This season’s Scudetto race seems unwilling to pick a clear winner yet. When Inter stutter, Roma are unable to take advantage of the situation and, respectively, when the Giallorossi fail to achieve victory (as their 1-1 draw vs. Cagliari this-week-end demonstrates), it is Inter who perform poorly. Go figure.
Saturday’s Stadio Olimpico match ended 1-1, with Crespo giving Inter the lead in the first half, and Rocchi providing the equalizer for Lazio in the second. For the Biancocelesti, who had racked up 6 consecutive wins at the Olimpico lately, this draw against the title holders is a prestigious result. For the Nerazzurri however, the match represents further proof their end of the season is going uphill. This is Inter’s third match without a win (after the 1-1 draw vs. Genoa and the 1-2 loss vs. Juve) and with 7 matches left in the season, one has to wonder how long Mancini’s men can maintain their lead over Roma, if they continue this level of mediocrity.
Tactically, the Inter coach decided to leave Marco Materazzi on the bench in favor of Nicolas Burdisso (yes, the very same that gifted Trezeguet the assist for the 2-0 goal last week). Dejan Stankovic occupied the midfield position alongside Cristian Chivu and Javier Zanetti, while Maniche occupied the playmaking position behind strikers Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Hernan Crespo (with Zlatan placed a few meters behind the Argentine). A 4-3-2-1 of sorts, if you will. On the other end, Delio Rossi stuck to previously tested plans and fielded his usual 3-manned attack, with Goran Pandev supporting Rolando Bianchi/Tommaso Rocchi, and Ousmane Dabo in sort of a free role position.
Inter took little time to take the lead, despite the unfavorable away-game statistics (the Nerazzurri’s last on-the-road win dates back to February 10, 2-0 at Catania): in minute 11, Maicon and Stankovic exchanged passes to send the Brazilian wing-back down the right side, which was followed by a cushy assist for Hernan Crespo, right in front of Ballotta’s goal. 1-0 Inter, and it almost seemed during this short play, as if Inter were back to the brilliance that had made them so fearsome just a few months back.
Now, were this match played back in the Fall, you’d expect the Nerazzurri to fortify their defense, comfortably hold the lead, and then strike their opponents with their pants down and win 2-0 on a counter-attack. The latest versions of the Mancini’s team however, have been quite far from the über-giants dominating the Serie A back in October. Indeed, the Zlatan Ibrahimovic mistake gifting the ball to Dabo in minute 13, is just another testament to the fact Inter’s gas tank is running dangerously low. Fortunately for Mancini, there’s still someone on his team with unlimited energy reserves, and on that particular occasion the Inter manager can thank his keeper Julio Cesar, author of a brilliant save on the Frenchman’s long-range piledriver.
After the Dabo effort, Lazio continued their efforts and came close to the equalizer through Pandev (minute 44, triple dribble on the edge before being blocked by Burdisso) and once again through the French midfielder (Julio Cesar vigilant once again). As for Inter, Ibrahimovic did have a good chance in minute 27, but his effort was saved by Marco Ballotta. The half ended with the Nerazzurri in the lead, despite Lazio slowly but continuously increasing their pressure to shift the match in their favor.
The rising efforts of the Biancocelesti materialized in the second half, precisely in minute 59, when a long pass forward by Cristian Ledesma found Tommaso Rocchi completely in the clear. On the occasion, the Lazio striker was perhaps offside by a few inches; at the same time, the Inter backline was a little too over-confident with their offside trap, leaving Rocchi with almost 20 yards of space in front of Julio Cesar. Needless to say that even with the Brazilian keeper’s best efforts, Rocchi made no mistakes and pulled his team level. 1-1, and goal nº16 in the season for the Biancocelesti captain.
At this point, it became painstankingly obvious that Inter were just not there physically. In their defense, this is a team who has been absolutely persecuted by injuries the entire season, but surely that can serve as an excuse only a few times. After a while, if your players are constantly getting injured week in week out, there must be something wrong with your fitness program! The latest addition to Inter’s injury list: Cristian Chivu, yet again!
Mancini was thus forced to substitute his Romanian center-back with Patrick Vieira, which ironically seemed to give Inter better organization in midfield. Only for a moment. Valon Behrami found the crossbar after a double deflection by Rivas and Julio Cesar (the Inter keeper’s jump was once again imperial), and Rocchi came very close to Inter’s right post in minute 77. Before the match ended Dabo had time, once again, to slam the ball onto Julio Cesar’s woodwork with yet another long-range scorcher. Sweating time for Roberto Mancini, all the way till the end of the 90th minute.
There undoubtedly will be even more sweating for the Inter coach later in the season but for now, the Nerazzurri’s lead over 2nd-ranked Roma remains 4. For how long?
|GOALSCORERS: 11’ Crespo (I), 59’ Rocchi (L)|
|LAZIO (4-3-1-2): Ballotta – De Silvestri (83’ Kolarov), Siviglia, Cribari, Radu – Dabo, Ledesma, Behrami – Pandev – Bianchi (89’ Tare), Rocchi. (bench: Muslera, Rozenhal, Meghni, Mudingayi, Manfredini). Coach: D.Rossi.|
|INTER (4-3-1-2): Julio Cesar – Maicon, Rivas, Burdisso, Maxwell – J.Zanetti, Stankovic, Chivu (73’ Vieira), Maniche (66’ Jiménez) – Ibrahimovic (69’ Suazo), Crespo. (bench: Toldo, Materazzi, Pelé, Balotelli). Coach: R.Mancini|