Sunday night's big game in Serie A turned out to be a big disappointment. Andrea Stramaccioni's Inter travelled to the capital to play Zdenek Zeman's Roma looking far from their best in recent weeks, and though the 1-1 draw likely suits both sides to an extent, mistakes earlier in the season means neither can really afford it.
Lazio faltered against Palermo away from home and Fiorentina and Napoli drew in Florence, meaning both Roma and Inter had a great opportunity to gain some ground on their rivals for the Champions League places.
Now with 33 points, securing third looks impossible for Zeman, and while Inter are just four points off Napoli and Lazio in joint second, it's Vincenzo Montella's Fiorentina who look the side more capable of sneaking into third.
Until recently, this was the game of the season. Roberto Mancini and Luciano Spalletti coached the two sides when they were simply a class apart from the rest in Italy, and then Jose Mourinho and Claudio Ranieri brought their own special rivalry to the north-south clash.
But on Saturday, in a half-full Olimpico, it seemed more like a mid-table meeting than a battle between two of the peninsula's superpowers. The atmosphere was as cold as the January night, thanks to stuttering displays, scrappy refereeing and squandered chances.
By contrast the first meeting between the pair this season in Milan had been a four-goal thriller, won by the Giallorossi in convincing style 1-3.
Since then, both sides have had ups and downs. Inter have lost to minnows Siena, Atalanta and Parma looking like a team in need of a lot of work while conversely looking excellent against the league's tougher sides. Strama's men were excellent against Fiorentina, city rivals AC Milan and their old foes Juventus, thrashing the champions 1-3 away in Turin.
Likewise, Zeman's Roma have confounded critics by looking unstoppable and awful—often simultaneously. And while they've found some stability at the back in recent weeks, inexplicably, the once-rampant forward line has stopped scoring.
Goals have always been a hallmark of the Czech coach's game and the capital side had seen plenty of scoring at both ends early in the season. But while the young centre-back pairing of Castan and Marquinhos has turned into one of the most formidable in the division—with the latter even hinting that he'd like to continue the double-act at the 2014 World Cup—the attacking end now looks like a spent force.
Roma's counter-attacking full-backs and energetic midfield continue to create plenty of opportunities for the strikers, but despite their best efforts—and those of Francesco Totti who continues his fine form—Pablo Osvaldo and Mattia Destro both squander chance after chance in the box.
It was more of the same against Inter. The home side dominated the first half, but the Argentina-born Italian Osvaldo couldn't convert the wealth of chances his teammates created, and only really threatened in the second half, when Samir Handanovic made an excellent double save to keep out efforts from the number nine and Totti.
For the Nerazzurri, Fredy Guarín was excellent throughout, setting up Rodrigo Palacio in first-half stoppage time with an excellent ball from the touchline after battling through the Roma defence.
The Columbian's energetic display in the centre of the park should prove as an example for Michael Bradley, who as ever gave 100 percent and was impressive physically, only to let himself down with some poor judgement in the final third and some poorer passing.
Bradley continues to win admirers for his work-rate, but if Roma are to step it up then the American will have to improve technically, as will his young Italian teammate Alessandro Florenzi and the much-maligned Greek midfielder Panagiotis Tachtsidis.
All three show promise but are also guilty of consistently giving the ball away needlessly during key phases of the game, even if on this occasion—with no Antonio Cassano—Inter lacked the quality to capitalise.
In the end, a contentious first-half penalty for Roma, converted by their talismanic captain, and the goal from Palacio left this game as a stalemate, with the emphasis being on stale. Let's hope their rematch in the Coppa Italia is a lot more exciting.
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