Internazionale – AS Roma: Antonio Mirante saves the day for Roma as both teams struggled to knock down the other’s defensive wall (0-0)
One of the most anticipated encounters of the weekend ended in a draw that still offered some noteworthy moments from an individual and collective point of view. In the first half, Roma’s mistakes almost gifted Inter the lead when the visitors held control of the match, whereas the second half saw Inter denied by an impressive performance goalkeeping display.
Tactical analysis and match report by Kareem Bianchi.
Ahead of Saturday’s Lazio-Juventus, first-placed Inter was confronted with an in-form Roma side that trailed nine points behind the league leaders, in fifth place. Despite the gap, the feeling both teams arranged set the scene for a highly anticipated and equal match, especially given its timing and alignment with Juventus and Lazio’s face-off.
Inter have been putting pressure on Juventus since their loss in October’s big match, finally overtaking the Turin giants after their draw to Sassuolo in the previous fixture. Romelu Lukaku’s and Lautaro Martínez’s incredible goal scoring and creative form have filled the void left by Stefano Sensi’s injury, in a way that has restored Inter’s offensive productivity and put an emphasis on Conte’s methodology.
Likewise, through clear principles in a functional system, Fonseca’s work has added value to players who had, in the past, only showed glimpses of their potential– such as Lorenzo Pellegrini, Nicolò Zaniolo and Gianluca Mancini amongst others.
Roma started in a 4-2-3-1 shape with Antonio Mirante in goal and Gianluca Mancini back in defense after Amadou Diawara came back from injury to gain a spot aside Jordan Veretout. In attack, Nicolò Zaniolo replaced Edin Džeko, supported by Diego Perotti, Pellegrini and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Inter played in their usual 3-5-2 formation, in which Borja Valero replaced an unavailable Nicolò Barella.
Few stadiums can get more intimidating than San Siro when the fans back their team, but unlike other sides, who ride on their supporters’ enthusiasm to dominate the ball, Conte’s Inter also accepts to sit back and defend, a nuance perfectly displayed in their encounter against Roma.
When Inter kicked off they immediately started circulating the ball between defenders to open gaps in Roma’s 4-2-3-1 / 4-5-1 defensive shape. While Zaniolo blocked access to Brozović with his cover shadow, When a player is positioning himself between the opponent that has possession of the ball and another opponent, he is blocking the passing lane. When applied the right way, his ‘shadow’ is effectively taking the opponent in his back out of the game, because the pass can not be played. Pellegrini marked the Croatian. Meanwhile, the wingers stayed narrow to focus on covering the passing lanes towards the midfielders and shifted to the flanks when the ball reached the wing-backs. If a backpass was played, then the striker would press the middle-back and the winger could step out on the half-back, after which Roma’s fullback would mark the wing-back. The ball-side pivot also shifted aggressively to the wing when following the center-midfielder, something that Inter was not able to exploit.
Roma’s 4-5-1 defensive shape against Inter’s 3-5-2 offensive structure.
By defending in a medium block and thus refraining from engaging Inter’s buildup play in a high press, Fonseca smartly prevented his team from falling into Inter’s rotations when building from deep. Instead, Roma covered passing lanes efficiently, forcing the hosts into rushed long-balls due to the lack of options between the lines.
In possession, Roma developed the play a lot through switches of play. A pass from one side to the other. Given Inter’s reluctance to press both pivots with the central midfielders, only applying pressure with the two strikers on Roma’s center-backs and Vecino on one of the pivots – usually Veretout – all the visitors required was the other the pivot – usually Diawara – to drop between the defenders. This scenario was the consequence of the wingers positioning themselves 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. since a commitment from both central midfielders would have threatened the space behind them, isolating Brozović.
Roma’s buildup against Inter’s 3-5-2 press.
Another interesting aspect of Roma’s buildup came from goal-kicks and consisted of the use of deception to gain a head start over Inter. Antonio Mirante would first instruct his teammates to move forward, anticipating a long-ball. Instead, the center-backs and pivot would quickly drop towards the goalkeeper to receive, gaining the necessary split-second advantage over their opponents to build up with space.
Given Inter’s constant numerical disadvantage against Roma’s buildup, the visitors easily progressed the ball into the opposition’s half. The offensive principles, as Fonseca has accustomed Roma’s spectators to, consisted of creating halfspace access to quickly switch the play or trigger central combinations. However, Roma’s inability to disorganize Inter’s low block A low block refers to a team that retreats deep in their own half out of possession, generally only disrupting their opponents around their own box. only allowed them to move the ball from one flank to the other, the reason for which their offensive maneuvers would either crash against Inter’s defensive wall or stall out wide. Paradoxically, in the first thirty minutes, both teams got the furthest into the opposition’s realm when Chris Smalling or Stefan de Vrij carried the ball into the opposition’s defensive structure.
Besides one isolated possession loss on the edge of their box, Roma had been able to build up the play without too many issues for the most part of the half. As the first half neared its end though, Roma naively lost two dangerous balls just outside their penalty box, gifting Inter their only relevant chances of the game, which they wastefully missed.
Striker involvement is the key
After Davide Santon was forced off for an injury and replaced by Leonardo Spinazzola in the first half, Inter also had to deal with an injury, substituting Antonio Candreva for Valentino Lazaro.
Three minutes after the game resumed, Inter almost scored when the strikers’ drifting movements opened a central corridor for Matias Vecino’s run, whose shot from close range was saved by an impressive Mirante dive.
Roma’s struggles to build up – often unjustified – during the end of the first half probably convinced Conte to increase the pressure after the break. Consequently, whereas previously one central midfielder had stayed deeper during pressing situations, the Inter manager now instructed both Vecino and Borja Valero to step out on Diawara and Veretout. While Roma did find it harder to bypass the press compared to the first half, requiring more elaborate passing sequences and losing possession on a couple of occasions, when they were able to access Pellegrini behind the midfield line they would find acres of space to attack the opposition backline.
As they had increased their aggressiveness without the ball, Inter finally started increasing their attacking prowess when around the 55th minute Roma’s lines were stretched by midfielder runs, creating the conditions for the center-backs to access the strikers and trigger their rehearsed movements and combinations. If one moved towards the ball, then the other attacked the depth.
In the 66th minute, Fonseca finally made the chance Roma cried for, introducing Džeko in a game that required the Bosnian’s physical presence and occupation of the penalty area. Thus, out went an unimpressive Perotti, Zaniolo moved to the right wing and Mkhitaryan to the left. Shortly after, Conte made his second change too, replacing Borja Valero for Asamoah, who joined the midfield trio, reminiscing his Juventus days. However, with his first two touches, the Ghanian showed his back-to-goal play limitations, giving up possession twice in the space of three minutes.
In the end, none of the substitutions from either manager brought the desired outcomes, consequently leading the game into a stalemate.
Despite the promising moments Inter created at the start of the second half, in contrast to the first half dynamics, both teams were unable to make an impact in the final twenty minutes of the game. Roma’s defense, Mancini in particular, dealt with Lautaro’s threats admirably, while the visitors failed to make any sort of impact in attack, repeatedly crashing into Inter’s insurmountable wall. Moreover, Mirante’s saves prevented Inter from scoring on multiple occasions, at times even as a result of the goalkeeper’s or his teammates’ own mistakes.
It is clear to see how both managers have made a tangible impact on their sides, instilling a style that has provided consistency to two teams that struggled to find their craft in past seasons. Fonseca is proving to be a flexible manager that can adapt to many scenarios whilst still expecting his team to carry out his football, whilst Conte’s team can count on a solid defense and good offensive mechanisms to grind through their toughest moments.
As innovative managers make their way to Serie A, the Italian league seems to be moving in the right direction from a mere footballing perspective, making this Serie A season one of the most interesting and unpredictable in recent years.
Match plots will be added as soon as possible.