goal; just ask Lazio after Tammy Abraham’s derby goal. Still, you have to hope Roma’s excellent defense can contain Inter for longer than 120 seconds this time around.

Here’s what we had to say in the post-match of the Coppa Italia flameout:

With only one on-target attempt the entire match and a meager 42% possession, Roma never stood a chance. Now that the quest for the club’s 10th Coppa Italia is officially in the books, Mourinho’s men are free to focus on more pertinent pursuits: scratching and clawing their way back into Serie A’s top four while simultaneously attempting to win the inaugural Europa Conference League.

And here’s what Mourinho had to say about returning to the stadium where he became a legend of Italian football:

They are two completely different aspects that can co-exist together. The way I was welcomed here, the way Mr Zhang {the Inter president], Mr Marotta [the former Inter president] and Javier [Zanetti] welcomed me and the beautiful gift they gave me before the game … that’s the emotional side of it, which I can only thank them for and I could never hide away from. The relationship I have with Inter and its people is eternal, that cannot be denied.

But I’ve came here tonight to win, I’m here for my Roma and my people now are the Roma fans. We were not able to win the game. We shouldn’t forget the first five minutes but, if I could somehow block those five minutes from my mind, I would say that Roma played really well against a side that it is not easy to play well against.

As Mourinho returns to the San Siro, his Giallorossi are still on track to have a real shot at winning the ECL, and who knows, fourth place might not be completely out of reach. Let’s hope that Mourinho’s second trip to Milan to face his old club goes better for Roma than the first. If it does, things could get very interesting in the standings.

What To Watch For

No Nicolò, No Problem?

SSC Napoli v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Franco Romano/NurPhoto via Getty Images

After picking up a yellow card in the Derby Del Sole (as well as a minor knock), Nicolò Zaniolo will be sitting out his return to the San Siro, and although there’s no doubt that Zaniolo is far less of an Inter legend than José Mourinho, his absence will surely sting for those looking to see him continue his excellent form from the past week. With Zaniolo likely to return to the starting eleven for Roma’s first match against Leicester City, the question becomes who replaces The Kid for the truly critical domestic match of the next seven days.

The two likely candidates for Zaniolo’s spot in the lineup are Carles Pérez and Felix Afena-Gyan, and if I had to choose one to start against Inter, it would be Pérez. This isn’t just about the Spanish forward’s recent goal that began the comeback against Salernitana, or Afena-Gyan’s missing nose for goal since his breakout brace; it’s about the huge pressure that will be on this particular starter against Inter.

The Nerazzurri know that Lorenzo Pellegrini and Tammy Abraham are attacking superstars, and their defenders will treat them accordingly. Whoever takes over for Nicolò Zaniolo will receive less attention, meaning it is critical for them to play with a cool head for the full ninety. I think Afena-Gyan is going to have an incredibly bright future in Rome, but he’s shown himself to have some hothead tendencies in his rookie season. Pérez, meanwhile, has been displaying remarkable cool and comfort with his role in Mourinho’s despite getting spotty minutes at best. That’s the kind of player you reward with a big-match start, even if your alternative will likely have a brighter future.

How Does Mourinho Rotate the Center-Backs Ahead of Leicester?

AS Roma Training Session Photo by Luciano Rossi/AS Roma via Getty Images

Ever since I started following the Giallorossi seriously, the club has never found it challenging to discover and develop center-backs into world-beaters, and this season has been no exception. It’s remarkably unique that Roma have Chris Smalling, Gianluca Mancini, Roger Ibañez, and Marash Kumbulla in the senior side; that’s four Serie A starter-level center-backs for two or three spots in the starting eleven. Considering the importance of the Giallorossi’s upcoming ECL semi-final match against Leicester City, José Mourinho would be wise to make tactical decisions for Inter with one eye on Leicester.

I’d argue that this lineup of matches screams for Marash Kumbulla to get the start against Inter and for Roger Ibañez to take his place against Leicester City. Kumbulla’s more static and considered defending is best suited for playing against a Serie A side, while Ibañez’s pace and bulldog mentality will shine against a pacy Leicester City. In addition, handing Kumbulla the start against Inter will show the Albanian international that Mourinho has backed him completely; Ibañez doesn’t need to know that (he’s clearly one of Mourinho’s most important players), and saving his legs for a match that could send the Giallorossi to a cup final will undoubtedly pay dividends. Mourinho has long talked about the need for Roma to develop a squad with serious depth at every position; with center-back being the only position where that’s currently true, that depth should be used to Roma’s advantage whenever possible.

Match Details

AS Roma vs. FC Inter Milan

April 23rd, 18:00 CET/12:00 EDT

San Siro, Milan, Italy