AS Roma – Internazionale: Inter Surrender Momentum And Lose Two Points (2-2)

After a level-pegging first half, Internazionale came out much improved in the second, optimizing Romelu Lukaku and tinkering with the midfield to gain the advantage. Once going in front, the visitors passed the reigns to AS Roma, who capitalized on lost control and scored a late equalizer.

Tactical analysis and match report by Joel Parker.

With the league nearing the halfway point, AS Roma meeting Internazionale provided one of the biggest matchups so far in the Serie A season.

Paulo Fonseca remains one of the few foreign exports in the Serie A managerial department, but his exposure to Italian football has taken his ideas into a different direction. Once a possession-orientated coach who craved long spells in possession, his Roma team are glossed in a different kind of makeup, a team whose toned down their pressing and develop more chances on the transition.

The resurrection of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, with fifteen goal contributions in sixteen games to his name, and the ever-present Edin Džeko still scoring, has established themselves as one of Italy’s strongest attacking forces.

With political ramblings between the board and Antonio Conte seamlessly over, focus is back on their dominant football which has bossed almost everybody else. With the partnership between Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martínez being consistently excellent, Inter have rained in more goals than anybody else in the division. 

Conte’s team missed the opportunity to leapfrog their near-neighbors, on top of the table, after slipping up against a resilient Sampdoria. Nonetheless, Inter haven’t looked stronger since their last Serie A title and the team built by Antonio Conte can compete against anyone. 

Roma made four changes to the team that beat Crotone in midweek. Leonardo Spinazzola, Jordan Veretout, Lorenzo Pellegrini and Edin Džeko all returned and had a place in Fonseca’s 3-4-3 formation. Inter made three changes, with Arturo Vidal, Matteo Darmian and Romelu Lukaku starting for Conte’s men.

Roma find routes to the tens

Inter’s 5-3-2 out of possession offers incredible compactness in the central area, but Roma didn’t need to access this area to funnel play through to their most creative players. On the ball, Roma’s wide center-backs were the key to unlocking Conte’s defensive block. A defensive block is the compact group of defenders that defends a particular zone, either their own half in a medium defensive block, or the zone around their own box in a deep defensive block.

To enable progression, Roma offered an interesting split between the center-backs and double pivot. Two central midfielders next to each other. Jordan Veretout dropped into the defensive line when in the construction phase, which allowed Roger Ibañez to move further in the left channel, whilst Leonardo Spinazzola pushed high up, pinning his opposite wing-back deep.

Roma’s positional play enabled the wide center-backs to perform effectively down the channels, to combine with wing-back and inside ten.

Roma’s positional play from deep was very effective, able to circulate possession around Inter, without being pressed or needing to funnel play through the central areas. Because of their opponent’s narrow shape, work on the shoulders of Inter midfielders was crucial to accessing the final third. The one-third of the pitch that is closest to the opposition’s goal. Fortunately for Roma, Fonseca’s 3-4-3 / 3-4-2-1 shape enables the two tens, Lorenzo Pellegrini and Henrikh Mkhitaryan to move into these positions and receive direct, vertical passes from deep.

Though Roma’s buildup structure was active in the first two phases, they became stuck in the final third. The team does not possess the players on the one-versus-one to disrupt the last line, nor did they provide the same level of dynamism when entering these areas.

Despite these deficiencies, Roma were able to take the lead after disarming an Inter transition. Veretout was able to make the tackle, carry the ball and pass diagonally into Džeko’s path, who had moved over to the left channel. Two passes across play found Pellegrini, whose deflected shot from just outside the area, beat Samir Handanović.

Inter reliance on Brozović and Lukaku

In possession, Inter also provided flexible positional play. Roma’s 5-4-1 defensive shape could also resemble a 5-1-3-1 formation, with Veretout pushing high in between the two tens and Gonzalo Villar covering space behind. Passing lanes into Arturo Vidal and Nicolò Barella were covered, whilst deepest midfielder Marcelo Brozović, would have to drop between the center-backs to receive the ball in space. 

Though possession flowed between the center-backs without issues, getting it beyond the defensive line proved difficult with three players marking the space that Inter midfielders like to receive in. Brozović’s work on and off the ball was pivotal. When dropping, space would open behind, if a marker would track his movement, in which Inter broke the lines on a couple of occasions. When receiving possession, both Milan Škriniar and Alessandro Bastoni could move down the channels, which further enabled the wing-backs to take up more forward positions.

Inter’s flexible buildup was capable of retaining, but not progressing, as they struggled to play through Roma’s organized defensive block.

Inter’s positional play was good at retaining possession, but not so much at progressing the ball – unless Brozović was able to dictate. This led to Inter having to go a lot more direct towards their front two, who have been the only source of shot creation for Conte’s team. Furthermore, once they were able to move the ball into the final third, players positioning up field was more suboptimal. 

Romelu Lukaku’s excellent work with his back towards goal was only aided by two players, providing a penetrative run in behind or in front, either Achraf Hakimi down the right channel or Lautaro Martínez in support. A run from a midfielder would have given more penalty box presence from Inter, who failed to access high quality areas, without it coming from a long ball or cross into the area.

Inter improvements in second half

As Inter games have often flowed throughout this season, things only get going in the second half. Solutions came through tinkering with the midfield personnel and optimizing Lukaku’s back-to-goal strengths even further.

To avoid being marked out of the game, Brozović almost exclusively operated from a deeper position, which enabled Inter’s ball circulation to be much cleaner. The improvement in Vidal’s movement provided better passing lanes, whilst able to push forward and operate in the halfspace If you divide the field in five vertical lanes, the halfspaces are the lanes that are not on the wing and not in the center. Because there is no touchline like on the wing, players have the freedom to go everywhere. But this zone often is not as well-defended as the very center. This makes it a very valuable offensive zone to play in and a lot of chances are created by passes or dribbles from the halfspace. when past the construction phase. A chance five minutes into the second half showcased this, in the second phase of the attack, a sharp one-two with Brozović enabled him to get inside of Rick Karsdorp and cut the ball back inside of the area, but the shot was blocked.

With the movement of midfielders improved, Inter were able to build in a more asymmetrical manner tilting their opponents towards one channel before switching the ball into open space on the opposite flank.

Lukaku was also given free reign to pick up positions on the left of the field, as well as the right, which enabled him to roll of Gianluca Mancini when receiving, rather than Chris Smalling, who had minimalized his impact in the first period. 

These brief tinkers enabled Inter to progress more effectively and their shot creation was a lot more threatening at the start of the second half. A vintage Lukaku turn on Mancini provided the games best chance, Martínez’s shot saved from point-blank range.

Eventually Inter got their goals. The first came from a set-piece, Škriniar rising highest for a bullet header past the goalkeeper. Brozović would be instrumental for the second, able to turn in the pivot position and funnel play down the left, before playing the ball towards the right, towards a two-versus-one, with Barella and Hakimi. Hakimi received, and pinged the ball into the far corner, off the crossbar in excellent fashion.

63rd minute: Buildup to Inter’s second goal. Asymmetrical midfield line manipulates Roma’s defensive shape and creates a two-versus-one down the opposite channel.

Roma capitalize on lost control

Inter had surged on to produce a deserved comeback. Once in the lead, they aimed to make the game as slow as possible, which involved Conte rotating his team into the 5-4-1 formation and congesting the defensive third as much as possible.

Roma’s attempts at penetrating through this block were not pretty. The team appeared sapped of energy, which resulted in passes being slow and off the ball movement being even slower. This was on top of a team whose attack had been very limited, with Roma’s only form of shot creation coming on the transition. When they would lose the ball, gaps would appear across the field for a potential counterattack but Inter kept the game at a slow tempo.

Conte’s substitutions further highlight his aims to see the game out, Ivan Perišić coming on to fill the role on the left of the midfield, whilst Aleksandar Kolarov replaced Achraf Hakimi, which involved fellow substitute Ashley Young moving to right back. Inter passed control of possession to Roma, but as Inter’s defense dropped further, control of the tempo fell to Roma, who churned out late opportunities.

Though the attempts may have been low quality, Roma created enough pressure thanks to Džeko’s linkup, to produce shots from the edge of the area, and crosses which created scrappy attempts. Roma grabbed the equalizer late on, a short corner made the better crossing angle for Villar, for Mancini to head the ball into the back of the net. The fact Roma outshot Inter ten to zero in the last twenty minutes speaks volumes about how Conte’s tactical choice affected the game. 


This was an entertaining affair, with both team’s positional play being effective in the first two thirds, before losing momentum in the final. Roma’s buildup is fun, but the team is missing key components in their offensive play, in terms of one-versus-one and a reliance on transitions. Nonetheless, Roma have proven to be a tough test for all and can build on momentum with a huge clash with city rivals Lazio on Friday.

From an Inter perspective, this is a game they should’ve put out of sight at the start of the second half. Conte’s team adapted and deserved the lead, but their attempts at closing down games aren’t exactly the strongest. A huge grudge match against Juventus, in Derby d’Italia, is next for Inter in Serie A.

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Joel Parker (21) is an Everton fan. Whenever he’s not watching his beloved Everton, Joel spends his time analyzing all sorts of football. Chief editor and Founder of Toffee Analysis. [ View all posts ]


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