Roma 2-1 Inter: A narrow victory that could turn out to be crucial
There’s a case for saying that was the first huge game of the season. Title favourites Inter against the side who look most likely to topple them, and Jose Mourinho up against Claudio Ranieri – the man he replaced at Chelsea almost six years ago.
It was an incredibly tight game with few goalscoring opportunities, and the goals were hardly well-crafted – Roma went ahead from a goalkeeping error at a set-piece, Inter equalised thanks to a couple of ricochets and an offside flag that never came, whilst Roma’s winner came thanks to a Taddei shot which found its way to Toni, who coolly converted. To add to this, Inter hit the woodwork three times, suggesting that this was a game that down to small details within the box, rather than because of a grand tactical plan.
Roma started on top, dominating the midfield. Inter’s three in midfield were simply overrun by Roma’s four, and Jeremy Menez in particular saw a lot of the ball, with Eto’o not tracking back far enough to cause him problems, and Zanetti playing twenty yards deeper than where Menez generally recieved the ball. This area of the pitch was busier throughout the game – with Stankovic forcing back Riise and Vucinic troubling Maicon, neither full-back on that side of the pitch could get forward.
The main characteristic of the first half was how many free-kicks Inter conceded, particularly in that left-back zone. One of them led to the goal – a tap-in from De Rossi, and Riise also had a couple of efforts on goal from set-pieces. The Roma full-backs seemed keener to get forward – only one at any one time – safe in the knowledge that they would not be outnumbered at the back, with one centre-back free. And therefore Roma saw more of the ball and had territorial advantage in the first half hour.
Mourinho responded to the goal by shifting to his diamond shape – Stankovic coming inside and Eto’o going up top. This meant Inter saw more of the ball, but struggled with a lack of width (Maicon struggled to get forward throughout) and created little.
After an hour, Mourinho withdrew Stankovic for Pandev, and returned to the system of three forwards – but this time they played very narrowly, all in central positions with Sneijder just behind. Roma struggled to cope with this, and it was as result of having three central strikers that Inter equalised – Burdisso and Juan became overwhelmed by the runners, and eventually Milito got ahead of Burdisso to equalise.
Following that goal, Taddei came on for Menez, and Roma seemed to switch to a two-man attack for five minutes, with Vucinic coming in off the left flank and playing as a centre-forward alongside Toni. This seemed to be the wrong move as Maicon looked to get forward – but the value of having two players in the box was proven when Taddei’s cross fell at the feet of Toni, who slipped it past Julio Cesar. Vucinic then returned to his left-sided role as Roma looked to close the game out.
15 minutes from time, Mourinho really went for it – taking off both his central midfielders, putting Chivu on at left-back, pushing Zanetti forward as the sole holding midfielder, and playing Quaresma wide-right – in what became a 4-1-1-4 system that left Inter hugely open to Roma counter-attacks (one leading to a chance for Brighi where he went round Julio Cesar and was harshly booked for diving) but constantly looked dangerous going forward. There was always going to be a final chance for Inter, but Milito could only hit the post with just Julio Sergio to beat.
Did Ranieri really tactically outwit Mourinho? Inter certainly seemed a little lost against Roma’s system, especially because Maicon could get forward so little. They saw little of the ball in the first half, but it was clever of Mourinho to use Stankovic rather than Pandev on the right from the outset, meaning he could easily switch to a diamond if needed. Mourinho’s use of four distinct systems throughout the game could be criticized for being too many changes in shape, unsettling the players, but in truth the players seemed comfortable in each formation.
At the end of the day, this game came down to a difference in finishing rather than a difference in tactics. But it did point to the fact that Inter lack natural width on the right if you occupy Maicon. Sneijder tends to drift to the left, but neither Stankovic nor Pandev are really comfortable on the right flank, and by occupying Maicon you negate his two strengths – his pace and his stamina. It was no surprise when Mourinho took the rare step of calling for Quaresma to play on the right.
A very, very tight victory – but one that could seem absolutely crucial come the end of the season.Roma 2-1 Inter: A narrow victory that could turn out to be crucial