After finally halting a run of 3 consecutive draws by picking up a 1-0 win against Bologna, Inter played hosts to the league leaders in AS Roma. The capital club had seen a slow start to the campaign pick up quickly, mainly due to an attack which had seen them score 25 goals in the first ten matches. Inter on the other hand had struggled to score goals but instead made their defense airtight, only conceding seven in ten (with four of them coming in the horror show against Fiorentina). This match would see which of these two strengths would overcome, and give Inter the chance to take the top spot in Serie A again (at least for a few hours).
When the starting eleven were announced for this match, there was a bit of concern from a number of Inter fans. First, the starting fullbacks were Nagatomo (his only previous start this season was against Palermo) and D'Ambrosio (who got his first Serie A appearance in this match). Secondly, captain and last season's top scorer Mauro Icardi was dropped to have a front three of Perisic-Jovetic-Ljajic. While both of these decisions seemed strange at first as the match progressed it became clear why Mancini did what he did. I'll go over them in the match analysis.
Roma started this match on the front foot and soon Handanovic had to make his first save of the match from a Dzeko header. Brozovic followed up with a chance of his own but for the most part Inter spent the first 25 minutes doing some serious defending. This was most evident in the 23rd minute when Maicon got into the box, forced Handanovic to make a save but the rebound fell to Dzeko with a gaping net. Luckily D'Ambrosio was there to get a touch on the ball and force it wide.
That miss would prove costly to the capital club because eight minutes later Inter took the lead. Jovetic pulled Roma's midfielders out of position in front of the defense and layed the ball off for Medel who lashed a low shot from outside the box into the bottom corner. There were no other real chances in the first half and Inter went into the break leading 1-0.
The second half began like the first one, Roma pushing for a goal and Inter defending. Once again Handanovic had to make a smart save from a Dzeko effort to keep Inter in front. Unfortunately, Medel had to come off early in the half due to what looked like a potential back injury and was replaced by Kondogbia. In the 61st minute, Handanovic showed why he can be considered one of the best goalkeepers in the league, if not in Europe. He pulled off four saves in the space of about four seconds, the best being an absolute reflex stop to prevent a Murillo own goal.
Roma continued to go for an equalizer but were dealt a serious blow in their pursuits when Pjanic received a second yellow card and was sent off. Once this happened the Nerazzurri didn't really have any more serious trouble keeping out the capital club and secured the victory.
Neither fullback was expected to start, and many expected them to have a torrid time against Salah and Gervinho;I'm sure the two wingers were more than excited to be lined up against them. Surprisingly though they both had very good matches. D'Ambrosio was a calm and steady presence throughout the match, and his block on Dzeko prevented a certain goal. He also led the team with four challenges won. Nagatomo at first was a little shaky. He would go upfield to help out in attack but get caught out trying to track back by the speed of Gervinho. As time went on though he got a handle on his marker and once he made sure the wingers weren't already behind him his work was solid. The Japanese international only allowed one successful dribble past him throughout the match. The performances by the fullbacks will give Mancini even more of a dilemma when choosing who to start in future matches.
While the defensive negation of Roma's wingers can be primarily attributed to the fullbacks, the had quite a bit of help. Ljajic and Perisic put on a strong defensive effort as well, often playing almost as wingbacks to help stifle Roma's attacks and still push forward in attack when possible. The two of them intercepted 8 passes, and did what they needed to do to make sure Roma were not successful where they are the strongest.
Finally, the decision to drop Icardi and play the front three of Perisic-Jovetic-Ljajic. After the match, Mancini insisted this was a tactical decision to allow the attack to function without any reference points. This was apparent by watching the game. When attacking, the front three would switch positions and drop deep whenever they wanted in order to keep the Roma defense on its toes. JoJo in particular would drop very deep, almost in a false nine position, which allowed the other two to have more space to be influential. This dropping deep was most apparent for Medel's goal; Jovetic pulled Roma's midfielders out away from the defense so when he gave the ball to Medel, there was more than enough room for him to line the ball up and beat Szczesney from distance. This front three has the potential to be very dangerous and can serve as an effective alternative to playing with Icardi in the future.