Inter-Roma 1-2: Dybala and Smalling win it at San Siro
Victory in comeback. Roma returns to win in Milan and turns their championship around. "La Joya" equalizes, and the overtake is a signature goal oh the Englishman
Smalling's head, Dybala's foot, Mourinho's fertile mind (popping up only in the locker room for the final celebration after watching the game alone on the social bus), the "big balls" of the Roma players, the precariousness of Inzaghi's Inter: shake well and you will know with clarity how and why Roma stamped the turning point of its season at San Siro, winning after five years on usually treacherous ground, drowning out the ambitions of the Nerazzurri and keeping pace with the leading Napoli. It was not a spectacular game but it was played and won as a typical Mourinho team, with the ability to suffer without giving up, to resist without lowering the center of gravity too much, to restart at every opposing percussion, to defend proudly and attack effectively, holding their own in all individual duels, equalizing Dimarco's goal with a Dybala delight, winning with Smalling's header on Pellegrini's usual perfect free-kick, then celebrating at the end with the spirit of those who did not accomplish a casual feat, but took back with interest the three points left with Atalanta to revive their ambitions, without detaching themselves from the top. All the more now that their next opponents are Lecce and Sampdoria (alternating with the double confrontation with Betis in the Europa League), before the direct home clash with Napoli (on October 23rd).
Did Roma play well in Milan? No, or at least not in the purest sense of the word. But neither did Inter, despite Inzaghi's crass words at the end of the match ("our best game"). In the first half they faced two teams that were a bit stuck, the Inter team by its now-confirmed inability to build a fluid maneuver, and the Roma team by a certain excess of caution perhaps conveyed by Mourinho, who chose to give up Tammy Abraham as a surprise from the start, to deploy the midfield hinge Cristante-Matic without giving up the dynamic-technical double contribution of Zaniolo and Dybala, with the offensive direction of Pellegrini, in non-possession first screen of Asllani. On the other hand, there was no surprise in the initial Inter line-up, with Acerbi as the imprecise director of defense and with Skriniar and Bastoni on his flanks. Asllani’s sterile deputies were Brozovic, Barella and Calhanloglu in the middle and Dzeko was in place of Lukaku to pair with Lautaro. Under pressure Mou, disqualified and hidden from prying eyes thanks to the shelter of his own social bus, opted to leave the three mock forwards to screen the first set of defenders and play Asllani (usually it was Pellegrini who dropped in between), with outfielders Celik and Spinazzola ready to get on the Inter headers and at times, especially in the hosts' low right setting, to get up with Spina on Barella, at the cost of risking something at the back with Ibañez forced to open up on Dumfries.
But with Inter's slow maneuver in the first half, no great risks were taken and Roma suffered the initiative of their opponents only on impromptu central strikes: in the 11th minute Dzeko's goal, after three consecutive counterattacks won, was annulled by the Var after abundant celebrations for an irregular offside position of the Bosnian himself on the last pass, but in the 30th minute it was instead Dimarco who was good to escape internally from Celik with the right timing after a good central Inter dribble, to collect Barella's vertical assist and to put Rui Patricio right on the first post, not faultless in the attempt to reject in diving with an open hand.
A sudden flare-up led in the 38th minute to a three-way chance for Spinazzola (rebuffed by Handanovic), then by Dybala (on the goalkeeper again) and again by Paulino himself with an unfortunate right-footed shot, but then Massa's intervention rendered the whole thing in vain, having revealed a Spinazzola foul on Dumfries right at the opening moment of the action: an unintentional foul, but highlighted by the shoe removed from the opponent with a casual rub. Not even sixty seconds later again Spinazzola conquered another ball anticipating Barella and after a few steps cleverly opened his cross from the opposite side (ignoring Pellegrini and Zaniolo in the middle) to reach the incoming Dybala who coming from behind impacted the ball well on the volley hurling a fine torpedo towards the goal to bend the outstretched hands forward from Handanovic, who also appeared not without fault just like his Giallorossi colleague. And so the match went into the locker room tied up.
The second half confirmed the general balance, with Inter doing more in terms of reasoned build-up, but with Roma lower by speculative choice rather than real suffering in the confrontation. The individual duels got a little bit harsh, and the Roma fans were at the expense of both the penalties (three yellow cards in eleven minutes for Zaniolo, who kicked the ball away after a foul whistled against him, and for Mancini and for Smalling, both rude with Lautaro) and for the cramps suffered by Dybala, replaced after just 13 minutes by Abraham. The change did not vary the tactical plan of Roma's pressures, with Pellegrini lower on Asllani and the Englishman sharing the burden of controlling the central three with Zaniolo. Inter's best moment came around the 20th minute. In particular, in the 18th minute a Calhanoglu free-kick printed on the left end of the crossbar, and in the 22nd minute, Asllani from the edge kicked a powerful right-footer from the edge near the post. In the 26th minute, on the other hand, Celik served Abraham in the box, who, despite the difficulty of the technical gesture, with the ball coming from behind, managed to turn toward Handanovic without surprising him. Then in the 30th minute an obvious foul by Dzeko on Mancini (who had been very good at anticipating) 35 meters from the Inter goal, conceded with a little delay by Massa, which led to the splendid free kick that was kicked strongly by Pellegrini toward the second post where Smalling broke away from Skriniar (while Acerbi instead of running fast only thought of holding Abraham) and smashed a header at the opposite post. These changes transformed the teams: 343 for Inter with Mkhitaryan, Correa, Gosens and Bellanova on the field in place of Asllani, Calhanoglu, Bastoni and Dumfries; 352 for Roma with Camara and Belotti in place of Pellegrini and Zaniolo. But Inter hit the Roma defensive wall until 5' of recovery while the clean phrasing in the restart led to potential opportunities for Roma, which were missed by Abraham and Camara. And at the very end, Smalling again headed Gosens' last attempt, jumping over Celik.
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