Love him or hate him, José Mourinho has done the lord's work this season. With his side seemingly stripped bare by injuries and suspensions every weekend, the simple fact that Mourinho has kept Roma within sniffing distance of the top four is a minor miracle. And with his side dropping points in three-straight matches, the pressure was on Mourinho to quickly turn the tide. A win today wouldn't put Roma squarely back in the top four, but anything short of three points would likely doom the Giallorossi to another season sans Champions League football, barring a Europa League title.
With his club once again facing a personnel shortage, Mourinho trotted out another patchwork lineup against Inter Milan this afternoon. Down Paulo Dybala, and with Tammy Abraham replaced in the starting eleven by Andrea Belotti, the pressure was on Belotti and captain Lorenzo Pellegrini to provide some spark at the Stadio Olimpico, while midfielder Bryan Cristante made a spot appearance in defense.
Even with a less-than-ideal lineup and the odds stacked against their club, the Giallorossi supporters arrived in full force; singing praises for the club as they stepped onto the sunlit field. Propelled by the tifosi, Roma looked pretty sprite in the opening moments of the match, stringing together some nice touches in the final third, with Pellegrini firing the first shot of the match in only the second minute.
The match would soon settle down, with both clubs trading the frenetic back-and-forth pace of the first 10 minutes for a more reserved approach, with Inter content to sit back as Roma gently poked and prodded their defensive shell. It didn't make for great viewing, and the longer it went on, the worse it became for the Giallorossi, who needed an early breakthrough to compensate for their lack of punch.
As the match crept past the quarter-hour mark, Inter began to take control, slowly but surely asserting themselves in the final third, with Marcelo Brozovic, Nicola Barella, and Hakan Calhanoglu each enjoying time on the ball and threatening to break Roma's defensive resolve.
Roma would punch back in the 19th minute when Lorenzo Pellegrini rifled an effort from approximately 18 yards, forcing Inter keeper Andrea Onana to parry the ball over the crossbar.
After a ten-minute lull, disaster struck for the Giallorossi, who were again done in by poor marking on the far post.
Federico Dimarco: 33rd Minute (Roma 0, Inter 1)
Federico Dimarco is on hand to give Inter the lead!— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) May 6, 2023
A well worked team goal. pic.twitter.com/RY8bCXTgtG
In the first half hour, the Giallorossi held their own, but they soon fell apart due to Inter's swift counter-attack. Brozovic played a stunning diagonal ball to Dumfries, who charged down the right side. Lukaku ran down the middle while Dimarco headed toward the far post, leaving Dumfries with plenty of options. Despite Spinazzola's quick approach, Dumfries managed to deliver the ball across the 18-yard box, bypassing Lukaku and reaching Dimarco, who was virtually unmarked at the back post, scoring a gimme goal to put Inter up after 33 minutes.
And that was all she wrote for the first half. Roma did well not to concede again, but with very little action at the other end of the pitch, the Giallorossi's attack was stuck in neutral for most of the opening 45 minutes.
When leading at the break, Inter have won 19 of their last 21 matches (including two draws), so Mourinho's men had their work cut out for them as they chased a one-goal deficit. While Mourinho had Dybala and Abraham on the bench, he made no immediate changes to begin the second half.
After struggling to mount a credible attack for the first 10 to 12 minutes, Roma turned to the referee in the 56th minute, pleading for a penalty kick after a handball in the box on Matteo Darmian. Unfortunately for Roma, VAR quickly deemed it inadvertent contact, rewarding the Giallorossi a corner instead.
While Roger Ibañez came close to scoring off the rebound, and even after Roma won a second corner, the capital club still came away with nothing. And after drawing another yellow card in the 58th minute—this one to Pellegrini—Roma nearly lost their composure as the jeers rained down every corner of the packed Stadio Olimpico.
With 30 minutes left to play, Inter decided to go for the jugular, bringing Lautaro Martinez into the match for Carrea, while Dumfries made way for Raoul Bellanova. Roma, meanwhile, stood pat...for now.
Mourinho would finally go to the bench in the 72nd minute, bringing Paulo Dybala on the pitch to rapturous applause as La Joya joined the fray in place of Edoardo Bove. And almost immediately, Roma won a corner, which Dybala whipped toward the near post to no effect, but we'll chalk that up to rust.
But Romelu Lukaku soon rendered this substitution moot, as the big Belgian capitalized (indirectly) on an Ibañez error after the Brazilian's poor clearance fell right to Martinez, who quickly played Lukaku into space for the back-breaking goal.
Romelu Lukaku: 74th Minute (Roma 0, Inter Milan 2)
Romelu Lukaku gets a gift from Lautaro Martínez and makes it 2-0!— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) May 6, 2023
Roger Ibañez will not want to watch that again. pic.twitter.com/jpPAKS1QBL
The match continued, of course, but for the life of me, I don't recall Roma doing anything remotely possible, so let's just skip to the post-script, shall we?
This game perfectly represented the entire season, didn't it? Beset by injuries, Roma faced a must-win match, and thanks to the general attacking malaise that has plagued them all season, the Giallorossi came up empty-handed in a must-win match. And while there were sections of the match in which Roma didn’t seem completely overmatched, they were done in by another individual error, as Roger Ibañez's shortcomings were once again on display this afternoon.
Where Roma goes from here is anyone's guess. But now that they've dropped points in four consecutive league matches, falling out of the top four entirely, the only path to the Champions League next season is via the Europa League, so expect Mourinho's decision-making to reflect that fact going forward.
Speaking of which...
Roma hosts Bayer Leverkusen in the first leg of the Europa League semifinals on Thursday.