Roma 2-1 Inter (It Lives)

Those of you who have followed this blog through the months (ciao mamma!) will know I find Mourinho antipathetic, and my natural inclination is to always assume that whomever he is quarreling with for the moment deserves sympathy more, until that notion is disproved (so far it's happened exactly as many times as Mourinho saying he was wrong about something). His old obsession with Ranieri is therefore impossible to ignore and lay rest to on a night like this, as it doesn't quite close the circle but comes about as close to doing so that the analogy works anyway. Mourinho called him old, incompetent, a loser; Ranieri tonight humbled the grand provocateur and his breath on Mourinho's neck should serve as a constant reminder that perhaps Mourinho offered a not fully nuanced picture of his rival. Because Roma stand one point away from Inter, with the tie-breaker in pocket should it come to that, and Ranieri took this ship with two games already played and lost. 

Roma - Inter Campionato calcio Serie A

For a few days-and it hasn't seized yet-the Inter game has felt like the biggest game for Roma in a great number of years. Rationally and objectively I find it hard to believe I didn't treat one or two games two springs ago, in 2008, in the same way. But right now, this feels bigger than anything in a long, long time. This is the confirmation of the extraordinary work Ranieri and the team has done, as the twenty first consecutive game without a loss brings Roma within boarding distance of the warship that is Inter. This is confirmation that at this point, believing is not only allowed; it's encouraged. 

I want to waste a paragraph on the framing of the game: it was everything it deserved to be. A completely full stadium, daylight (I'm a sucker for day games) and a vital game for the outcome of the league; it's amazing (or no, it's not) what sensible pricing policies, a successful team and optimism surrounding the group can do. Tonight the surrounding ambiance served as the perfect frame to a pseudo final of this magnitude, and I don't want to meet the man or woman who could face the scenes seen tonight without experiencing emotional flutter. I am glad to have made it out to the other end of the game alone, so don't even get me started on the scenes after the game and the onslaught of giddiness it provoked in me.

For the first half it was mostly a matter of Roma imposing herself and her attitude onto the game, and it wasn't until the five final minutes before half time that Inter gained enough composure to put Roma under any real pressure. Prior to that Roma had controlled the ball, the flanks, the middle and scored the opening goal. Ranieri's plan to go with the trio of Ménez, Vucinic and Toni for the third time running has to be said to have worked out well, even if they didn't score during the opening half, nor create an absurd amount of chances. Behind them in midfield the other trio, Perrotta, Pizarro and DDR, too did an admirable job and could largely contain and nullify Inter's counterpart. Sneijder had to venture out far beyond his immediate zone to find enough space to pass the attackers Eto'o and Milito, and when he did the latter two were mostly shut down effectively by Roma's defense. Roma let the guard down with five minutes left on the clock in the first half, and Inter had a couple of chances before the half time whistle came at the most opportune of times. Roma could regain serenity and recollect themselves ahead of the second half, with the lead intact.

During the second half Inter grew dangerous in a ten minute period on both sides of their goal. They started to gain ground in midfield, and advanced their play with every possession, until Roma's defense were trying desperately to hold on to their positions fractionally ahead of Julio Sergio in goal. The development allowed Inter more time on the ball, and the goal was a reflection of this (and also their incredible talent for getting illegal goals against Roma). The success with which they played this kind of game was ultimately brought to ruins in part by their own hand; by throwing four attackers on at the same time and hallowing the midfield, Mourinho stripped away the element that gave Inter the ability to control the ball and tempo. Instead the many attackers were playing too far up with all too few men in midfield able to win back the ball and feed them it. The balance was off, but it wasn't only due to Mourinho's misreading of the game. Ranieri, on his part, also contributed to the shift. By taking off Ménez for Taddei in a substitution he'd been planning since before Ménez could grow facial hair, he gave the midfield the perfect balance to stand up for the remainder of the game. It was already being prepared when Inter scored, but rather than nixing it and letting Ménez stay on in order to score a winning 2-1 goal, he quietly went ahead and did what he always wanted to. Score be damned. It was the antithesis to Mourinho's overloading of attackers, in that he went (more) defensive in order to become more dangerous. It's true, as Ranieri pointed out, that from that point on Roma didn't attack as much and weighed each possession carefully before committing in a sprint forward, but that wasn't needed any longer.

The winning goal is the nth reminder why Luca Toni is so freakishly good, and important to a team like Roma. The assist to him from Taddei was really a grossly mis hit shot (who could have guessed?), but he reacted where Inter's defenders did not and out of nothing a goal scoring chance was created. And you better believe Luca Toni puts away goal scoring chances in that kind of situation. 

Totti came on as Ranieri's last played card, and he did well and better than expected, but just to demonstrate the fact that Roma didn't need to rely on him for this partitissima, I won't say anything more about it. That's luxury and riches for Ranieri.