It might be another cold January after all for Antonio Conte and his Inter Milan squad. Sunday’s early kickoff against Paulo Fonseca’s AS Roma yielded just one point for both teams in a back and forth affair at the Stadio Olimpico. On paper and to the neutral, this seems the fair result, and the third consecutive 2-2 draw between these two teams in Rome. However, many of the Nerazzurri persuasion will feel aggrieved to have let a 2-1 lead slip late after some rather questionable substitutions.
On the heels of Wednesday’s shock loss to Sampdoria, and Sunday marking the third match in seven days for Inter, three changes were made to the starting lineup from midweek. Romelu Lukaku replaced Alexis Sanchez up top, Arturo Vidal took Roberto Gagliardini’s midfield spot, and Matteo Darmian got the start over Ashley Young on the left. Conte’s changes did not come as anything out of the ordinary, just squad rotation.
The rotation story for Fonseca was more slight, with one change to their victorious side over Cagliari. Borja Mayoral dropped to the bench while captain Edin Dzeko returned. Both teams fielded strong sides and went out hoping for a win to keep pace with league leaders Milan.
ROMA (3-4-2-1): Lopez; Mancini, Smalling, Ibanez; Karsdorp, Villar, Veretout, Spinazzola; Mkhitaryan, Pellegrini; Dzeko
INTER (3-5-2): Handanovic; Skriniar, de Vrij, Bastoni; Hakimi, Barella, Brozovic, Vidal, Darmian; Lukaku, Lautaro
Inter initially started out well, holding onto the ball and prodding for holes in the Roma setup. Both teams attempted to feel each other out tactically. The visitors came closest to an opener first, as Lukaku won an open header in the Roma penalty box, drawing a quick save from Pau Lopez. Before that, Lautaro also had a close range effort saved.
Despite all the good early work, Inter again found themselves the victim of a first half goal against the run of play. Jordan Veretout dispossessed Nicolo Barella to spring a quick attack that ended with an unlucky defected goal off of Alessandro Bastoni, credited to Lorenzo Pellegrini. To add insult to injury, somewhat literally, Darmian was forced off after 34 minutes with what has since been diagnosed as a hip contusion. The injury forced Conte into an early change, bringing on Ashley Young.
After the goal and injury, the match slowed down for Inter. Chances were at a premium in the final few minutes of the half. The group needed a chance to reassess at halftime after giving Roma the advantage.
The halftime break worked wonders for the Nerazzurri, who have become quite the second half team this season. They began the second half on the hunt for a goal, peppering the Roma goal until a towering free header from Milan Skriniar 11 minutes into the half found the back of the net, equalizing the match and giving the Slovakian international his second goal of the season.
The hunt did not stop there, as just seven minutes later, the Achraf Hakimi show continued with a wonderful left footed effort from just inside the Roma box that managed to hit both the crossbar and post before settling in the back of Pau Lopez’s net. A goal of the year contender just ten days into 2021.
What a finish from Inter full back Achraf Hakimi pic.twitter.com/6V0ENhizWD— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) January 10, 2021
After taking the lead Inter looked comfortable and in control. A golden chance for 3-1 was scuffed by Vidal as he slipped before getting off a clear shot. However, problems began to arise around the 75 minute mark. Roma’s press became increasingly difficult for Inter to play out of as they searched for a late equalizer.
Inter’s defense, midfield, and attack all drifted farther and farther apart, unable to link up with each other to relieve the Roma pressure. In an attempt to remedy the situation, Conte began to make some supposedly tactical substitutions. First, Ivan Perisic came on for Lautaro in a like for like move up top. Then a double substitution of Roberto Gagliardini and Aleksandar Kolarov for Hakimi and Vidal moved Young to the right while Kolarov took his spot on the left. These changes brought little to no improvement to the situation, robbing the team of a crucial counterattacking outlet on the right in Hakimi and leaving the midfield with no progressive option to relieve pressure.
Because of this, Inter continuously gave the ball back to Roma in and around their own half. Repeated attacks eventually produced a late equalizer by way of a close range header from Gianluca Mancini four minutes from full time. With no real attacking options left on the pitch for Inter, and with Roma happy to have rescued a point, the match quietly played out with both teams claiming just one point after having both led in the match.
Handanovic - 5.5: While the wicked deflection on the first Roma goal absolves the captain from any blame, the lack of movement on the second goal made the chances of a save look questionable. Standanovic remains.
Skriniar - 6: After going three years without a goal in the league, it is good to see the big man back on the scoresheet two times in pretty quick succession. However, he was outjumped by Mancini on the second goal and took an elbow to the jaw for his troubles. Tough.
de Vrij - 6.5: A quiet but astute performance from de Vrij. He did his part to neutralize Dzeko, who has given Inter problems in the past. No complaints.
Bastoni - 5.5: An immensely talented player at his age that still needs to work on some of his decision making. The deflection cannot be blamed on him for the first goal. However, he seemed to lack the awareness to slow down play as Roma began to climb back into the match late, making things harder for himself and the team.
Hakimi - 7.5: While almost all of Inter’s other summer signings have not lived up to expectations, Hakimi continues to blow his expectations out of the water. He has settled very well at Inter now and is paying dividends. What a goal. Also improving defensively. Only thing really left to work on is the delivery of his crosses.
Barella - 6: Three matches in a week and this guy is still running. Very impressive feat. Only foot wrong was losing the ball in the buildup to Roma’s first goal.
Brozovic - 8 (MOTM): When he puts in performances like this, it is hard to imagine the team without him. His dictation of play was very smart and a two assist performance will always put a player in the discussion for man of the match.
Vidal - 5.5: When he’s working in the defensive phase, he looks great. When he’s in front of goal, he looks years beyond his prime. The slip in the Roma box was tough, but he and Barella are always working on the other side of the ball, which is respectable when he is not racking up red cards like bar tabs.
Darmian - 6: The other solid summer signing so far, he was on his way towards putting in a commendable shift before his injury. He will most definitely be missed in upcoming matches.
Lukaku - 6: No goal today, but working hard to hold up play and get in behind. Very well could have had a goal today, but was maybe looking for a pass to play a little too often. Definitely a better performance against former Manchester United teammate Chris Smalling than last season, though.
Lautaro - 5.5: Pretty pedestrian match. Had his big chance saved early then played second fiddle to Lukaku up top before being substituted for Perisic. Despite the performance, he still offered more than the Croatian.
Young - 6: Not bad but not good. Actually pretty bad when moved to the right. The absence of Darmian will mean he starts on the left virtually every match until the Italian’s return. Hopefully we can find early 2020 Young again in that time.
Perisic - 5: He really has no definitive position in this team and it affects him whether he is employed on the left or up top. Besides the random spark of brilliance, he has not found much in the way of consistency.
Gagliardini, Kolarov - N/A: Both came on too late to get an effective gauge on them, but conceding after being put on to help shut up shop is never good.
Conte - 3.5: Whatever he said at halftime was great, but when it came down to the final minutes, he read the match worse than a five year old would read a college calculus textbook. The injury to Darmain did not help things, but Conte surely could have done better with those substitutions.
Though the fashion it came in stings, a point away to this Roma side is not a terrible result. However, it does make the upcoming weekend’s clash with Juventus loom all the larger. Before that is a Coppa Italia match midweek against Fiorentina. There is still plenty of time for Inter to right the ship from their current position, but league wins are going to be very important in the coming weeks.