Revived Roma threaten Inter's Champions League quest
Background Image: Oscar Federico Bodini, CC-BY-2.0
AS Roma picked up nicely after a rough start under Claudio Ranieri. I Giallorossi gutted out three wins on the trot. The Romans visit the Giuseppe Meazza on Saturday, fired up to maintain that run. Inter's Champions League dream is at stake.
Ranieri returned home on a damage control mission in April. An opportunity to guide his beloved Roma out of a particularly sticky patch was too great a lure to resist even though it's on an interim basis until season's end.
The Yellow and Reds regressed under Eusebio Di Francesco. The Pescara native's fluid attack lacked defensive coverage. Roma conceded 36 goals in Serie A, more than any other side in the top seven. Although his methods are unorthodox, the Tinkerman was expected to inspire the side. He did just that if it took a moment.
After a well-deserved 2-1 victory over Empoli lifted the dampened spirits at the Stadio Olimpico, subsequent results restored the gloomy feelings. Back-to-back defeats to SPAL and Napoli were followed by a draw with visiting Fiorentina.
Ranieri found his mojo in Genoa. The former Chelsea, Leicester and Fulham boss carried on from there. Udinese took the brunt. While not as charming as his predecessor, he is grinding out results. I Lupi faithful aren't bothered. They demand substance.
Inter Milan is a tough customer, though, managed by former Roma gaffer Spalletti. Direct rivals for a Champions League place. the Nerazzurri look down on the chasing pack comprising Milan, Roma, Atalanta, Torino and Lazio in that order. Ranieri's cubs can overtake Milan in fourth with a victory tonight after the Rossoneri drew Parma in the afternoon. Defeat puts their chances in jeopardy. Atalanta and Torino breathe down their necks, just a point behind. Stadio Olimpico roomies and rivals Lazio are just two back.
With games against Juventus and Napoli still to come, every result is precious. Roma can spend Easter Sunday in the Champions League places while cutting Inter's advantage in half, moving to within a result of their opponents.
Inter's recent poor form encourages optimism. The Blue and Black haven't found consecutive wins since mid-February. The beat Frosinone in their last outing. Roma hope to exploit the trend.
However, Spalletti's side stabilises. Mauro Icardi is back in the mix after a troubled spell. The Argentinean is allowing Ivan Perisic to take penalties and the two are even celebrating together. Radja Nainggolan is in form just in time to face his old team.
Blighted by injury mishaps and disciplinary woes, the Belgian only faced Milan in October among Lega Calcio's top six. He appears to have shaken his physical gremlins. Spalletti can only hope for the best.
Roma, meanwhile, kept back-to-back clean sheets for the first time in Serie A this season. Unhappy forward Edin Dzeko netted his first league goal at the Olimpico in almost a year.
Head-to-head encounters between the sides could not be more finely balanced with three wins apiece and four draws in the last 10. Each side has two victories at home and one on the road. Both sides will approach this encounter with cautious optimism. Sharing the spoils seems the most likely outcome. If that's anticlimactic, I apologise.