Inter vs Roma was a vital clash between the third and fourth placed teams in the Serie A. Both sides are too far away from the top duo to make an assault on the Scudetto, but are on course for a Champions League-place as Serie A finally have four Champions League spots available again. Equally, both sides came into the restart of the league with poor form; Inter hadn’t won since December 3rd and Roma had only managed one point from their last three matches. At the end of the night, both teams had failed to start a winning run and been leapfrogged in the table by Lazio.
Both coaches, Luciano Spalletti and Eusebio Di Francesco kept faith in their respective 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 formations. There was one surprise in Roma’s side though as Di Francesco deployed Radja Nainggolan on the left of the attack rather than in central midfield. We’ll look closer at that soon.
Roma instantly took the initiative and pressed Inter high. In the image below we see how they match Inter’s four deep players and force the goalkeeper Samir Handanovic into a long ball. Both sides original setup in midfield allowed for man-orientated marking as the two midfield triangles matched each other well with Inter’s being 2-1 and Roma’s 1-2.
Here’s another example of Roma’s approach to disturb Inter from building attacks from the back. The striker Edin Dzeko has gone to press Handanovic with the other two attackers, Nainggolan and Stephan El Shaarawy, marking Inter’s centre-backs. Midfielder Lorenzo Pellegrini marks Inter’s deepest midfielder Roberto Gagliardini while Gerson marks Matias Vecino (just out of shot).
Roma really succeeded with this man-orientated pressing. Below we see how they commit men forward to press. Dzeko uses his cover shadow to stop the pass to left centre-back Miranda while pressing Handanovic, Nainggolan marks the right centre-back Milan Skriniar, Gerson marks Vecino and Pellegrini (out of shot) is on his way to pick up Gagliardini. At the bottom right corner of the image we can also notice how Aleksandar Kolarov, Roma’s left-back, has left the defensive line to mark Inter’s right-winger Antonio Candreva. The only players Roma didn’t mark when pressing Inter high up the pitch were Inter’s full-backs but Inter didn’t utilize the option of progressing through them.
When not pressing high, Roma retreated into a compact 4-1-4-1 shape which can be seen below. While there were occasional man-orientations, Roma’s approach when defending deeper were mostly positionally-orientated which was a slight surprise from their normal approach.
As we see in the image above, Roma kept a really compact shape and combined with their strong pressing, they took control of the game as Inter struggled to maintain any prolonged spells of possession in the first half.
Roma’s rotations in midfield
In possession, Roma had some really interesting solutions in midfield. I’ve covered the rotations Di Francesco likes on various occasions on this site (here and here for example) but he surprised even myself with his use of Nainggolan. As previously mentioned, the Belgian started on the left of the attacking trident with a midfield three of Kevin Strootman at the base, Pellegrini to the right and Gerson to the left. Whenever the opportunity presented itself, Nainggolan would move into the space between the lines of Inter’s defense and midfield. Below we see how his movement created a situational midfield diamond, giving Roma a 4 vs 3 advantage in central midfield. El Shaarawy (highlighted in white) performed a more natural wide attacker role on the right.
Below is another example of the problems Nainggolan’s movement caused Inter. Inter man-marked in midfield with their three against Roma’s three. When Nainggolan moved into the number ten space however, this created a 4 vs 3 situation centrally and Inter had to consistently leave one of Roma’s midfielders free. The movement of Nainggolan therefore helped Roma create a free man in midfield, gain control of midfield and cause Inter troubles defensively. In this case, Pellegrini is the free man with plenty of space in the midfield area.
Midfield rotations are a trademark of Di Francesco’s teams and normally this means a central midfield moves wide with the winger coming centrally into the half-space to create a free man between the lines. On Sunday, however, Roma mainly rotated down their right with El Shaarawy coming deep to get the ball down the side while Pellegrini would make a diagonal into the space behind Inter’s left-back Davide Santon. Santon would often follow El Shaarawy’s movement down the side which left space for Pellegrini to exploit. Despite this, Roma rarely created anything from this rotation, but it was interesting to see the idea. I’ve also highlighted Nainggolan again and his movement from his starting position.
Below is another example of the rotation down the right flank with Pellegrini exploiting the space behind Santon with a diagonal run.
When not coming deep, El Shaarawy looked to threaten with diagonal runs behind Santon into the space behind Inter’s defensive line. In the situation below, Dzeko looks to play the Italian forward through on goal.
Roma’s opening goal came from one of those diagonal runs although the passer was an unlikely source. As you see below, Roma’s goalkeeper Alisson plays a ball over the entire Inter side into the space behind Santon and Miranda where El Shaarawy makes another diagonal run into space. The Pharaoh was undeniably helped by Santon’s poor attempt at heading the ball, but the goal was courtesy of his run and the stunning pass from the Brazilian goalkeeper. From Inter’s perspective it’s worth noting the horrendous body-positioning of both Santon and Miranda as they are flat-footed facing forward and not taking note of El Shaarawy’s run. Contrast their positioning with Skriniar and Joao Cancelo who are both turned sideways which makes them ready to both drop and move forward.
Inter change the game
In the latter stages of the second half Inter changed the game by playing more direct into the space behind Roma’s defense. Here we see one example as Miranda has just played a high ball forward and there are four Inter players looking to attack the space in behind the defence. More than anything, it’s a signal that they wanted to get forward.
As well as being more direct and looking for the space in behind, Inter started pressing higher and forced some errors from Roma’s passing. As a reaction to Inter’s significantly more attacking approach, Di Francesco introduced Juan Jesus and Bruno Peres and changed the shape into a 5-3-1-1 to give the side more defensive balance.
But Inter quickly identified a weakness in Roma’s new formation – the space behind the wing-backs. Below we see how Cancelo makes a run into the huge space behind Kolarov and in-between him and Jesus. This run forces Pellegrini to go with him and therefore Roma’s midfield defends even deeper. This is important as it gave Roma less players to play the ball to when they won it and Inter could maintain pressure high up the pitch.
Here Ivan Perisic makes a run into the space behind the highlighted Peres, further highlighting Inter’s approach to penetrate.
They also committed more men forward; this is six Inter players in Roma’s box with a further three just outside of it. Inter therefore have nine players in the 22 meters from Roma’s goal and force the entire Roma team deep. This situation is from open play too, not a set piece.
In the end, the late rally produced an equalizer. Marcelo Brozovic picks the ball up from Dalbert who continues his run and confuses Peres. The Brazilian wing-back doesn’t know whether to track the wide run of Dalbert or press Brozovic. We can even see him putting his arms out in confusion and frustration. Alessandro Florenzi (yellow) plays in midfield at this point and has been dragged too far inside and can’t give the support to Peres that he should while Nainggolan (white) is way to passive by not putting pressure on Brozovic. The cross is sublime and Vecino heads the ball in to equalise for the Nerazzurri.
For large spells at San Siro, Roma were superior and should have won the game. In truth, Alisson also made some superb saves as Inter upped the pressure so maybe the draw was a deserved result but Roma could have been three up before the break. Unfortunately for both sides, a draw meant they both dropped down a spot in the table as Lazio climbed above them. Both teams are out of form and desperately needs to go on a winning run to make sure they can secure Champions League football for next season.