Roma must play Inter at their own game

It looks like a case of as you were – Jose may have gone but Rafa seamlessly steps in and Inter are raising four fingers to the rest of Italian football.

The Italian Super Cup became the club’s fourth trophy of 2010 following on from the domestic double and Champions League – and a fifth could be in the trophy cabinet before the team kicks-off the Serie A season if they overcome Atletico Madrid in the European Super Cup on Friday.

Certainly the majority of the 60,000 inside the San Siro on Saturday evening expect nothing more than Nerazzurri dominance once again this season, and it was something of a familiar scene against a familiar opponent in AS Roma.

As has been the case for the last five years or so, the Romans created the illusion that they had the measure of their Milanese rivals only to be left with another disheartening reality check. Some kamikaze defending aside, the difference between the sides did not come down to the amount of possession but what the teams did with the ball when they had it.

Roma like to work the ball around the midfield utilising David Pizzarro’s ‘give and go’ style in the centre of the pitch, which brings just about every Giallorossi player into play. Inter, meanwhile, usually take no more than three passes to find themselves in and around the opposition penalty-area.

Mourinho installed this high-tempo, no frills game-plan and Benitez has seen no reason to vary an approach in which the players feel comfortable.

The only player who likes to take what could be called an extra touch is Lucio but the Brazilian’s marauding style in breaking out from defence led to the breakthrough second goal when he motored to the edge of the area before playing in Diego Milito to set up Samuel Eto’o for a close-range finish.

Neither of the two frontmen took more than two touches before looking for a pass, while Wesley Sneijder touched the ball 85 times against Roma, but the majority of those where quick lay-offs or an extra touch to propel the ball into an advanced position to fire off one of his six shots at goal.

One of the Dutchman’s quick releases set up Eto’o for the third goal of the game after Rodrigo Taddei had dawdled on the ball too long and too near his own area to lose possession.

Even though Inter’s equaliser was the product of Mirko Vucinic committing the cardinal sin of passing the ball back across his own six-yard area, the pressure exerted on the opposition so the high up the pitch had led to Roma being hemmed in.

There is no doubting that Claudio Ranieri’s team can match Inter man-for-man in most areas of the pitch, but they could benefit from adopting a similar tactic to that of the team they hope to dethrone.

However, there would have to be major shift in how Francesco Totti is employed. There is no doubt the Roma captain can pick out a pass that most other players can only dream about and is the match of Sneijder in terms of touch and control. However, the Inter man shaded his opposite number ten in every area thanks in part to dropping a little deeper and having that extra time and space to move the ball into dangerous areas.

Under Lucio Spalletti, Totti resisted the demands of his coach to take up a withdrawal role - preferring to play as the main striker in the belief that remaining further up the pitch would save his body from the skirmishes of a crowded midfield.

That did not prove to be the case as his ravaged calves and ankles bear witness to. Too many times he has been facing away from goal and taking the brunt of a defender’s challenge from behind.

Now nearing 34 and looking to prolong his career for another three seasons, it may be time to become the creator allowing Mirko Vucinic and Jeremy Menz to run freer further forward where their dribbling skills can come to the fore.

Ranieri would have to demand that his star have a rethink about his role but maybe taking a step back could be the key to unleashing an even more potent Roma going forward.

As it stands, if the perennial runners-up don’t start playing Inter at their own game they will continue to finish second-best.

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