Inter 1-3 Roma: Zeman collects the first win of his second spell at Roma
An extremely open game finished with Roma on top.
Andrea Stramaccioni surprisingly used new signing Alvaro Pereira on the left of his central midfield three in place of Esteban Cambiasso – otherwise, the XI was the same as in the 3-0 win over Pescara last week.
Zdenek Zeman gave debuts to Panagiotis Tachtsidis, Alessandro Florenzi and Mattia Destro within his standard attack-minded 4-3-3 system.
As with all games involving a Zeman side, this was very open with space all over the pitch, despite both sides trying to play with a high defensive line.
Inter flood the left
The major tactical feature of the game was Inter’s amazing bias towards the left side of their pitch. Perhaps this was a deliberate strategy to attack Roma’s inexperienced right-back Ivan Piris, but they were also playing a lot of players in nominally central positions that enjoy moving towards that flank. Wesley Sneijder always moves over to that part of the pitch, whether at international or club level, while Antonio Cassano’s best football came when he drifted in from the left at Sampdoria.
Pereira is a versatile player but generally considered a left-back or left-winger rather than a central midfielder, and in the opening stages he stayed out near the touchline and swing at least five crosses into the box. There was no equivalent on the right side – Fredy Guarin played as a shuttler and sometimes ended up towards the touchline, but was basically playing as a standard central midfielder in a 4-3-1-2. When you add Yuto Nagatomo’s energetic bursts into the equation, there was a remarkable level of lopsidedness to Inter’s attacking play.
The other side
The player this suited the most was probably Federico Balzaretti, Roma’s attack-minded left-back who essentially had the whole of the left flank to himself – Guarin was the closest opponent to him, but when the Colombian closed him down, it simply left Alessandro Florenzi free to receive a simple short ball.
Inter were exposed down their right, and although it’s debatable whether any tactical factors contributed to it, Roma pounced down that flank. Francesco Totti picked the ball up on the left in a 1 v 1 situation against Javier Zanetti – there was no chance of Inter doubling up, they simply didn’t have enough players on that side – and he crossed for Florenzi to score. The midfielder had charged forward unmarked, possibly taking advantage of the fact that Guarin’s defensive role was unclear.
Inter go longer
Inter’s approach became a little more direct – rather than playing down the left constantly, they started to hit long balls towards the strikers, testing Roma’s high offside line. Yhey caught offside five times in the first half – although it seemed Diego Milito was timing his runs better as the half went on. There was also a strange incident when Tachtsidis dropped back ten yards behind the Roma defence, playing Inter onside – this wasn’t a strategy, just a bizarre piece of positional play.
Cassano got Inter level following a long ball and a fortunate deflection, but Stramaccioni’s first substitution was to remove him, after 50 minutes. He was replaced by Rodrigo Palacio, who immediately moved higher up the pitch and joined Milito in playing on the shoulder, looking for balls in behind. Stramaccioni had identified this as Roma’s weakness, but the strategy was less promising than with the Cassano-Milito partnership, and it’s arguable that Milito would have preferred Cassano’s deeper positioning to tempt the defenders forward. With two players making similar runs, the threat was more obvious.
Roma win it
As the game went on, it became increasingly frantic and lacked shape. There was more and more space in the centre of midfield, and this benefited Roma, who attacked directly through the middle of the pitch (whereas Inter were going down the left or hitting balls over the top). The third goal of the game was the crucial one – Roma played quick passes just inside their own half to get the ball forward to Totti on the halfway line, who immediately hit a glorious ball through to Pablo Osvaldo, who finished beautifully. It was the most obvious example of Zemanlandia so far this season – a thrillingly direct goal that stemmed from vertical running and straight passing.
Inter were rather tame afterwards, and Stramaccioni (having already brought on Cambiasso for Pereira) only had onechange remaining. He chose to sacrifice his holding midfielder Walter Gargano, who played the most passes of any Inter player but didn’t control the game as well as would have been expected as the game’s ‘free’ central midfielder. Cambiasso became the holder, Coutinho came on to play wide-left. Inter remained biased towards the left – they had two strikers, Sneijder central and Coutinho left – still, Guarin was the closest thing to a right-sided player.
Roma didn’t shut the game down – they continued attacking quickly and directly. Their third goal was again from a direct attack – four passes (all forward or diagonally forward) took Roma from their own half to the edge of the six-yard box, and Marquinho slammed the ball into the net.
A crazily open game that was always likely to feature plenty of goals, although Roma play with so little structure that you always sense the match could go either way.
The tactics of the two coaches – particularly Zeman – influenced the style and feel of the game, but the result tonight was more down to good individual performances, particularly from Totti (who played more passes than any other player, including the best one of the night for Osvaldo’s goal) and Osvaldo (who picked up a goal and an assist, but also was dismissed in stoppage time).