While the Derby d’Italia is always a special match that gets circled on every Interista’s calendar, Sunday night’s clash against Roma at the Stadio Olimpico was the most important match of the season so far for Frank de Boer and his men, who came into the game eager to put Thursday’s Europa League debacle with Sparta Prague behind them. The Nerazzurri coach made seven changes from the XI that fell horribly to defeat in the Czech Republic, which included the return of Joao Mario after 10 days away and a full debut at right-back for Cristian Ansaldi, naming what is most probably the strongest team at his disposal for at least the next three months.
Within seconds of the game kicking off it was clear what kind of game this was going to be – absolutely, extraordinary, inconceivably crazy. If either team had made any plans to defend at all this evening then those plans must have been left behind in the dressing room, because the first 45 minutes was like nothing anyone has ever seen in a Serie A match before. The nonsensicality of it all resembled far more a Premier League game, so it was perhaps fitting that a former Premier League player opened the scoring after less than five minutes. Mohamed Salah received a change of play for Roma and slid the ball inside the box as Bruno Peres arrived from behind at a quite supersonic speed, allowing the Brazilian to cut back for Edin Dzeko to slot a cute finish into the far corner. Jeison Murillo and Davide Santon did not cover themselves in glory during this passage of play, although unfortunately that was not exactly out of keeping with the rest of the match.
Dzeko’s goal meant that we have now conceded the first goal in EIGHT of our nine official matches this season, while it’s also the third game in a row that we’ve conceded in the opening quarter-hour. Both of these statistics make me extremely concerned, because there becomes a point where it can no longer be brushed off as a coincidence or misfortune. If we don’t stop leaking goals then we have no chance of having a good season, and we should have leaked a lot more than one goal in the first half. About 7 or 8, to be honest.
Shortly after Dzeko’s goal Inter came close to finding a quite magnificent equaliser through Ever Banega, but luck wasn’t on his side as a thundering 30-yard strike crashed off the post. And with that the pattern of the game had been set. In the fifteen minutes that followed that agonising moment, Roma spurned a myriad of chances to double their lead as we continued to give the ball away cheaply and react several seconds too late to what Luciano Spalletti’s team had in mind for us. Salah wastefully hit the side-netting after being launched into the box by Dzeko before the Bosnian went close himself, denied by a miraculous double save from Samir Handanovic, with Bruno Peres, Alessandro Florenzi and Diego Perotti also benefitting from our organisational ineptitude before fluffing their lines at the crucial moment.
Despite our humiliating defensive performance though (humiliating from the whole team, not just the hopeless defenders – Miranda included on this occasion), Roma were little better at the back themselves and a ridiculous, ridiculous end to the first half ensued, with counterattack after counterattack and embarrassing defensive mistake after embarrassing defensive mistake. I can’t possibly mention all of the important passages of play that nearly led to goals because I would be writing this recap into 2018. Suffice to say that the best chance we created after Banega’s post came five minutes before half-time, when Ansaldi’s cut-back was cleared out to Antonio Candreva and he drew a magnificent save out of Wojciech Szczesny with an improvised scissor kick. Candreva had also had another acrobatic effort ten minutes previously which went wide, where he should really have attacked the ball with his head inside the Roma box. The half ended with two more gaping chances for Roma, with Dzeko and Alessandro Florenzi taking advantage of horrific lapses in concentration from our back line before fluffing their lines at the crucial moment.
When the half-time whistle blew it was an unrepeatable freak of nature that the scoreline still read 1-0, with two Serie A attacks having pummelled the life out of two defences fished out of Eccellenza. The only thing more unbelievable than the first half was that the second began in exactly the same manner, as if the defensive pointers that both De Boer and Spalletti must have made at half-time had gone in one ear and straight out the other.
Perotti had the first chance after the restart as he skipped past an isolated Ansaldi and saw his shot parried to safety by Handanovic, but Inter went directly up the other end and went close to making it 1-1 as Szczesny got a touch to Perisic’s dangerous shot across the face of goal. Banega had another go after that, only this time from a far shorter distance, but he lacked precision and the chance disappeared. Candreva then had two shots blocked by a supersonic Kostas Manolas, before Salah curled an effort just wide of the top corner as Roma attempted to respond to Inter’s increasing pressure. The possession was mostly ours as the home side waited to catch us out on the counter-attack, but it looked like we didn’t have any clear codified plan in attack that wasn’t ‘find Banega and hope he does something’. Meanwhile Gnoukouri replaced a disappointing Joao Mario, who was a shadow of the player who’d dominated midfield in previous weeks and didn’t look 100% recovered from his injury, and Nagatomo replaced Ansaldi after a game that featured some good and some bad moments.
Just when it looked like we’d run out of ideas the equalising goal arrived, and unsurprisingly it was Banega at the heart of the move. A nifty one-two with Mauro Icardi, who had been practically invisible up until then, sent the Argentine through on goal as Roma’s defensive line became a defensive squiggle, and this time Szczesny couldn’t do a thing to prevent the ex-Sevilla player finding his first goal for Inter. After a long period of sterile domination, which De Boer optimistically described as dominance in his post-match interview, we were level.
But the parity didn’t last long, and that unfortunately was of no surprise considering how much we’d conceded up to that point. The villain on this occasion though was a man who’d only been on the pitch a few minutes, in Stevan Jovetic. The Montenegrin had just replaced Candreva in De Boer’s final substitution and almost immediately he gave away an incredibly thick-headed free-kick on the edge of our box, which Florenzi delivered well and Manolas somehow headed in after a double ricochet. It’s unclear who it went in off last – perhaps Perisic – but the goal went to the Greek defender, and four minutes after recovering the game we were back to Square One. How very infuriating to ruin all our hard work with a set-piece goal like that.
And that effectively was that. In the 15 minutes that followed Inter created precious little to level the game again, having seemingly had the stuffing knocked out of them with the second goal and lacking the creativity and the energy to play well. Roma didn’t exactly see the game out comfortably because the crosses and half-chances did arrive, but the only big save in the dying moments was from Handanovic on Dzeko, and what a remarkable save it was.
After three minutes of stoppage time Luca Banti blew his whistle for the final time and brought a breathless match to an end, which leaves Inter stuck on 11 points and sees Roma overtake them by moving onto 13. The game could have ended any score and in the end 2-1 did no justice to the amount of chances that were created on both sides, but the overall outcome – a Roma win – was fair enough. For all the regrets we can have over the opportunities we created and wasted, the fact is that Roma created even more of them than we did and theirs were more gaping, so De Boer’s claim that we didn’t deserve to lose falls pretty flat if you ask me. After acing the Juventus match he had a poor night and messed up the game that mattered more, sending out a team with no clear idea of play and that was hopelessly exposed to Roma’s (admittedly very good) counterattacks, before making some rather questionable substitutions that did very little to tip the game in our favour.
We knew there would be ups and downs this campaign after changing our coach so late into pre-season, and with two important defeats in the space of four days I think we can safely say that this week has been a down moment. Nothing is lost as we are only at the start of October, and there were a couple of positives to take from this evening, but this was a backwards step all things considered. Those who are left behind during the international break will need to use their time very well as we continue to search for an identity that at the moment is not clear.