No surprises this weekend as Roma and Inter both held fast against the negative winds. Now that the Nerazzurri are back at the top, it feels almost like going back to routine after a brief cruise in the Caribbean.
Roma’s victory came not without suffering, as is customary with the Giallorossi, even though they were playing against a feather-weight. The early goal by Francesco Totti allowed the team to manage the result at their own pace, though once again it became evident that Roma suffer when pressured on the wings. Jonathan Biabiany was running loops in the gap between the midfield and the defence on the defending team’s left, and Parma’s goal did eventually spring from an action on that flank. This has been a recurring issue for several weeks, and Claudio Ranieri will have to address it this summer. On the positive side, the midfield worked well in possession even in the absence of the ever-present David Pizarro. It seems that the team will never stop changing faces, even at the very end.
On the subject of changing faces, chez Ranieri seems to prefer a trident of strikers with Totti sided by Mirko Vucinic and Jérémy Menez. The great incongruity in Roma’s forward situation at the moment seems to be that several of their best men are, or appear to be, incompatible. The presence of Vucinic did much to suppress the contribution of Menez. To the Frenchman’s honour, he did a very good job at covering and he more than justified his presence in the midfield, but his potential coming forward was only cursorily tapped. We have already seen that Menez works best when starting from the centre, as a trequartista but the presence of Vucinic forces him out to the right. Problems of compatibility also arise when Totti plays with the on-loan Luca Toni as neither can cover or support on the wings meaning the team lacks speed coming forward. In the second half, when Parma were providing most of the pressure, they left some vulnerable spaces at the back, but Roma were powerless to exploit them. They simply didn’t have the offensive players capable of rushing from one side of the pitch to the other, not with Vucinic on the bench. The inspired form of a player like Totti (goal and assist) was enough to save them this time, but the tactical issue persists.
Meantime, the other half of Rome celebrated the capitulation of their own team at the hands of Inter. Nothing that took place at the Olimpico could be called surprising, so there is no use in getting scandalised, as Rosella Sensi did, and claiming that ‘it would be disgraceful to win the Scudetto in this manner.’ Besides, Lazio displayed some real effort, and it would have been unrealistic to expect any other result against the warship that is Inter, even had the Biancocelesti been playing with a clear mind.
And so we come to the first final of the season, the Roma-Inter match that is worth the Coppa Italia on Wednesday night. While neither of the teams look down on a trophy, the value of the match is primarily symbolic. The winner of this match will have a genuine right to claim itself the best team in Italy. In the league, Inter hold a very marginal lead in points, but Roma can boast better results in the direct confrontations. A victory by the Nerazzurri would wipe out the latter claim, while one by the Giallorossi would cement it beyond dispute.
Tactically, the match promises to be intriguing. José Mourinho will have learned from his last confrontations against Roma and he will have remarked their recent difficulties in covering the flanks, an issue which could become critical now that Marco Cassetti is disqualified. It will be interesting to see what the Inter Coach comes up with. Ranieri will be puzzling over how to shape his trident, but Mourinho has trouble of his own with the latent recovery of Goran Pandev and the tragicomedy of Mario Balotelli. Vucinic is a must, as he is the only way of containing Douglas Maicon, and Totti has been playing well enough to warrant a start, over and beyond his value in terms of morale.
Inter are perhaps in better shape, but there are several factors which play in Roma’s favour. Not least of these is the fact that they have more than twenty-four hours of rest in their legs by comparison with Inter, who played on Sunday night. At this stage of the league, such things count. If the voice of the Stadio Olimpico does the rest, it will take a remarkable show of invention by Mourinho to keep the Romans from lifting the Cup of Italy.