When your team draws 1-1 with Inter at the San Siro and you walk away with greater regret than satisfaction, you know that things have gone quite well. The result becomes especially remarkable if we consider that Roma were playing without most of their key players – Francesco Totti, Juan, Nicolás Burdisso, Doni, eventually even Daniele De Rossi and Mirko Vučinić. That the team should have held together against the Nerazzurri battleship is a miracle in and of itself.
We stated last week that Inter was unassailable if not from the flanks and that on this account Roma should have faced them with a 4-4-2. Coach Claudio Ranieri opted for a 4-3-1-2 instead, and while this did tighten the defensive hold, it also funnelled all forward momentum through the centre – which, against Inter, was just as well as not having any. Roma had almost no shots on goal, and none from inside the box, for the entire first-half. The goal by Vučinić was a thunderbolt in the dark, involving an act of enormous class and equally great luck. It was only the 13th minute of the first-half, and it completely changed the face of the match. Anyone with a basic understanding of Italian football stopped reading the game tactically and turned his or her eyes onto the psychological plane.
Once the goal was scored, Roma knew they could only win this by astuteness – furbizia – and in this style did they play, drawing fouls upon themselves by tender midfield possession, protesting, provoking, occasionally even diving. Now Inter’s physicality was working against them – they could not steal a ball and reinitiate without conceding a foul. This had such a corrosive effect on their psychological condition that they lost cohesion and their own fouls became increasingly more violent, leading them to actualise the situation which they accused Roma of simulating. Anyone who doubts, if not the legitimacy then at least the effectiveness, of furbizia should take example from this game to see how a strength can be turned over on itself and be exploited as a weakness. In fact, it was only the generosity of the referee which kept Inter from capitulating under the trap – Patrick Vieira deserved a red for breaking De Rossi’s cheekbone with his elbow, Sulley Muntari deserved two yellows and not one, and Mario Balotelli, appearing in the second-half, should have been sent off on a number of occasions (most notably the sliding tackle on Marco Motta’s thigh, from the back).
José Mourinho opened the second period by introducing Balotelli and Wesley Sneijder. The intent was not to alter the game, but to start it anew, changing the formation and the central players alike. This is exactly what happened as the draw in the opening minutes effectively managed to reset the match. With a reshuffled psychological condition and Roma’s squad mangled by injuries, one would have expected Inter to clasp the mane of victory quite easily. Instead, bizarrely, it was the Nerazzurri who first started breaking under fatigue, and if Ranieri had chosen a less defensive substitution than that of replacing Jérémy Ménez with Max Tonetto, it is not a stretch to say that Roma could have won this. Some of the holes which the Inter defence conceded were unbelievable for the team we know them to be, and if anyone had flanked Stefano Okaka, these might have been exploited. But then, this is all in retrospect – perhaps, without that substitution, the Giallorossi would have conceded a goal, and now we would all be wondering why Ranieri had failed to take off Ménez when the kid was screaming for a red card (and by the time he was taken off, he really was).
It was a game played truly as a team, by a team composed mostly of whelps. It is delightfully hard to say which of the two things is the most comforting. Of the fourteen Roma players who touched the field, nine can be expected to still be there and in full form three years from now. Almost all of them were impressive. Marco Andreolli was outstanding – he was the one with the greatest potential of messing up, yet he held the line perfectly. Motta was solid, Júlio Sérgio was excellent and Philippe Mexès finally played as his old self – as did De Rossi, which makes the latter’s loss all the more aggravating. Okaka was amazing, at least until they took away Ménez and left him isolated and ineffectual against the entirety of the Inter defence. Ménez himself was a puzzle – he was fast, dynamic and active, and this was certainly one of his best games. He also seemed immature on the tactical and psychological level, and – as predicted – he suffered greatly when confronted with the physicality of the Nerazzurri. He was good, but he still needs time. The only underwhelming youngster was Ricardo Faty. While there was a wry satisfaction involved in seeing Inter taste a bit of their own medicine (he was as physical, violent and generally insufferable as Vieira), the kid was way too clumsy with the ball. He played a decent defensive match, given the premises, but it is clear he is still not starting material for the Giallorossi.
All things considered, it was a game which left more promise than regret, especially if we consider that the season only gets easier from here. Given the injuries, Ranieri will likely have to start Ménez and Okaka in the next game against Bari. That this prospect should fill us with more relish than worry says a lot about how far these kids have come.
Roma Club Focus 2009/10
The senate is adjourned – August 25, 2009
Houston, we have a problem – August 28, 2009
The time of Penelope – September 1, 2009
Good move, bad timing – September 4, 2009
International week (Georgia-Italy, Italy-Bulgaria)
Break means homework time for Ranieri – September 7, 2009
A win that means more than three points – September 15, 2009
Ranieri chases team spirit – September 18, 2009
Champagne! – September 22, 2009
Children of Chaos – September 25, 2009
Catania is beginning to get on our nerves – September 29, 2009
Ranieri has yet to stabilise i Lupi – October 3, 2009
A solid win at a heavy price? – October 6, 2009
Rumours as IFFHS ranks the Giallorossi as best in Italy – October 9, 2009
The strange attractor of two inherently chaotic teams – October 16, 2009
The sound and the fury – October 20, 2009
The importance of being Francesco – October 23, 2009
A shot in the foot – October 27, 2009
Waiting for Godot (and the rest of our men) – October 30, 2009
Win as a team, die as individuals – November 3, 2009
Into the nest of snakes – November 6, 2009
A promise of spring – November 10, 2009