After another setback in midweek, Roma welcome in-form Inter Milan to Stadio Olimpico on Saturday, seeking to close a nine-point gap between the two Serie A giants.
A third league loss in their last five leaves the Giallorossi trailing in the champions’ wake after they were defeated at Bologna, while Inter strode to a fifth win from six in the Italian top flight.
Having travelled to Emilia-Romagna hoping a worrisome few weeks were well behind them, Roma’s attempts to secure a third successive Serie A win – and a fourth in all competitions – fell flat at Stadio Renato Dall’Ara on Wednesday.
Despite having nearly an hour to recover from Matthias Svanberg’s first-half strike for hosts Bologna, the Giallorossi endured a frustrating night, which ultimately ended in a sixth league loss of the campaign. In all, that was the capital club’s 12th away defeat in 2021: their worst calendar-year showing since 1950.
Following a late-autumn dip, Jose Mourinho’s side had recently recorded clean sheets in wins over Genoa, Zorya Luhansk and Torino, which boosted their faltering prospects in both Serie A and the Europa Conference League.
However, they now welcome Inter with fresh doubts raised about Mourinho’s methods, so the Portuguese tactician will be doubly keen to get one over on his old club this weekend.
As Roma are also set to face fellow top-four contenders Atalanta soon after a decisive Conference League trip to CSKA Sofia in the coming fortnight, improved performances are now essential, but will undoubtedly be harder to produce without captain Lorenzo Pellegrini, who was recently ruled out until 2022.
Pellegrini has embodied Mourinho’s combative spirit on the field this term, but now others must take the fight to the Scudetto holders at Stadio Olimpico.
Still closing in on the Serie A summit following some superb recent form, Inter’s dreams of back-to-back Scudetti are moving closer to reality, as momentum builds towards the climax of the season’s first half.
Now just a point behind city rivals Milan and two adrift of leaders Napoli, the Nerazzurri sealed an eighth win from 10 outings in midweek, with lowly Spezia providing their most recent victims.
A goal either side of the break – with Roberto Gagliardini and Lautaro Martinez both scoring at San Siro – scarcely reflected the dominance of Simone Inzaghi’s rampant side, who fired in some 31 shots at the visitors’ goal and had nearly two-thirds of the possession.
Nonetheless, Inter are sitting on the shoulders of the previously distant top two, with a number of favourable fixtures to come before the winter break – against Cagliari, Salernitana and Torino.
However, the Nerazzurri – whose only dropped points in the league since October have been draws with old rivals Juventus and Milan – must first enter the Olimpico, where Roma have generally ruled supreme throughout the last 12 months. Five wins from eight domestic away games so far, though, suggests that the champions will hardly fear their latest opponents.
A glamour tie with Real Madrid next awaits, in the Champions League, but with both clubs assured of progress to the last 16 – Inter for the first time since 2012 – Inzaghi’s men can keep fully focused on this weekend’s assignment in the capital.
Roma Serie A form:
Roma form (all competitions):
Inter Milan Serie A form:
Inter Milan form (all competitions):
We say: Roma 1-2 Inter Milan
Inter’s greatest foes Milan last punctured Roma’s excellent home record in Serie A, and the impressive Nerazzurri can make it a double triumph for the second city on Saturday.
Inzaghi has certainly put his own stamp on things in the champions’ dugout, and the deeper, more harmonious squad at his disposal will help him overcome Mourinho’s men in a tightly-fought capital skirmish.