Serie A

Antonio Conte's suspect substitutions cost Inter dearly in title race slip at Roma

Max Cooper
Jan 10, 2021, 3:00 PM GMT
Conte's substitutions were a hot topic after the final whistle
Conte's substitutions were a hot topic after the final whistle | VINCENZO PINTO/Getty Images
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It's not often that we can say this, but Antonio Conte got it massively wrong on Sunday afternoon.

Inter travelled to the Italian capital to take on third place AS Roma in the early kick-off, and the pressure was on I Nerazzurri to match Milan's victorious heroics from the night before.

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Conte set up his side in their usual 3-5-2 formation, and although they fell behind and endured a difficult 45 minutes, they remained more than competitive, growing as the half progressed.

Whatever he said to his side at half-time certainly lit a fire under his players too, as they came out with a hunger and desire which Roma simply couldn't match. They pressed from the front with incredible desire and appetite, forcing an entire catalogue of mistakes and misplaced passes from the hosts, who began to crumble under the strain of such a ruthless and organised unit.

Then, their hard work bore fruit. A lovely corner from Marcelo Brozovic was met by Milan Skriniar, and his header could not be stopped by Pau Lopez. Unsatisfied with a point, Inter went for the jugular, and were rewarded with a beautiful curling strike from Achraf Hakimi, who sent Roma slumping to their knees.

Now was the time to unsheathe the sword, and slay their opponents with one mighty swing.

Except, Conte took his foot off their neck, and instead offered the gladiator a hand back up to his feet. The Italian coach switched from his trusty 3-5-2 to a 5-4-1, replacing Lautaro Martinez with Ivan Perisic, and introducing Aleksandar Kolarov and Roberto Gagliardini.

Now, when you're hoping to avoid conceding another goal, bringing on Kolarov against the speedy Rick Karsdorp and inventive Lorenzo Pellegrini is not the smartest move. Roma were gifted so much joy down that flank, one they had ignored for large parts of the game when going in search of goals.

Not only was the choice in personnel particularly suspect, but the change in shape completely took the wind out of Inter's sails. The players invited pressure onto their creaking backline, unable to get out of their half, all the while leaving Romelu Lukaku completely isolated for the final 20 minutes.

Perisic looked like a fish out of water in this new-found role, and couldn't get near to the big Belgian, meaning every ball Inter repelled from their own box immediately came flying back.

It was a switch which brought the previously KO'd Roma roaring back to life, and with a smart substitution of their own, introducing Bryan Cristante to support Edin Dzeko, they began to batter on the door in search of the equaliser.

Conte's men eventually gave way, and Gianluca Mancini's 86th minute header pegged Inter back, and forced the visitors to settle for a point.

You could point the finger at the players for their change in mentality and late collapse, but all the symptoms suggest that the coach must take the fall for this one.

Prior to the 70th minute, when Conte began jigging his team around, Roma had mustered only four shots, while Inter had racked up a whopping 17. By the end of the game, I Giallorossi had created a further 10 shots at goal, totalling 14, while I Nerazzurri remained rooted on 17.

It's not the first time the coach has tried this formation. He also whipped it out in the dying minutes against Spezia, which saw the newly-promoted side snatch a late goal and threaten to stage a huge comeback.

Inter survived that time, but no such luck in Rome. It's time to put this über-defensive tactic in the bin, Antonio, it's not going to win you titles.

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