Inter hosted Azerbaijan side, Qarabag, in the second round of group fixtures for the Europa League competition. The Nerazzurri were the leaders in Group F and were hoping that they would continue their good European form even if their last performance in the domestic competition was far from stellar. While their weekend loss to Cagliari darkened the moods of most Interisti, a win in the Europa League would be a necessary morale booster.
Could the Nerazzurri muster up a decent performance, one that would result in a win? The Inter boss would surely be rotating his squad as Inter were slated to travel to Firenze as they face Fiorentina this weekend.
Official Lineups from the Inter site:
Inter: Carrizo; Andreolli, Ranocchia, Juan Jesus; D'Ambrosio, Hernanes, M'Vila, Kuzmanovic, Nagatomo; Guarin; Icardi
Substitutes: Handanovic, Osvaldo, Palacio, Vidic, Medel, Obi, Mbaye
Manager: Walter Mazzarri
Qarabag: Sehic; Gurbanov, Teli, Guseynov, Agolli; Qarayev, Yusifov; Muarem, Almeida, George; Reynaldo.
Substitutes: Veliyev, Ahmadov, Sadigov, Nadirov, Aliyev, Taghiyev, Alaskarov.
Manager: Qurban Qurbanov
Inter lined up in a 3-5-1-1 with Carrizo in goal; a three man defense of Andreolli, Ranocchia, and Juan Jesus; a five man midfield of D'Ambrosio, Hernanes, M'Vila, Kuzmanovic, and Nagatomo; with Guarin playing slightly behind striker, Icardi.
With the upcoming domestic fixture this weekend away to Fiorentina it was no surprise that Mazzarri would rotate and rest some of his players. Players that had started in the Cagliari match who were rested included: Handanovic, Vidic, Medel, Kovacic, Dodò, Palacio, and Osvaldo.
As expected, Inter dominated possession although the visiting side, Qarabag, had a few chances of their own.
Icardi put some fear into the Qarabag keeper in the 7th minute but Sehic cleared the ball.
Reynaldo in the 8th minute almost caused Interisti worldwide some discomfort as he shot towards goal but Juan Jesus blocked his attempt much to the relief of the supporters.
D'Ambrosio scored a goal in the 18th minute culminating in his 3rd goal of the season in all competitions which is only part of the reason why the wingback has become a fan favorite.
Inter's humiliating loss to Cagliari resulted in some criticism questioning players' "heart." After D'Ambrosio scored his goal, Ranocchia went to the bench and initiated a group hug. This act demonstrated the much needed leadership that was absent from Sunday's loss. The Inter captain helped unite the team with his symbolic gesture.
(Note: Ranocchia was rested last Sunday and was on the bench).
Aside from a few infrequent counter attacks by Qarabag where they tried to apply some offensive pressure, Inter responded well and dominated the Azerbaijan visitors.
The second half was similar to that of the first 45 minutes and the Nerazzurri dominated possession and finally put the game away in the 40th minute when Icardi scored the second goal.
Multiple competitions and fatigue may be contributing factors to some injuries and today's match was no exception. Guarin and Hernanes suffered injuries in the second half and were subsequently substituted in the 18' (Guarin off for Osvaldo) and the 27' (Hernanes made way for Obi). Hopefully the injuries are not serious as the depth chart for the Nerazzurri bench seems to be dwindling so early in the season.
Inter played far from exceptional but did enough to earn all three points to remain Group F leaders in the Europa League competition with a total of six points after two matches played.
Considering the team that was fielded which included seven players rested from the weekend, many of whom were legitimate substitute players, the result was a positive to build upon. The response from those on the pitch answered the critics questioning the squad's heart, if only for today, as the weekend matchup against Fiorentina away will necessitate a solid performance from all players on the pitch who represent the Inter kit.
On a side note: we would like to wish Walter Mazzarri a belated Happy Birthday. The Inter manager was literally swept off his feet by his squad's Europa League win.
Inter 2-0 Qarabag
First half: D'Ambrosio (18')
Second half: Icardi (40')