AS Roma – Internazionale: Efficient Inter End De Rossi’s Delightful Honeymoon (2-4)

Few teams have succeeded in pushing Internazionale on the defensive, but Daniele De Rossi’s AS Roma certainly did that with a proactive approach. However, once that high intensity waned, Inter, in a ten-minute spell, showcased their quality and effectively secured a vital victory. 

Tactical analysis and match report by Rahul Madhavan.

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In the wake of José Mourinho’s departure following a string of disappointing results, AS Roma found themselves in a state of chaos. To balance this surprising decision among the fans, the club turned to a familiar figure and an icon, Daniele De Rossi, whose only tenure as head coach at SPAL lasted a mere four months before his dismissal.  

Nonetheless, Roma seem to have shed their troubles since Mourinho’s exit, securing four consecutive victories under their new leader. The pursuit of a top-four finish appears well within their grasp, with Roma trailing fourth-placed Atalanta by just one point.

On the other hand, after a season that saw them go down in the Champions League final, Inter were expected to dip, especially with several key players departing. Nonetheless, under the guidance of Simone Inzaghi, whose team was renowned for cup competitions, Inter now find themselves on the brink of securing a league title.

Following a narrow victory over their title rivals Juventus, Inter have surged ahead by four points with a game in hand. However, the race is far from over, and winning three points against a rejuvenated Roma side under De Rossi was critical, particularly with Juventus in close pursuit.

De Rossi made just one change following their 4-0 victory over Cagliari. Rui Patrício remained in goal, with Rick Karsdorp, Gianluca Mancini, Dean Huijsen (replacing Diego Llorente), and Angeliño forming the back four. Bryan Cristante, Leandro Paredes, and Lorenzo Pellegrini featured in midfield, while Paulo Dybala, Romelu Lukaku, and Stephan El Shaarawy continued upfront.

Meanwhile, for Inter, Inzaghi named the same lineup that secured a 1-0 victory against Juventus. Hakan Çalhanoğlu continued to orchestrate proceedings in midfield, supported by Nicolò Barella and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Upfront, Marcus Thuram and Lautaro Martínez, with 36 goal contributions between them, started yet again.

Roma’s early energy puts Inter on the backfoot

The contrast between Mourinho’s Roma and De Rossi’s Roma has been stark. The former adopted a more methodical approach, and was reactive, particularly against the better teams. Conversely, De Rossi’s Roma displayed high energy, initiating pressure right from the outset and favoring a more direct style with the ball.

However, facing Inter, which was De Rossi’s first big test, posed different set of challenges. Nonetheless, the hosts remained committed to their approach, pressing the league leaders from the first minute. Roma, initially set up in a 4-3-3 formation on paper, sought to mirror Inter’s 3-5-2 shape without the ball, with El Shaarawy dropping into the defensive line to create a back five, thereby limiting Inter’s opportunities for switching the play.

Notably, their man-oriented press caught the eye and unsettled Inter. Assisted by the torrential rain, which made the surface greasy and hindered precise ground passes, Roma forced several turnovers early in the match, denying Inter players any time on the ball.

Minute 8: Roma’s press. Pellegrini initiated the press as Acerbi passed to Pavard. As Pellegrini jumped, Barella occupied the vacated space by drifting wide, away from his marker, Angeliño. El Shaarawy, marking Darmian, intercepted Barella’s movement, while Angeliño covered Darmian. This forced Inter to play backward before resorting to a long ball towards Thuram, ultimately resulting in a turnover.

Once Roma regained possession, De Rossi implemented a lopsided shape. Karsdorp pushed higher up the pitch to maintain width on the right side, allowing Dybala to drift centrally. On the other flank, Angeliño typically positioned deeper alongside the center-backs, while El Shaarawy held the width. Pellegrini and Dybala operated significantly higher up the pitch, often in and around Lukaku, while Cristante and Paredes assumed deeper roles, with the former occasionally filling Karsdorp’s vacated position and acting as an outball for the center-backs.

This asymmetrical structure posed challenges for Inter, particularly due to the movement of Lukaku and Dybala, forcing Inter’s center-backs to engage them closely, thus creating space behind the defense. In fact, Roma’s first clear-cut chance arrived within the opening minute when Inter failed to track Dybala’s central movement, affording the Argentine time and space to locate Lukaku. The ball eventually fell to El Shaarawy, whose shot was tipped over the bar by Sommer.

During settled possession phases, Roma aimed to stretch Inter’s midfield and utilize Angeliño’s deeper positioning to deliver early crosses into the penalty box. While De Rossi’s decision to deploy Angeliño as a center-back in and out of possession raised questions, he explained in the post-match press conference that the left-back’s ability to play under pressure provided Roma with a means to put their opponents on the back foot.

Minute 23: Roma’s offensive sequence. As Mkhitaryan initiated the press, Cristante drifted inside, enabling Roma to find the third man. Lukaku and Dybala interchanged, which unsettled Bastoni, who ultimately failed to apply pressure on Cristante. This allowed him to find Dybala, who made a central movement. Roma stretched Inter’s midfield trio, with Angeliño acting as a spare man and having ample space to deliver a cross.

Set pieces and counter-attacks prove decisive

Despite Roma’s early pressure, a set-piece towards the end of the first quarter unraveled all their hard work. Romelu Lukaku’s clearance from a corner landed straight to Acerbi, whose looping header beat Patrício and nestled into the back of the net.

Inter were expected to settle after scoring, but Roma delivered a decisive blow just ten minutes later. This time, the visitors were caught off guard by another set-piece scenario. Despite attempting to maintain a high defensive line, Acerbi’s mistimed positioning played all Roma players onside. Mancini capitalized on the mistake to nod home a towering header and level the proceedings.

Both teams struggled to take control of the clash, largely due to Roma’s relentless high pressing causing issues. Additionally, the persistent rain forced both sides to resort to long passes and counter-attacks. One such moment arrived around the half-hour mark when Paredes appeared to advance forward and subsequently lost possession, resulting in a three-versus-three situation at the back. Thuram laid the ball off to Martínez, who executed a pass to the overlapping Di Marco. Despite the presence of support from Mkhitaryan and Barella, the full-back unleashed a shot from a difficult angle which missed the target.

Meanwhile, Inter also fell victim to breakaways and received warnings throughout the first half. Roma, however, capitalized in stoppage time to head into halftime with a lead. With Darmian shifting inside and failing to maintain width, El Shaarawy had the opportunity to push higher up the pitch, therefore creating a four-versus-three scenario. Inter’s midfield was open, allowing Lukaku to lay the ball off to Pellegrini, who carried it into space before releasing El Shaarawy. The Roma winger then unleashed an unconventional shot with his weaker foot that struck the inside of the post and found the back of the net.

Inter find their rhythm in the second half

What Roma executed brilliantly in the first half was minimizing the time on the ball for players such as Calhanoğlu, Barella, and Mkhitaryan, while also mirroring Inter’s shape. This ensured that they did not gain numerical superiority in the last line and allowed Mancini to track Martínez’s deeper movements and restrict his lay-offs.

However, all of that effort was nullified within two minutes of the second half. Roma conceded a free-kick in midfield, momentarily switched off, and suddenly found themselves in a five-versus-four situation at the back, with El Shaarawy failing to track Darmian’s run. Moreover, their midfield failed to maintain compactness, allowing Calhanoğlu to find Barella between the lines, which eventually resulted in Thuram scoring the equalizer.

Following Roma’s intense start in the first half and their lead at halftime, they emerged from the break settled into a medium-block, with the forwards refraining from pressing high. Their pressing trigger occurred when the midfielders or wing-backs received possession, as Roma’s primary game plan was to reduce time on the ball for Inter’s midfield architects. This approach was similar to De Rossi’s first game in charge against Hellas Verona, where Roma eased off the intensity, but this time, their lapse was severely punished by the league leaders.

Inter also made a slight tweak in possession, as Bastoni began drifting wider, almost playing as a left-back, which allowed Calhanoğlu to drop between the center-backs and create a situational back four. With Roma opting to sit back and invite pressure, the visitors began manipulating their man-oriented press by utilizing deep runs from either the midfielders (Mkhitaryan or Barella) or the wide center-backs (mostly Pavard on the right side). Moreover, Martínez’s movement, which drew Mancini out of position, created an opportunity for Thuram to exploit gaps in the defense, hold the ball, and bring others into play.

Additionally, Inter consistently overloaded the left side, with Barella, often unmarked, finding space to receive between the lines after a switch of play. This nearly resulted in a goal for Pavard, whose shot struck the post before deflecting out of play. The warning signs were clearly evident even before the third goal; and as Inter’s opportunities continued to mount, they eventually capitalized to take a crucial lead.

Minute 54: Build-up to Inter’s third goal. With Bastoni positioned wide, Cristante initiated the press, while Dybala tracked Mkhitaryan. Martínez dropped deeper to receive the ball, creating space behind the defense. Inter employed the up-back-through combination to find Mkhitaryan’s run, which Dybala, despite sprinting 70 yards back, failed to track. Mkhitaryan’s cross was ultimately deflected into his own net by Angeliño.

In response to the goal, De Rossi made two attack-minded substitutions, bringing on Leandro Spinazzola and Edoardo Bove for Angeliño and Cristante. Roma shifted to a 3-1 base, with Bove, Pellegrini, and Dybala in front of Paredes given the license to roam between the lines and create overloads centrally. Furthermore, Spinazzola was encouraged to make overlapping runs, unlike Angeliño, which further pinned Inter back.

Ultimately, the difference between the sides boiled down to efficiency. Lukaku squandered two significant chances, including a one-on-one opportunity where Sommer made a crucial save. In stoppage time, Inter, who increasingly defended deep in the final minutes, capitalized on another break to put the game to bed through Bastoni.


De Rossi’s Roma achieved something that few could against Inter. Roma undoubtedly outperformed their opponents in the first half, with their high pressing effectively restricting Inter’s key players and their counter-attacks proving lethal. However, they struggled to pick their moments in the second half. Combined with a momentary lapse of concentration leading to the second goal, Roma allowed Inter to regain momentum, despite the fact that Inter didn’t pose much of a threat aside from a ten-minute period where they scored two goals. Nevertheless, the Giallorossi appreciated the effort and the style of play under their icon and will hope that it will translate into consistent results.

On the flip side, the question lingers: Can anyone halt Inter’s dominance? With five wins since the start of the year against Lazio, Napoli, Fiorentina, Juventus, and Roma, this Inter team looks unstoppable. This match proved to be their toughest challenge yet, but they showed their mettle to secure another victory and go seven points clear at the top.

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