Inter Milan welcomed AS Roma to the San Siro Stadium in what was certainly the derby of the 33rd round of Serie A this season. The Nerazzurri entered the game from the third place while the visitors sat fifth, with only six points and AC Milan in between separating them.
Inter head coach Luciano Spalletti, formerly of Roma, was without the pair of Croatia internationals in Šime Vrsaljko and midfielder Marcelo Brozović.
Samir Handanović was in goal. The back four consisted of Stefan de Vrij and Milan Škriniar in the heart of defence, flanked by Kwandwo Asamoah on the left and Danilo D’Ambrosio on the right. Matias Vecino and Borja Valero sat ahead of them. The trio of Matteo Politano, former Roma midfielder Radja Nainggolan and Ivan Perišić played behind Lautaro Martinez upfront.
Claudio Ranieri in the away dugout was only without his captain, midfielder Daniele De Rossi.
Antonio Mirante stood between the posts. Federico Fazio and Juan Jesus played ahead of him, with Aleksandar Kolarov on their left and Alessandro Florenzi on their right. Bryan Christante and Steven Nzonzi were the pair of deep-lying midfielders, with Stephan El Shaarawy, and Lorenzo Pellegrini and Cengiz Under supporting Edin Džeko in attack.
The First Half
The first chance of the game fell for the visitors after only 90 seconds. Former Manchester City duo of Kolarov and Džeko combined well as the fullback got his striker into a promising position some 10 yards from the goal, but Džeko’s attempt was too feeble to cause any real problems for Handanović. Kolarov’s shot four minutes later looked far more dangerous, missing the target by a few inches.
Inter struck back soon through Politano whose perfectly weighed cross found Martinez in the air, and Mirante was forced to make a fantastic save to deny the low header passage into the net.
Martinez’s chance was in a way a sign of Inter taking control of the proceedings, as the home side took the ball and started driving forward. They looked to make use of Politano on the right a few times more, but his cross earlier seemed to have woken Kolarov up and the Roma left-back took his job much more seriously.
And just as Spalletti’s men lulled themselves into a sense of security, Roma hit quickly. El Shaarawy took the ball wide on the left, cut inside to get away from D’Ambrosio and hit the far corner with a nicely curved shot. Valero was too slow to block the shot and Handanović was unable to save it.
Inter players quickly recovered from the shock and retook initiative, but Roma were now fine with that. They sat back and defended responsibly, having all the time in the world to wait for a counterattack opportunity. After one such moment, Pellegrini broke down the right and tried to cross the ball in the box, but Valero blocked it. VAR was called into action with the possibility of the Inter midfielder having used his arm inside the box, but eventually referee Marco Guida waved “play on”.
Nonetheless, the home players seemed to have lost a bit of the drive they were showing before, and Roma now spent several minutes in possession inside Inter’s half during which El Shaarawy threatened again, but Handanović was more successful this time.
Inter had three more chances before halftime, but first Asamoah’s effort from inside the box got deflected off target, then Vecino failed to take advantage of Mirante’s dropped ball by blasting it over the bar from six yards, and eventually D’Ambrosio headed wide from close range.
The Second Half
Ranieri made his first substitution at the start of the second period with Nicolo Zaniolo replacing Under. There were no formational or tactical changes; the 19-year-old slotted straight into Under’s position on the right attacking flank.
Inter understandably went forward immediately, and Martinez had another chance early in the second half, but Mirante stopped the striker’s header after another good cross from Politano. But Roma did not let them have it all their own way, and they soon threatened too as Zaniolo slid in a nice pass in behind for Pellegrini to latch onto, but Pellegrini’s shot from inside the box lacked the power to beat Handanović.
In the 54th minute, Spalletti through his strongest card on the table. Mauro Icardi entered the fray in the place of the indisposed Nainggolan, and Inter’s shape became 4-4-2.
The game went on much as t had before. The home team pushed forward. Roma defended well and looked to hit on a counterattack, looking more capable of causing harm than Inter, but it would still be Inter to score the next goal. A lovely diagonal cross from the right flank by D’Ambrosio found Perišić on the far post and the Croatian headed in from close range.
With Icardi on the pitch, Inter seemed to have picked their game up significantly, especially following the equalizer. Martinez was enjoying far more space and the likes of Politano and Perišić now had two targets to aim for inside the box. Roma’s composure seemed to have evaporated in a matter of seconds and they were suddenly finding it hard to get the ball across the halfway line.
Still, the visitors weren’t to be ruled out just yet. They broke through the pressure in the 68th minute for the first time since conceding, and following a corner they had won, Pellegrini hit one low into the corner, making Handanović work hard to stop it. Inter immediately created danger at the other end as Vecino’s cross from the right found Martinez on the far post, but the striker’s volley ended up high in the stands.
With 12 minutes remaining, Spalletti judged that Roma had adapted to his tactical change and he replaced Martinez with Joao Mario, reverting the formation to 4-2-3-1. Ranieri responded by fielding Justin Kluivert for Pellegrini, and Zaniolo moved into the middle, leaving the space on the right for the newcomer. Four minutes later, Spalleti sent on the pacey Keita Balde for Politano.
Inter continued their search for a winner towards the end, but it was Kolarov who almost stole one for Roma at the stroke of 90 minutes. The Serbia international broke down the left and burst into the box before shooting low toward the far post, but Handanović denied him with a fine save.
It was a good game, nicely balanced between two teams of high quality and tactically well prepared. The splitting of the points won’t be seen as a terrible result by either side, especially Inter who are certainly a step closer to booking a place in next season’s Champions League. Roma don’t have a very tough fixture schedule ahead. They do play Juventus, but they will fancy their chances even in that game given that the Old Lady have already secured their seventh consecutive Serie A title by beating Fiorentina earlier in the day.
But it is in fact Inter who will test that theory first, by welcoming Juventus next week, while Roma host mid-table Cagliari.
INTER: Handanović, de Vrij, Škriniar, D’Ambrosio, Asamoah, Vecino, Valero, Nainggolan 5 (54′ Icardi), Perišić, Politano 7.5 (84′ Balde), Martinez 7 (79′ Mario).
ROMA: Mirante, Fazio, Jesus, Kolarov, Florenzi, Cristante, Nzonzi, Pellegrini 6.5 (79′ Kluivert), El Shaarawy, Under 5 (46′ Zaniolo), Džeko.
GOALS: El Shaarawy 14′, Perišić 61.
YELLOW CARDS: Vecino 62′, Cristante 76′, Zaniolo 84,
REFEREE: Marco Guida.
DATE & VENUE: April 20, 2019, San Siro, Milan.
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