The long-awaited clash of Stefano Pioli’s revitalised Inter and Luciano Spalletti’s in form Roma didn’t disappoint on Sunday night. The iconic San Siro stadium provided the stage for Belgian midfielder Radja Nainggolan to prove his quality as one of Serie A’s best midfielders after his two thundering strikes secured a strong win for Roma.
Both teams set up a little differently than normal. Inter have lately been one of the users of Serie A’s latest tactical trend, the three-and-a-half man defence, where the team utilise a back three in possession and a back four when defending. They’ve done this by fielding Jeison Murillo at right back when defending with Gary Medel and Joao Miranda in the centre and Danilo D’Ambrosio as the left back while in possession D’Ambrosio have pushed on as a wing back while Murillo remains with the centre-backs as part of the back three. However, Pioli was forced to a change as Miranda was suspended. He reacted to the loss of his centre-back by adopting an extremely attacking 3-4-2-1 shape which read; Handanovic; Murillo-Medel-D’Ambrosio; Candreva-Gagliardini-Kondogbia-Perisic; Mario-Brozovic; Icardi. At home, Pioli wanted to attack, and using Candreva and Perisic as wing backs was extremely adventurous.
Roma have also used the “3,5” man defence lately, with Bruno Peres as the right wing back with the ball and a right midfielder when defending, Emerson as left wing back when attacking and left back when defending and Antonio Rüdiger as the right sided centre-back in possession but as a right back when defending. For this game, however, Emerson missed out and Juan Jesus came in for the Brazilian. This meant Spalletti fielded a straightforward back five when defending with Peres-Rüdiger-Fazio-Manolas-Jesus. This approach is really flexible though and was at times changed to a back four with Peres in midfield instead, largely dependent on the positions of Inter wing backs Candreva and Perisic. Roma’s starting line up in full; Szczeczny; Rüdiger-Fazio-Manolas; Peres-Strootman-De Rossi-Jesus; Salah-Nainggolan; Dzeko.
Roma started best, and already in the twelfth minute they took the lead as Nainggolan found space behind Candreva, pushed himself inside of Gagliardini and fired a fierce shot right into the far corner. A brilliant goal from Serie A’s main in-form player. Inter responded fairly well after the shock of going behind so early, especially at home, but Roma’s control in central areas with the three centre-backs, Strootman, De Rossi and Nainggolan is extremely tough to break down and Roma went in 1-0 up at the break.
Inter started the second half strongly, but once again Nainggolan would provide a moment of remarkable brilliance. After nudging Gagliardini from behind as the young Italian went up for a header and subsequently missed the ball, Nainggolan escaped the obvious foul and collected the ball before setting off on a 40 metre run through empty space as Inter’s back three was pushed deep by threatening runs from Dzeko and Salah. When Nainggolan found himself a few metres outside the Inter penalty area he fired a thunderous strike straight into the top corner, leaving Handanovic no chance of saving it. Now two moments of magic from the brilliant Belgian.
Despite another setback, Inter continued to play well and should have had a penalty in the 72nd minute when substitute Eder was tripped by Strootman inside the box. Inter would score to bring some nerves into this when Gagliardini slipped a pass in behind for Perisic who played a low cross for Icardi to tap home. A packed San Siro was awaiting a remarkable comeback. Unfortunately for the home fans though, Medel fouled Dzeko in the box a few minutes after Icardi’s strike and Diego Perotti sealed the 3-1 win for Roma.
Inter’s revival has been remarkable under Pioli, but they’ve now lost to Juventus and Roma in the last month despite playing well in both games. This only highlights that there’s still work to be done with the Milanese giants for Pioli. Despite the loss, the performance, especially without Miranda, was encouraging.
For Roma, their terrific form continues. Since the December loss to Juventus they’ve now won nine out of ten league games, but unfortunately for them Juve keep on winning too. Due to Napoli’s loss against Atalanta, Roma will surely finish second now, but they want the Scudetto which is still possible but they need Juve to drop points in two games and need to beat Juve at Olimpico. And win all their own games of course. That’s all they can do at the minute, and Spalletti’s has set them up right to do just that. His deployment of Nainggolan as one of the two trequartiste behind Dzeko has been a masterstroke and the Belgian’s goalscoring exploits, nine for the season, is very impressive. Nainggolan’s scored some of the best goals of this season’s Serie A, with two of them coming yesterday, but also continues to deliver impressive ball winning statistics, eleven yesterday, despite being played further forward. Under Spalletti, Nainggolan has developed into one of Italy’s best midfielders and it’s him who now leads Roma’s challenge to Juventus.
Juve comfortably beat a strong Empoli on Saturday in Turin after an own goal by Lukasz Skorupski and a strike from Alex Sandro. There’s something beautiful over Juve’s ability to win game after game by just overpowering their opposition and they look incredibly well setup for the run in.
Napoli lost touch with the top two this week, as they lost at home against a magnificent Atalanta. Gian Piero Gasperini’s men came to San Paolo and opened very strongly as Napoli weren’t given time and the opportunity to build their normally phenomenal passing rhythm. A strong man-marking approach from Atalanta led to Napoli being uncharacteristically poor in possession, losing the ball often which allowed Atalanta to counterattack at pace. Mattia Caldara opened the scoring from a corner as Atalanta dominated the first half, and despite Franck Kessie being sent off in the middle of the second half, Atalanta could keep their sheet clean. Caldara added to his earlier strike with a superb volley after joining in a counter-attack a few minutes after the sending. Atalanta remain fourth, three points clear of Inter and show no signs of slowing down. They’re seemingly just enjoying the ride and playing with the biggest confidence imaginable.
Milan grinded out a solid win at Sassuolo. The only goal of the game was scored by Carlos Bacca from the penalty spot early in the first half and Milan could thereafter defend resolutely. A strong win for Milan against their previous bogey team.
Palermo and Sampdoria played out a 1-1 draw at Sicily which was decent for Samp, but didn’t help Palermo at all. Losses to Pescara (at Chievo, 2-0) and Crotone (at home to Cagliari 1-2) means the bottom three seem likely to remain the bottom three come May. The three of them simply aren’t good enough to stay up.
Genoa earned a point in their first game under Andrea Mandorlini at home to Bologna. Mandorlini changed Ivan Juric super-energetic 3-4-3 into a more controlled, reserved 3-5-2 which saw Mauricio Pinilla accompany Giovanni Simeone up front. Bologna took the lead through a beautiful free kick from midfield controller Federico Viviani, but Bologna were denied the winner by a superb, late equaliser from Oliver Ntcham who finished with a blend of power and finesse which was exquisite.
Lazio won again against Udinese, for the second time this season, at Olimpico. This win was in controversial fashion though, as a late penalty from Ciro Immobile sealed the three points for Simone Inzaghi’s men.
Player of the week
Radja Nainggolan was man of the match at San Siro with two brilliant goals and an excellent all-round performance.
Coach of the week
Gian Piero Gasperini produced another tactical masterclass as he nullified Italy’s best attack for the second time this season as Atalanta recorded their most impressive win, so far, this season.
Goal of the week
Nainggolan’s second strike at San Siro was remarkable.