Two consecutive wins in the past couple of weeks had many Interisti hopeful that the winning ways would continue against the bottom dwelling visitors, Cagliari. Yet with absences from Hernanes and Campagnaro (rest and a slight injury respectively speaking) and with a recovering Alvarez, there were some doubts as to whether Inter could pull out a third consecutive victory, even while playing at home. Injuries and inconsistency had seemed to plague the Nerazzurri but surely with two positive results under their belts they found what had been so elusive earlier on in the season? This question would surely be answered as Inter hosted Cagliari in the 25th round of the season.
New owner and President, Erick Thohir was in attendance and what type of Inter performance could he anticipate watching, a return to inconsistency or one that reflected the last two winning weeks? Would this be a tune up match preparing the Nerazzurri for a tough away match against the second placed team, Roma? Or would this be yet another inconsistent performance where Inter may look back at a missed opportunity?
Official Lineups from the Inter site:
Inter XI (3-5-2): Handanovic, Rolando, Samuel, Juan Jesus, Jonathan, Guarin, Kuzmanovic, Alvarez, Nagatomo, Palacio, Milito
Substitutes: Castellazzi, Carrizo, Zanetti, Andreolli, Icardi, Kovacic, Cambiasso, Botta, Taider, Ranocchia, D'Ambrosio
Coach: Walter Mazzarri
Cagliari XI (4-3-1-2): Avramov, Dessena, Astori, Rossettini, Avelar, Vecino, Cossu, Ekdal, Adryan, Ibarbo, Pinilla
Substitutes: Silvestri, Sau,Eriksson, Nene, Cabrera, Perico, Del Fabro
Coach: Diego Lopez
Officials: Russo, Meli, Preti, Crispo, Irrati, Candussio
Inter started with a Mazzarri favorite and lined up in a 3-5-2 formation with Handanovic in goal; a three man backline of Rolando, Samuel, and Juan Jesus; a five man midfield of Jonathan, Guarin, Kuzmanovic, Alvarez, and Nagatomo; and a strike force of Palacio slightly behind Milito on top.
Samuel captained the Nerazzurri side for the third week in a row hoping to bring the same winning results as he did previously while bolstering the backline in central defense.
Inter started the game in an attacking manner, looking to score and in an attempt to carry over any momentum from their previous week's win.
The first few minutes of the match was a jostling of back and forth play between the two sides and once again Inter began to rely on over the top balls in hopes of locating either Argentine striker.
Ibarbo made his presence known immediately as he challenged Inter's left side early on. His attacking play resulted in a foul from Brazilian defender, Juan Jesus who subsequently received a yellow card in the 6th minute.
Inter began to apply pressure midway through the first half but Cagliari staved off multiple chances in their own defensive third to neutralize the Nerazzurri attack.
As the first half wore on, the away side began to take more chances and in the 40th minute Cagliari made the home side pay as a penalty was called on an involuntary Juan Jesus hand ball. The away side took the lead as Pinilla guessed right and found the back of the net to put the visitors up a goal.
Hernanes was unavailable and was most likely being rested by Mazzarri in preparation for next week's match against Roma. The Brazilian's midfield presence was sorely missed as a disconnect resurfaced between the defense and attack.
Inter went into the half trailing Cagliari by a score line of 0-1 as the visitors took advantage of an unfortunate penalty from an unintentional deflection of the ball onto Juan Jesus' arm.
The substitution had an immediate impact as a cross from the left side found Icardi and he headed it down for Rolando who converted the assist into the tying goal in the 7th minute of the second half. Inter closed the gap and the score line was now 1-1.
Kovacic came in for a recovering Alvarez in the 21st minute of the second half and the final substitution made by Inter boss, Mazzarri, was Botta on for Kuzmanovic in the 33rd minute.
Other than the substitutions, the intensity seemed to slowly seep out of the match even though Inter dominated Cagliari with a ball possession ratio of 58% to 42% in favor of the home side. There was a lot of back and forth play but nothing really threatening even though the Nerazzurri's shots on target outweighed the visitors by a 5:1 ratio.
While Inter have yet to be awarded a penalty this season in league play, and although there was an unfortunate penalty given against the Nerazzurri in today's match, in the 89th minute of the match a penalty could have been awarded to Inter as Icardi was sandwiched between the Cagliari defense but to no one's surprise, play continued and there was no call for a penalty.
While many supporters may feel the decision that Icardi will start next match is a foregone conclusion, it may depend on a few extraneous factors. What is truly the state of Icardi's fitness level and can he play the majority of the match against an attacking Roma side? Is he more effective as a substitute coming off the bench? Also, will Mazzarri decide to change things up or leave the formation and lineup as the same?
Today, Inter's performance lacked the intensity necessary to pull three important points from a struggling Cagliari side. With a hope for European competition and a chance to return to the Champions League, every result counts from this point on. Next week will be a true test for this tumultuous season as the fifth-placed Nerazzurri travel to second-placed Roma in what will surely be a tough matchup but hopefully a victorious one for Inter.
Inter 1-1 Cagliari
First half: Pinilla (40')
Second half: Rolando (7')