What a difference a year makes When these two teams met last September, the talk was of title aspirations and greatness, of an Inter team who had dominated Serie A in the post-Calciopoli era and of a Roma side who had been practically the only ones to challenge them. Mirko Vucinic's last-gasp winner for Roma was seen as a blow to Inter but hardly a crippling one. This, after all, was only the first exchange of a long campaign, one that would surely finish with both in title contention.
Twelve months on, the talk is of nothing but disasters and crises. Inter, defeated in the pre-season SuperCup, their league opener against Palermo and Wednesday's Champions League clash with Trabzonspor – are officially off to their worst start to a season in 90 years. Roma have fared no better, crashing out of the Europa League to Slovan Bratislava before falling to Cagliari at home last weekend.
If their managers, each appointed over the summer, are involved in a sack race then it could only be described as an all-out sprint. All week it has been reported that Gian Piero Gasperini must win this game to preserve his spot on the Inter bench. When pressed on the subject, the Inter owner Massimo Moratti would only say that he did not want to distract his manager from the task at hand.
Roma's Luis Enrique may have a little more time than that, yet his relationship with his team's supporters has already been tested. Appointed specifically because he represented - in the words of the sporting director Walter Sabatini - "discontinuity" with the past, Enrique's readiness to discard Francesco Totti in the Europa League tie was portrayed by some in Roma as an attack on all they hold dear.
"Save yourselves," ran the headline in Gazzetta dello Sport this morning above a picture of the two managers. It will take more than one night for either man to win over their detractors, but this would certainly be a fine place to start.
So what exactly has Gasperini done wrong, then? Well, beyond the massively obvious (losing those three games), the most consistent criticism levelled against the manager is the suggestion that his preferred three-man defence cannot work at Inter. In reality the manager may have been damned before he had even got as far as joining his players on the training field.
It was no secret that Inter approached far more high profile candidates over the summer – from Fabio Capello to André Villas-Boas and Marcelo Bielsa – and by the time Gasperini's name came up it felt to many as though the club had simply settled for the first man willing to take the job. Sacked a year ago by Genoa after failing to produce results at the end of the club's ostentatiously bold transfer campaign, it is clear that many observers had decided from day one that he would not be up to the task.
But for me his greatest failing over the last few weeks has been that he has lacked the courage of his own convictions. His preferred 3-4-3 might not be ideally suited to the squad - lacking an obvious role for Wesley Sneijder and requiring as it does might not have been perfect for a team boasting too many old-stagers - but by seeking to redesign it just minutes into the game against Palermo and then caving in to calls for a four-man defence against Trabzonspor he simply created more uncertainty.
Today he is expected to revert to a three-man defence, in a modified 3-4-1-2, but the contrast with Enrique (who has flaws of his own, mind) is striking. "We will always play with three attackers, at times maybe even more," he declared when his formation was questioned this week. "I will not change my mind after three games that went wrong. What do we need to do to win? Score one goal more than the opponents. That's it." Listening to the delivery of the some time Ironman, you wouldn't argue.
Team news: Some typically bold choices from Luis Enrique, with Simone Perrotta and Rodrigo Taddei - more accustomed to playing on the wings - filling the two full-back spots and Fabio Borini (he of the brief stint at Swansea) joning Francesco Totti and Daniel Pablo Osvaldo up front, with Bojan Krkic dropped.
Inter (3-4-1-2): Julio Cesar; Lucio, Samuel, Ranocchia; Nagatomo, Zanetti, Cambiasso, Obi; Sneijder; Forlan, Milito. Subs: Castellazzi, Jonathan, Bianchetti, Muntari, Castaignos, Zarate, Pazzini
Roma (4-3-3): Stekelenburg; Perrotta, Burdisso, Kjaer, Taddei; Pizarro, De Rossi, Pjanic; Osvaldo, Totti, Borini. Subs: Lobont, Heinze, Cassetti, Rosi, Gago, Borriello, Bojan
Another reason to be excited about tonight's game: These two haven't drawn 0-0 since 2003-04.
1 min Away we go, just as I remember the other thing I meant to mention, which is that this is Javier Zanetti's 756th game for Inter - meaning he has now matched the record number of appearances for the club set by Giuseppe Bergomi. Let's hope it was better than his 755th outing. As Gazzetta noted: "In the first 15 minutes against Trabzonspor he gave the ball away more times than he had in the rest of his career combined."
2 min No sooner have we begun, than we appear to have our first injury, Ranocchia doubling up and rolling to the floor without even a hint of a player near him (yes, yes, insert your tired gags about Italian football here). Gasperini won't like the look of that - Ranocchia was left out against Palermo but frankly his pace and energy levels are greatly needed if this three-man defence is going to work.
4 mins Simon Kjaer gets his Roma debut off on a less than ideal foot, nudging a hospital pass in the direction of De Rossi and watching as his team-mate just about manages to get his touch away before being clattered by Diego Milito. It is absolutely heaving down at San Siro, by the way.
6 mins First whiff of goal for either team, as Roma win a free-kick a bit more than 25 yards out on the right and Totti twirls it over towards the far post, where Cesar jumps to claim easily enough. What? I did say it was only a whiff.
8 mins "Match to decide the first real managerial casualty in serie A," announces Robert Maxwell on Twitter. "Palermo don't really count do they?" Well, technically they sacked Stefano Pioli before the season had even started, so no, I don't think we need to count that. But as I said earlier, Enrique isn't quite on the block yet. Gasperini's situation is far more perilous.
9 mins Both teams probing when in possession but as yet neither seems to have been able to do anything particularly incisive. "Hawrite Paulo! Can you still get funny riffs and talk of romantic mishap on Serie A MBMs, or is it an altogether classier affair?" asks Ryan Dunne. I'm open to tales of a great romantic mishap if anybody has any. It is a Saturday night after all.
11 mins A shot! At last, Roma manage to find a way in behind Inter's defence – not an especially challenging task, in truth, with Lucio attempting to play an offside trap while his team-mates dithered, allowing Osvaldo a clear run into the area on the left. His near-post effort, however, is easily blocked by Julio Cesar.
13 mins Nagatomo has been the source of most of what has gone right for Inter going forwards this evening, and he comes zipping forwards down the right again, before checking his run and cutting the ball back to Sneijder, who is promptly chopped down by Pizarro a couple of yards outside the area on the right. Free-kick to Inter ...
14 mins .. .which is deflected behind for a corner ...
15 mins ... which is dropped right into the middle of the area by Sneijder, but finds a whole lot of nobody waiting there in a blue and black shirt. Roma clear but their attempted break swiftly collapses into an Inter counter. Lucio, of all people, is sent racing away down the left channel into the box but winds up colliding with Stekelenburg in the area, the ball deflecting away off the keeper for a throw-in.
17 mins This doesn't look good for Stekelenburg, who is still down after the collision with Lucio. Looking at the replays, he reaches the ball a fraction of a second before the Inter player, who subsequently does catch him right in the face with his boot. Lucio has been booked, but it looks like Stekelenburg may be out of the game.
18 mins Troubling scenes as Stekelenburg departs his second-ever Serie A match on a stretcher, in a neck brace. He is replaced by Bogdan Lobont.
19 mins Better from Roma, who come racing forwards from their eventual free-kick, Borini bursting past his man down the right and cutting a low square ball across the area that has to be knocked behind by Lucio for a corner. The set-piece itself is swung over to Borini, who has a staggering amount of space in the box, but whose low drive is well saved by Julio Cesar down to the goalkeeper's right.
20 mins Now Forlan stings Lobont's palms with an effort from distance, which the replacement goalkeeper can't quite hold at the first attempt, but is able to gather under little pressure.
22 mins Yup, this is livening up now. Again Nagatomo gets in behind Taddei down the right for Inter, and though his cross is put behind for a corner, the set piece in turn is poorly dealt with by Roma. The ball is eventually worked to Milito on the far side of the area, but his snap shot is straight at the keeper at his near post.
24 mins "Any idea what position Lucio is playing tonight?" asks a man called Big Russ on Twitter. "He seems to be everywhere from right back to left wing to striker." Well Inter are playing a spectacularly high defensive line - as, indeed, they did against Palermo - but Lucio does indeed seem to be intent on heading precisely wherever he feels like heading at any given moment. It wouldn't be the first time – when you talk about this team losing its focus since winning the treble, I'd say Lucio has been more guilty than most.
26 mins Ooh crikey - quite some reaction on Twitter to that Lucio collision with Stekelenburg. Even Juventus's Eljero Elia is getting involved: "i hate lucio #inter he kick #stekelenburg in the face he have to get a red card :@ i am really angry"
28 mins Roma's back line are not exactly being shy about stepping up the pitch either, which is making this game a bit breathless at times as the two teams take turns at running the counter. The problem is that neither of them is doing it very well at the moment, and another Inter attempt breaks down as Millito attempts an altogether excessively ambitious cross-field ball to Forlan with the outside of his boot.
30 mins Totti drifts back into a deeper position in search of possession, and in doing so gives himself the space to loft a delightful ball over the Inter defence to Borini, who crashes his first-time effort past the on the right-hand side. Roma have probably had the better chances thus far, but there hasn't been an awful lot of clear-cut opportunities for either side.
31 mins Curious moment of indecision between De Rossi and Lobont winds up with the ball running very, very slowly across the middle of Roma's six yard box, but there isn't an Inter player anywhere nearby to take advantage. Kinda sums up the game so far, to be honest.
33 mins You can see why Swansea didn't want to let go of Borini – his runs down the right have been persistently penetrating Inter's back line, and again it is Totti who provides the ball - this time a slide rule pass along the turf - that allows him to get in behind Ranocchia. Again, though, his cross is deflected behind and Roma fail to make anything of their corner.
35 mins Totti, incidentally, has now faced Zanetti 34 times in his career. The way these two talk about the future, you could easily imagine them managing a good 10 more.
37 mins Things beginning to open up for Inter, with Nagatomo twice in as many minutes opting to chance his arm from almost identical positions just outside the area on the right. The first whistles over Lobont's crossbar, but the second is charged down.
39 mins For a team with title aspirations, the flaws in this Inter team are all too evident. Now Sneijder looks for Nagatomo down the right but from about 10 yards in from the touchline succeeds only in passing the ball straight out for a Roma throw-in.
40 mins The word is that Stekelenburg, taken directly to hospital, has now regained consciousness. Which can only be good.
42 mins Pizarro seeks out Perrotta down the right but from the centre circle his ball winds up bounding away and straight out for goalkick. It's a long way from smooth flowing football at the moment, folks, though there have been brief flashes of class on both sides.
44 mins Perhaps sensing that the half is nearly at an end, Pizarro suddenly springs to life, bursting forwards before slipping a disguised pass off the outside of his right boot into the path of Borini inside the area. This time Ranocchia is able to charge his effort down. Has anyone seen Osvaldo lately by the way? If he stays missing much longer we may need to stick his face on the side of a milk carton.
45 mins Three minutes of injury time signalled.
45 mins (+2) Totti wins a free-kick for Roma about 30 yards out and in line with the penalty spot, collapsing with panache under some admittedly excessive attention from Walter Samuel. The ball is rolled to Totti from the set piece ... and he whacks it a good way over the bar.
Peepety- peeep! And that's it for the half. Few bright spots for either team, but Nagatomo has looked purposeful for Inter and Borini dangerous for Roma. Back in a tick.
Rating the Old Lady "With Inter seemingly stalling what do you think of Juventus' chances this season?" poses David Bronstein. "Personally I think they have brought in a lot of quality and will win the league." Well Milan remain the deserving favourites for the title, David, but I certainly think Juve have built their squad intelligently and Antonio Conte handled his first Serie A game with impressive confidence. Parma are a limited side and I still think that Andrea Pirlo can struggle when teams really seek to put the squeeze on him in midfield, but nevertheless a result such as that one would have been anything but assured at the end of last season – and especially with Krasic et al left on the bench. Give it another few weeks before getting too carried away with Scudetto talk, though.
Perhaps I was too harsh on Osvaldo Or at least it was unfair of me to only single him out. "Diego Milito touched just 16 balls in the first half vs Roma, completing only 9 passes, even fewer than Julio César (13)," notes @OptaPaolo on Twitter. "Spectator."
Calamitous courting "My great romantic mishap was failing to marry Christina Hendricks," sighs Rupert Browne. I think we've all experienced that mishap, Rupert.
46 mins Ooh my – that would have been quite the start, wouldn't it? Inter give the ball away cheaply in midfield and Totti seizes on the ball before dissecting the Inter defence with a fantastic 20-yard pass along the floor that finds Osvaldo bursting into the far side of the box. His shot is smothered by Cesar, but at least his mother will be relieved to know he's safe.
47 mins And now Taddei tries his luck from outside the area. You can take the Brazilian away from the wing ...
50 mins Ooh dearie me - what a missed opportunity for Inter! I was just about to note that Roma had made the brighter start to the second half, but the hosts won a free-kick on almost their first foray into opposition territory and Sneijder whipped in a fine ball towards the far corner of the six-yard box. Two Roma defenders collided allowing Milito a free run at the ball, but despite getting a good connection on the ball, he only manages to steer it wide.
53 mins Cambiasso launches another Inter break, nicking the ball off Totti and surging forwards only for the move to break against the not-especially-impenetrable walls of the Roma defence. With Taddei hardly excelling in his defensive duties and Perrotta too regularly finding himself up the field, Inter should have managed more than this.
55 mins Pizarro finds himself advancing towards the Inter area as well, catching the defence flat-footed with a blink-and-you'll-miss-it dragback and skip inside across the face of the box before Cambiasso clips his heels just outside the D. Roma free-kick coming up.
56 mins Some perfect pantomime action as the referee seeks to march Inter's wall back 10 yards – the defenders screeching he's behind you as Roma take advantage of his turned back to nudge the free-kick forwards. It still hasn't actually been taken yet.
57 mins And when it finally is, Pjanic succeeds only in whipping it over the bar.
59 mins A substitution from each team here, former Birmingham man Mauro Zarate replacing Diego Milito while Gago comes on for Pizarro. I have to say I find it very hard to find redeeming qualities in Zarate. He's a player who clearly believes he is great, but is yet to show it for any concerted period of time. Comparisons have been drawn with a younger Ezequiel Lavezzi - who certainly used to be selfish like Zarate, but in my opinion always possessed a more evident talent.
62 mins And now another change for Inter, with Jonathan - a summer arrival from Santos - replacing Obi as Roma wait to take a free-kick on the right.
63 mins The free-kicks in this game have been universally awful so far in this match, and this one is no different - lofted too far away to the far side of the area to be of any use, and eventually hacked clumsily away by Inter.
65 mins Zarate seeks to stick it to me, cutting inside and letting fly with his left boot. The shot was powerful and cleanly struck, but never really travelling on target. There have been five shots on target so far in this match, and yet somehow it feels like even fewer.
67 mins Sneijder reasons, correctly, that anything Zarate does, he can probably do better – unleashing a drive of his own from a good 25 yards out that travels close to Lobont but dips at the last to force the goalkeeper into a somewhat frantic parry. The danger passes once again, however.
68 mins In fact, looking at that again, Lobont actually blocked the shot with his chest. Smooth.
71 mins Hmm, perhaps I shouldn't have posted that note before kick-off about the lack of goalless encounters between these two teams. Then again, here's another note from @OptaPaolo: "Last year Roma and conceded more goals (17) than any other Serie A team in the last 15 minutes of games. Focus." Plus, of course, Roma's winner in the same fixture last year came in injury time.
73 mins Gasperini stands on the sidelines and gesticulates wildly as Zarate strops over Sneijder's failed attempt at what would have been a really quite remarkable reverse pass inside the area.
75 mins "Zarate decides to go it alone," notes the ESPN commentator. Of course he does. Another optimistic effort floats tamely over the bar. The lazy-mindedness of this Inter team in the final third is truly disheartening.
77 mins I think I need to start using copy and paste. Another Inter attack, another pointless effort from outside the area - this time from Forlan. Admittedly, it was a better shot than most of those we've seen so far, but again it goes over the bar.
78 mins Last substitution for Roma, who send of Borriello for Borini. As dangerous as the latter looked in the first half, we hadn't seen an awful lot of him here in the second.
79 mins And now Gasperini hauls off Forlan, to be replaced with Sulley Muntari. Needless to say, the replacement of a striker with a midfielder (and one who has been out of sorts for more than a year now) didn't go down great with the fans at San Siro.
81 mins "Muntari for Forlan … I guess Gasperini is just trying to get fired," sighs Kabir Sethi. It's as good an explanation as any.
83 mins Rather than building to a crescendo, this game is simply fading away into the night. I'm not going to lie, the last 15 minutes have been dire. Which is saying something, because what came before was hardly spectacular either.
84 mins Kjaer picks up a booking for a foul on Sneijder, who in turn seems to have acquired a little limp.
86 mins For the first time in a long time, Inter put two passes together the final third, Jonathan surging past his man and slipping the ball to Zarate, who in turn accelerated across the back of his team-mate's run before squaring the ball across the six-yard area. Sneijder met the ball at the far post, but his shot was blocked almost on the line by Kjaer, rebounding off the defender and just around the post. Corner to Inter.
87 mins The corner comes to nothing (stop me if you've heard this one before). On Twitter, Italian football journalist Adam Digby imagines the questions that will be posed by Inter's owner at full-time: "Dear Javier [Zanetti], who would you like as the nineteenth coach of your 16 year Inter career? Sincerely yours, Massimo."
90 mins Four minutes of injury time coming up. The final four of Gasperini's time as Inter manager?
90 mins (+1) Oof - De Rossi takes the full weight of Sneijder in a rather delicate area - the Inter player landing a full set of studs on his opponent's crotch as he seeks to hurdle a challenge. That looked painful. In fact it still does.
90 mins (+3) Inter are finally playing with urgency, throwing men into the area with abandon, and Sneijder sees Lobont parry another shot. Too little, too late, sadly.
Peep! Peep! Peeeeep! The referee Mazzoleni finally puts this game out of its misery after nearly six years of injury time. Inter and Roma have produced their first goalless draw in eight seasons, but far more worrying than the result was the shocking lack of quality on display. Inter, in particular, looked directionless, simply a confused muddle of players lacking shape, unity or ideas. The final whistle is met with a hail of whistles, but if Gasperini does indeed wind up losing his job after this, his fourth match in charge, then it is the club's directors that truly have questions to answer. What were the criteria that led them to approach managers as evidently diverse as Capello, Villas-Boas and Bielsa before finally landing on Gasperini? If the manager always intended on playing a three-man defence, then why wasn't he allowed to bring in personnel more suited to that system? And what sort of message does it send when your directors sell Samuel Eto'o and then replace him with a striker in Forlan who is neither a like-for-like replacement, nor eligible to play in the Champions League - a fact which they themselves admitted they had failed to notice. Anyway, thanks for reading and I shall leave you with the thoughts of Big Russ: "I didn't think I would see an Inter team as bad as Rafa's but this is shocking." It certainly was.