Fear of failure means all roads lead to stalemate

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ROMA 0

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MILAN 0

With Roma and Milan engaging in what cliché-man would call a ‘six-pointer’, the significance of a victory was glaringly apparent to both. Inter are not losing, but with three points for a win, a few draws can have the same impact. Milan could have cut their rivals’ lead to a solitary point with a successful trip to the Eternal City. This would have put enormous pressure on the Nerazzurri’s game with Genoa tomorrow. The home side lay in third just three points further back thanks to a run of 16 games unbeaten. The belief that Claudio Ranieri has instilled in his players has clearly translated to their supporters as the Stadio Olimpico was sold out for a league game for the first time in almost a decade.

Against this backdrop, what followed from two strong sides in confident form was a disappointment, though not necessarily a surprise. Despite the need for a victory to pressurise the Nerazzurri, both sides appeared to recognise above all that defeat would have represented curtains for any Scudetto ambitions. After a lively first quarter-hour from the Giallorossi, Milan took a hold of the game that was controlling but not threatening. To his credit, Mathieu Flamini showed there was more to his game than blocking the centre of the pitch. The Frenchman’s forays forward were timed early enough to offer tangible support but late enough to make him difficult to track. However, their spell of territorial domination was characterised by a lack of quality in the final ball. Some of this is down to their opponents. For a side at home on a good run, Roma were astonishingly negative, so both goalkeepers went off at half-time having not had a meaningful save to make.

The early period of the second-half followed the pattern of the last half hour of the first. The introduction of Luca Toni did at least give Roma an out-ball and an ability to break up steady offence from the visitors. Rossoneri pressure did culminate in a chance for Marco Borriello, but there was an even better opportunity for Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. Unfortunately, the man in possession did not agree and Júlio Sérgio saved. Meanwhile, Toni was starved of the aerial service that makes best use of him and Mirko Vučinić was slowly losing interest. The introduction of David Beckham with 20 minutes left nearly paid instant dividends. His cross from the right found Ronaldinho, whose header was inches wide. Then Huntelaar headed a carbon-copy chance over the top from a peach of a ball from Pirlo, while clearly impeded by Nicolás Burdisso. Anyone who feels the ‘foot too high’ rule is applied too stringently would do well to examine the Argentinian’s moment of enviable agility. When John Arne Riise warmed Abbiati’s fingertips from range on 92 minutes, it was the closest they had come to scoring. In a game where a positive result was paramount, such a chronic lack of ambition barely deserved one point, let alone three.

Milan looked the more likely for most of the game and carved out the two best opportunities. If either side deserved to win it was surely the Rossoneri. However, with neither side really going for it and players from both sides fighting on fear, perhaps a draw was the most appropriate result. It is also a result that will suit José Mourinho perfectly.

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