Roma did not have the perfect start in this season. The Giallorossi are now in 2nd place with 19 points in 9 games, the same amount of points as AC Milan, but struggled in the first few matchdays.In the first 6 games in Serie A, Luciano Spaletti’s team won three, drew one and lost two. Not great for a team that aims for the Scudetto. The biggest disappointment came in the first and most important challenge of the season: the Champions League playoff lost to Porto FC. After an encouraging ritorno last season, the team seemed lost, without knowing exactly who they are.
One of the biggest observable problems in the couple of games before the Inter encounter has been the lack of quality in the buildup phase. Especially the play between the two centerbacks. However, when Leandro Paredes starts as a deep lying playmaker the build up improves a bit. When he’s not, as it was the case against Inter, the Giallorossi have tremendous difficulty to play from the back with control. To this pre-existing problem in Roma’s build up, is added an extremely effective pressing by Inter FC. Frank De Boer’s team played a 1-4-2-3-1 with Ever Banega behind Mauro Icardi. When pressing, the ex-Sevilla would come up alongside Icardi to apply pressure to both centerbacks.
Federico Fazio and Kostas Manolas ended up with only 17 and 13 successful passes respectively. Spaletti’s answer to this problem was spending the first phase of build up placing the ball as quickly as possible in Edin Dzeko. This was mainly achieved by the use of long direct passes to the center circle where Dzeko would try to win the ball. And he did it very well. In 12 aerial duels fought, Dzeko won 10.
The most important duet lead to the first goal of the game. Szczesny took the long goal kick, Dzeko won the ball and headed it to Florenzi. The versatile Italian, today playing behind the striker, picked up the ball and quickly opened the game on the right lane. Florenzi position throughout the game was instrumental to Spaletti’s strategy. With his quickness and remarkable ability to read the play, Florenzi was able to get first to most of those second balls.
Upon receiving the ball, Salah took it wide stretching Inter’s back line. Santon followed the Egyptian winger, Murrillo stayed central and Medel was late to recognize the forward run by Bruno Peres. The Brazilian right back read the play very well and attacked the halfspace.
Meanwhile, Dzeko started a fantastic run to the close post, behind Murillo. He would eventually tap in the ball to the first goal of the game. In one play the entire strategy of Spaletti for this game was resumed: long ball to Dzeko, quickly find Salah in the right, attack the halfspace.
This movement was seen time and time again throughout the game. In fact, it was obvious Salah’s mission in transition. As soon as Roma’s retrieved the ball, the Egyptian would start running forward, trying to catch Santon by surprise. It was not an easy game for the Italian defender, who was lacking in speed to keep up with Salah.
Suffered goal reaction
After the goal, Murillo corrected his positioning and started to provide more cover to Santon, which closed the wound for a bit. So, when Inter was searching for the tying goal, would eventually get through an amazing display of technical ability by Éver Banega. Raising their defensive line, Salah could easily explore the space behind Santon or between him and Murillo.
Samir Handanovic made a couple of decisive saves in this type of situation avoiding the goal for as long as possible. This was how the Giallorossi ended the game with two more shots on target than Inter, despite the Nerazzurri having much more possession (63.7% in favor of Inter).
The game ended with a 2-1 Roma victory thanks to the header of Kostas Manolas. The result translated well what happened on the pitch. The direct play strategy worked and Roma looked like a team with a purpose. This strategy certainly will not solve all their problems. This will not work every single time. Not many teams in Serie A will leave as much space behind the defence as Inter did in this game. But it’s a solid base to build up for the future.