Inter 0-3 Roma: Totti drags Inter’s back three out of shape to prompt quick attacks

October 8, 2013

The starting line-ups

Roma maintained their 100% record with a win at previously unbeaten Inter.

Walter Mazzarri made two changes from the 1-1 draw at Cagliari, bringing in Saphir Taider and Rodrigo Palacio for Mateo Kovacic and Ishak Belfodil.

Predictably, Rudi Garcia kept exactly the same side which demolished Bologna 5-0.

This was another superb Roma display – and although their 3-0 half-time lead was slightly flattering, they played some sparkling football at times.

Inter backline dragged around

Now 37 years old, Francesco Totti has been the star of this Serie A season, turning in a serious of good performances in something approaching the ‘false nine’ role he famously played so well under Luciano Spalletti, and leading the assist charts across Europe’s major five leagues. His relationship with the two wide players, Gervinho and Alessandro Florenzi, has been particularly good – and therefore the major question here was about how Inter’s back three would cope with Roma’s front three.

In the early stages, Inter tried to press Roma aggressively – which involved the wing-backs moving forward to shut down the Roma full-backs. In turn, to prevent Gervinho and Florenzi finding space out wide, Inter’s two outside centre-backs, Rolando and Juan Jesus, had to move into extremely advanced positions to close down – moving in front of Esteban Cambiasso, Inter’s deepest midfielder. Already, there seemed to be problems with the positioning of the back three – they were being pulled too high up the pitch, and there were huge gaps between them.


But the major problem was their attempts to track Totti, who varied his position superbly to drag Inter’s defenders into crazy positions. At the start of the game, it seemed Jesus was the defender attempting to stick tightest to him – but Totti was moving into central positions to pull Jesus away from his left-sided position. As a result, the left half of Inter’s defence was bare, so Alvaro Pereira had to drop back extremely deep to cover.

On other occasions it was Rolando tracking Totti, and the same thing happened on the other flank – with Gervinho varying his positioning, switching with Florenzi throughout the first half, he was also able to exploit the space down that flank, too.


Put simply, Inter’s three-man defensive line lacked any kind of structure and the three centre-backs spent much of their time desperately sprinting laterally across the pitch to cover for each other. The first goal, on 17 minutes, was a decent example – it originated from a mistake by Rannochia, who misplaced a simple clearance towards the right of the pitch.

He then attempted to move out to that side, but both Jesus and Rolando ended up covering for him, and at one point all three defenders were in a vertical line towards that side of the pitch. All three end up sprinting suddenly towards the opposite side, but were unable to prevent Totti firing in from the edge of the box.

But it was Totti’s movement that caused the problems – on one occasion he and Gervinho moved both towards the ball and allowed Vasilis Torosidis to charge in behind, but usually it was simpler. Totti would move towards play, one of the centre-backs would follow, another would cover, and Gervinho would have space to sprint into. On 24 minutes, only a desperate last-ditch tackle from Alvaro Pereira denied Gervinho a clear sight of goal after one of these moves.

Pereira v Gervinho

This was arguably the game’s key direct confrontation. Because of Jesus being dragged to Totti, Pereira was expected to drop deep and defend against Gervinho – but he got space in behind him when Inter were attacking. After ten minutes there was an incident where the Uruguayan was left free, and Gervinho seemed to deliberately stop short of tracking him past a certain point, instead remaining in a position to counter-attack. Sure enough, when the move broke down, Gervinho dribbled forward dangerously with Pereira nowhere to be seen.

But Pereira was getting space, and produced a couple of fine deliveries into the box – midway through the first half, his unchallenged cross found Ricky Alvarez, whose header forced Morgan De Sanctis into a decent save. The Pereira v Gervinho battle eventually saw Roma triumphant, but Inter were getting chances to cross.


Considering Inter’s problems often started from Juan being dragged out of the back and Pereira being forced to cover, the nature of the second goal verged on self-parody. This time Inter had possession, with Jesus picking up the ball as the deepest defender. He managed to dribble powerfully past three Roma players until he was in an advanced midfield position, but then was tackled and was desperately out of position.

Never mind Totti prompting Roma’s attacks through clever positioning – this was a situation Inter had got themselves into. De Rossi immediately hit the ball out to Gervinho on the right, running into the space Jesus should have been covering. Cambiasso covered but couldn’t tackle successfully, and then the hapless Pereira made a clumsy recovery tackle, conceding a penalty. Totti converted in the 40th minute.

Roma counter-attacks from corners

Roma’s other major source of attack was counter-attacks from Inter corners – again, Totti was the main man.

On 4 minutes, Inter had a corner cleared, and Totti was first to the ball on the edge of the box. He held off three Inter players, played a good forward pass to Strootman, and the Dutchman transferred the ball onto Gervinho, who had a low cross cleared at the near post. It was a lightning fast counter-attack, and a warning to Inter.


But the home side didn’t heed that warning – in the 44th minute, an Inter corned was again headed straight to Totti on the edge of the box – he juggled the ball to hold off Pereira, and flicked it around the corner into the path of Kevin Strootman, powering forward on the ball.

Now Roma immediately broke 4 v 3, and Florenzi provided a first-time finish just 12 seconds after the clearing header was made. It was textbook counter-attacking, and 3-0 by half-time.

Inter cause problems

Despite Roma keeping a clean sheet, Inter did cause problems. Roma pressed aggressively at times, which often forced Inter to concede possession cheaply at the back – but if that press was bypassed, Roma didn’t appear compact and Inter found space between the lines. Because Miralem Pjanic often moved forward to become involved in the pressing, Fredy Guarin, Taider and Alvarez could often form a quick 3 v 2 around De Rossi and Strootman, who sometimes conceded space both in front and behind.

The movement of Palacio and Alvarez was also good – they moved out wide to let Taider and Guarin forward, and both had good efforts from the edge of the box, with Guarin hitting the post with a trademark long-range strike. Palacio was also surprisingly useful in the air, considering his lack of height.

Roma also had a problem with discipline – they collected seven bookings. Two were shown to Federico Balzaretti, who therefore dismissed when the game had already been won. But a greater problem was that both centre-backs were cautioned in the first half – they needed plenty of assistance from the superb De Rossi, playing almost as a third centre-back at times.

Mazzarri attempted to change things in the second half, first introducing a second striker, Mauro Icardi, for Pereira, and putting Alvarez left. Later he brought on Diego Milito for Guarin, and went even more adventurous – and while Roma had to make a succession of clearances, the game was over by half-time.


This was textbook ‘false nine’ play – Totti repeatedly dragged Inter out of shape, and the two wide players exploited the space. Florenzi scored the third goal, but Gervinho had been the bigger threat.

Totti was also the key man in other aspects – opening the scoring with a fine long-range strike, converting the spot-kick against penalty-saving expert Samir Handanovic, and starting two dangerous counter-attacks from corners. He was superb throughout.

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