Inter started the game in familiar shape, but with Icardi missing out and Jovetic playing in the centre of attack. Perhaps controversially, D’Ambrosio started at right back for the first time this season, and Nagatomo on the other side, possibly to combat the pace of the Roma attack. Both teams looked relatively similar in shape, as you would have expected, with a 4-3-3 line-up. Garcia has somewhat transformed his side into a more counter-attacking team in recent weeks, which has worked with the pace of Gervinho and Salah, but relies less on the technical guile of players like Pjanic.
The game started at a pretty fast pace, more so than Inter’s last game against Bologna, and Gervinho had some joy in getting down the right along the byline, but failing with the delivery. Nainggolan looked to be the one dictating Roma’s play in the middle of the field, coming deeper to receive the ball at times, and playing passes around. From the start, it was noticeable that Inter were more comfortable dropping off Roma when the away side had possession in their own half. The Roma defenders could bring the ball nearly out to the halfway line unchallenged, as Mancini’s men retreated with the midfield squeezing back onto the defence to form two solid lines.
When Inter had possession, Nagatomo was predictably high up the pitch, often in Roma’s half and at times Maicon was caught out and put too much responsibility on Salah to drop back. There was an interesting battle between Digne and D’Ambrosio on the other side, with the Roma left back getting forward and trying to engineer a position to cross from. When he did manage to get a ball in for the first time, it was a decent delivery, prompting a save from a Dzeko header. Along with Maicon overlapping on the opposite flank, it looked like a good route for Roma to take and expose the Inter defence against Dzeko aerially in the box.
Inter weren’t without good movement going forward, with Ljajic and Brozovic linking up to create a chance from a cross into the box, but without the final touch. The players going forward for the Nerazzurri, tending to be the front three plus Brozovic, were roaming around a fair bit – switching sides and cutting in from the flanks. This occasionally gave them good options on the counter-attack, and looked to expose Roma’s high defensive line. With the high, flat line that Garcia’s side had adopted, it appeared as though Inter could slip through with some quick short passes and clever movement – something that Jovetic usually offers – but nothing quite materialised. It may well have been useful to have Icardi in there to play off Jovetic and try and manipulate space, which he can do well at times. Palacio came on late in the second half and, although in different circumstances, demonstrated how to play off the shoulder of the defender and work space well.
Roma did look to Salah to run with the ball, like he has done effectively so far this season, but he couldn’t really penetrate the Inter defence and Nagatomo had a very good game, getting back at him on a few occasions to stop any meaningful service from the Roma wide man. Instead it was Maicon, who’s movement coming in front the right, could have opened up a pathway to goal. As he showed a couple of times, he can get forward into good areas un-tracked, and he found himself with a free shot in the area towards the end of the first half, which was saved and pushed out to Dzeko who probably should have reacted quicker on the rebound. Dzeko looked slightly out of sorts all game, but appeared more dangerous in the air, his touch letting him down a few times. Inter were pretty poor at defending aerial balls into the box, not just against the Bosnian striker, but also from Rudiger and Manolas on separate occasions. They brought on Ranocchia towards the end, but this didn’t really seem to alleviate the problem.
Inter’s goal came from an unlikely source, on the half-hour mark, when Jovetic laid the ball back to Medel who shot into the bottom corner from around 30 yards. It was a sweet strike, but a gap opened up that probably shouldn’t have been there, and Rudiger half-heartedly turned his back when he should have been closing down the shot. The goal seemed to signify a growth in confidence by the home side, who had a good spell of midfield play afterwards, before dropping back before half-time and containing Roma. The movement and interplay of Inter was looking dangerous, particularly like previously mentioned, against the high line of their opponents (pic below). Manolas’ pace was useful against Jovetic when he looked to break free, but it still felt unnecessarily risky at times for Roma’s back four to be playing so far up. It also pushed Inter back, and reduced the threat of a quick attack. They did have one chance at a counter, where Guarin gave the ball away trying to come through midfield with it, but it was wasted by a poor pass that was easily intercepted. That appeared to be the only real time when Inter looked like getting stretched slightly – when Guarin gave the ball away in advanced areas and left the middle of the pitch exposed.
The second half was pretty fast-paced, and Mancini had to make an early substitution after Medel picked up an injury earlier on and couldn’t continue. His response was to introduce Kondogbia, who took a while to adjust to the pace of the game, misplacing a couple of passes. Roma tried to pose a threat, Dzeko having another header from a corner which was saved, and a good ball from Maicon cutting inside presented Roma’s striker with an opportunity to make something happen, but a poor touch let him down. At least the positive for Rudi Garcia was that Dzeko was getting a bit more time in the box, there was hope for his team to vary their approach to break down the Inter defence. Gervinho had an opportunity to run with the ball and instigate an attack, but his decision-making was poor, and the interplay with Dzeko didn’t seem to be there. Contrast this with Inter’s front men, who look like they understand each other’s movements and intentions slightly better, at least in this game. As mentioned earlier, Nagatomo was also fantastic at getting back to stop a final ball coming in when Salah tried to break down the right.
The tempo of the game continued to rise at this point, becoming end to end for a couple of minutes. Salah had a couple of chances from the right – one being a good opportunity to score from a shot that came back off Handanovic, after quick build up involving Maicon coming in with the ball from the right again, and movement across the front from Dzeko (pic below). In and amongst this period of the match, Guarin got booked as a result of (again) pushing forward with the ball, losing it, and diving in at his opponent from behind. Garcia brought Falque on for Florenzi, who slotted straight into central midfield, which was questionable considering he’s only really played on the left previously. Maybe Garcia backs his technical ability to play short passes and hold the ball, and thought he had the ability to create chances through the middle. Roma did manage to engineer a couple of further chances, with Rudiger again showing his team’s ability to win the ball in the air from corners, but heading wide. Also, a through ball from deep made its way to Dzeko, but his relatively poor touch enabled Miranda to get back and intervene and made the striker’s decision not to shoot earlier seem like a poor one.
A potential turning point in the game then came through the sending off of Pjanic. He was booked earlier in the game for arguing with the referee, and received a second for a deliberate handball in the middle of the pitch. As is normally said, a booking for arguing with an official is a pointless one which leaves you on a bit of a tightrope. Pjanic fell off the rope, and left Garcia with a depleted midfield devoid of the player most likely to create a goalscoring opportunity. Dzeko was brought off and, somewhat curiously, Vainqueur was introduced despite the away side needing a goal with 15 minutes left. Before all this, Palacio had come on for Jovetic who had drifted out of the game slightly, and was a good outlet for Inter as he played off the shoulder of the high Roma defence. They could knock the ball down the channel and Palacio would run off the defender and chase it. At one point, this resulted in a good cross from the Argentinian, which was headed down by Perisic at the back post for Brozovic to volley and produce a decent save from Szczesny.
The sending off also meant that Inter could push higher up the pitch when the Roma defenders had possession, as opposed to letting them play the ball out. However, they kept men behind the ball when the away side tried to break out, and Nagatomo continued to stop the threat coming down the right, this time Gervinho. Mancini’s side went narrow at the back, and congested the game in the middle slightly at this point, before dropping right back on around 85 minutes to see the game out. Digne had one opportunity to get a cross in from the left, and did so, with Inter defending it poorly when it came into the area, eventually managing to get it out. Perisic managed to break free down the left near the end, with a fantastic run into the box, breezing past Rudiger, and ultimately played a square pass into the keeper instead of shooting. Palacio continued to chase hard and move into the left channel to hold the ball and kill time.
The game ended in another 1-0 for Inter, taking them top of the table overnight. You can’t argue with the way Mancini orchestrated the win – his side looked to be able to play at various tempos throughout the game, whilst remaining in control and showing good play both defensively and in attack. They largely nullified the threat of pace and endeavour of Garcia’s front men, whilst played a considered and efficient game of their own. The ‘gamble’ of playing two full-backs with little game-time paid off, as did the omittance of Icardi from his attack. Garcia will be disappointed, and perhaps cite the sending off of Pjanic as a point that cost his team a late comeback. I think he will look back and see that they had chances to exploit the Inter defence – maybe feeling he needed a more clinical and confident Dzeko on the pitch, and perhaps taking advantage more of a clear superiority in the air in their opponents’ penalty area.