As a kid playing soccer in your youth, I’m sure you eventually wondered about the following hypothetical situation: an opposing striker is through on goal, and you’re the last man trailing behind him. Should you take him down and stop the danger, knowing full well you’re going to get sent off, or should you hope that your keeper is going to save the goal? Here’s another: your keeper is down, you’re the last defender on the line, and the ball’s about to enter the net. Should you try and go for the handball (hoping that no one will see it) with the risk of a red card for your team (but then with the chance your keeper will stop the penalty)? This Saturday my friends, we had a perfect example of why you should never ever go for that handball. Indeed, after the 28th-minute “save” of Ludovic Giuly (who apparently played professional volleyball in a former life), Roma-Inter was effectively over.
The starting line-up for Roma had few surprises in store: the usual 4-2-3-1 line-up with David Pizarro and Ludovic Giuly on for injured Alberto Aquilani and Rodrigo Taddei. Roberto Mancini on the other hand completely revolutionized his team: Zlatan Ibrahimovic as the lone striker and a massive 5-man midfield (with Figo and Cesar on the wings). An obvious indication that Inter’s manager main goal was to shut down the fast 1-touch passing game of the Giallorossi. On a funny note: by taking a look at Inter’s bench today (Crespo, Cruz, Pelè, Solari, Adriano, Suazo), with the exclusion of Toldo the Nerazzurri were starting this match with SIX (6!) offensive substitutes! In the event of a defender injury for Inter, manager Roberto Mancini would be in very deep waters…
Only 1 minute had passed on the clock and Roma obtained their first chance: on a push forward by the Giallorossi Mançini got fouled on the edge of the box, setting up Francesco Totti for a perfect free-kick opportunity. As is often the case with Roma set-pieces lately, the Giallorossi captain asked one of his teammates for a two-time kick and then went for power. Inter Keeper Julio Cesar got down well to parry, but then really had to summon a supersave to prevent Mançini’s tap-in on the ensuing rebound.
Onto the other end, Inter’s reaction was almost immediate: a hard volleyed attempt by Esteban Cambiasso, too central to give the Roma keeper any problems. The match at this point was very much in balance: Roma tried to activate their trademarked up-tempo playing style, but the Inter defense (Walter Samuel above all) kept the Gialorossi’s offensive verve in check. That is until Mançini obtained some free space on the edge of the box again, and went for a low shot towards the first post in the 27th. Julio Cesar parried away into corner.
The ensuing set-piece kick was the beginning of the end for Roma. Wow really? This early into the match? Yes. Totti’s choice to play a short corner turned out to be a grave mistake because the pass was intercepted, and Inter could immediately start the counter-attack. An inch-perfect through ball by Maxwell for Cesar set up the Brazilian midfielder all alone in front of Doni. The Roma keeper pulled out a miracle save to parry the shot (which wasn’t all too great to begin with), but the rebound went straight to Ibrahimovic ready to power the header in. However, as he was running back toward the goal line, Roma’s Ludovic Giuly executed a perfect lay-up pass for Mexès, who then went for the spik… erm no wait, wrong sport. Penalty shot for Inter, red card for Giuly, and 1-0 for Zlatan.
Roma manager Luciano Spalletti was now left with a big problem: a goal to catch up and a man down to replace. Repositioning Simone Perrotta on the right provided a temporary solution, but as for that goal to catch up, Roma would have to pull some real magic out of their hats. Fortunately, the maneuvers of the Inter players (who could now breathe easier, with the man advantage) slowed down a bit, and the half ended with the 1-0 Inter scoreline.
After the break, finally some good news for Roma: Olivier Dacourt (pulled muscle) and Zlatan (stubbed toe) were forced to come off injured. Then some even better news: a reckless dribble by Maxwell on the edge of Inter’s box allowed Pizarro to poke the ball towards Perrotta. Controling the ball in the center, the Italian international blasted a low ball into the bottom-left corner of the net to tie the game. 1-1.
Remember the ‘good’ news I mentioned before though? The injuries forcing Hernan Crespo and Julio Cruz to come off the bench? Turned out they were not so good after all. Following a great 1-2 exchange, Cambiasso penetrated the Roma defense and blasted a hard shot at Doni. The ensuing rebound reached Crespo (who had started the play) with an open net, and there’s very few the Argentine striker will miss in those circumstances: half-volleyed bicycle kick for the finish. 2-1 Inter. 3 minutes later, it was Cruz‘s turn to strike: edge of the box, powerful but accurate shot low on the ground, inside of the post (Doni not completely innocent on this one). 3-1.
At this point, the Giallorossi had given up. Inter were exploiting the leaks of the Roma defense from all parts, delivering the final blow with an Iván Córdoba header in the 68th. 4-1 the final score.
Red card aside, the Nerazzurri victory bears a big mark from their manager Roberto Mancini, who in terms of tactics hit all his choices dead-on: the starting line-up at the beginning, but more importantly the substitutions (Crespo and Cruz, authors of 1 goal each). Inter may have begun the season on a slow note, but when called into action in a potential morale-breaking moment (conceding the equalizer with a 1-man advantage) hit back with all the might their offensive arsenal provides. Spalletti on the other hand, must reflect deeply on the 8 goals the Roma defense conceded in their last 3 games.
The win over Roma in the 2006-07 season last year was the beginning of Inter’s lone run towards the Champions title. It’s still early to make that kind of prediction now, but the final 4-1 scoreline sends a clear signal to all the Inter adversaries out there: the Nerazzurri are still the main favorites for the Scudetto this season. .
|GOALSCORERS: 29’ Ibrahimovic (I), 53’ Perrotta (R), 57’ Crespo (I), 60’ Cruz (I), 68’ Córdoba (I)
|ROMA (4-2-3-1): Doni – Panucci (69′ Cicinho), Mexès, Juan, Tonetto – De Rossi, D.Pizarro – Giuly, Perrotta, Mançini (69′ Vucinic) – Totti (76′ Esposito). (bench: Curci, Ferrari, Brighi, Barusso). Coach: Spalletti.
|INTER (4-5-1): Júlio César – J.Zanetti, Córdoba, Samuel, Maxwell – Stankovic, Dacourt (51′ Crespo), Cambiasso, Cesar, Figo (77′ Pelè) – Ibrahimovic (50′ Cruz). (bench: Toldo, Solari, Adriano, Suazo) Coach: Mancini.