As Inter headed into the 31st round of league fixtures, there were a few concerns as the Nerazzurri faced relegation threatened Livorno on the road. The biggest issue to be addressed was the bit of bad form the black and blue clad players were currently experiencing. With a loss and a draw as the last two results heading into this match Inter needed to change the run of bad form and take advantage of bottom dweller Livorno. While the home side was battling relegation and a win on the road should be an easy feat, considering that Livorno housed five Inter players on loan and the Nerazzurri's recent form, an away win may not be as easy or expected.
Along with facing Inter products, Bardi, Mbaye, Benassi, Duncan, and on loan striker Belfodil, the Nerazzurri may have also wondered if that elusive penalty call would finally be awarded to them. (Note: there were no penalties awarded to Inter heading into the 31st round of games).
Talk of Inter youth, not receiving penalty calls, and a run of recent poor form were all on the minds of Interisti but a win and an important three points to continue to challenge for European competition would surely curb such talking points.
Official Lineups from the Inter site:
Inter XI (3-5-2): Handanovic, Rolando, Samuel, Juan Jesus, Jonathan (Zanetti 80), Hernanes (Guarin 69), Kuzmanovic, Alvarez (Botta 86), D'Ambrosio, Icardi, Palacio.
Substitutes not used: Castellazzi, Carrizo, Andreolli, Kovacic, Cambiasso, Botta, Taider, Milito, Ranocchia, Nagatomo.
Coach: Walter Mazzarri.
Livorno XI (3-5-2): Bardi, Valentini, Emerson (Duncan 55), Castellini, Mbaye, Benassi, Biagianti, Greco (Siligardi 73), Mesbah, Paulinho, Belfodil (Emeghara 55).
Substitutes not used: Anania, Aldegani, Piccini, Gemiti, Mosquera, Ceccherini, Borja, Coda.
Coach: Domenico Di Carlo.
Officials: Calvarese, Padovan, Dobosz, Grilli, Rocchi, Borriello
(Please click here for the Live Match Thread and comments).
Mazzarri changed things up a bit as he lined his men up in the familiar 3-5-2 formation. While Handanovic remained in goal with a three man backline, Ranocchia got some rest as Rolando, Samuel, and Juan Jesus set up in defense. Cambiasso and Guarin were rested while Nagatomo still battled fitness as Jonathan, Kuzmanovic, Hernanes, Alvarez, and D'Ambrosio filled up the five man midfield. Palacio and Icardi were the two strikers up top hoping to be the difference makers in today's match.
Inter came out strong hoping to set an attacking pace for an important three points and a victory on the road.
Hernanes made the first shot of the match in the 3rd minute as he looked for his first goal as an Inter player.
The Inter products on loan at Livorno, Mbaye, Benassi, and Belfodil tried to make it difficult for the first team in the initial moments of the match as they tried to create offensive chances against the Nerazzurri.
D'Ambrosio's shot was blocked in the 7th minute and Jonathan's shot went wide of the goal in the 14th minute as Inter continued to create offensive opportunities.
While the away side tried to make things difficult for Livorno, the home side took their chances and in the 17th minute, Emerson forced the first save of the match by Inter keeper Handanovic.
The Inter youth looked better in the first few moments of the match as they were surely trying to capture the interest of the club that owned them in hopes of returning home to the first team.
Kuzmanovic shot the ball high over goal rounding out the third Inter strike for goal but unfortunately none were on target in the first 23 minutes of the match.
Another shot by Jonathan went wide off the far post in the 28th minute.
Belfodil forced a save from Handanovic in the 30th minute.
All of the offensive opportunities finally created a golden chance for goal conversion in the 37th minute as Alvarez crossed the ball into Palacio who headed it back into the penalty box which Icardi missed but fortunately for Inter, Hernanes found the back of the net easily. The Brazilian's goal marked his first goal for the Nerazzurri since his arrival from Lazio in the past January transfer window.
Kuzmanovic struck the ball on target in the 43rd minute which was saved by Bardi.
Palacio scored in extra time as he was left all alone at the far post and Jonathan's cross found him. The Argentine striker volleyed the ball into the back of the net bringing the score line to 0-2, in favor of Inter at the end of the first half.
Despite a rather underwhelming performance by Inter in the first moments of the half, the Nerazzurri picked up the pace and in the waning moments of the half goals by Hernanes and Palacio opened up a two goal lead as the first period drew to a close.
Hernanes flips as he celebrated his first Inter goal.
Flip flip flip! @LaPinetina RT @InterPrimavera Livorno-Inter 0-1 Hernanes http://t.co/1eWMNK8DvX— TB (@SonoTuttoBene) March 31, 2014
The Nerazzurri were looking to keep up the same pace of the first period as Palacio was denied in the 1st minute of play in the second half as he forced another save from Livorno keeper, Bardi.
Livorno was not content with the score line and forced Handanovic to punch Greco's ball away in the 5th minute of the second half.
The home side pressed on and in the 9th minute, Paulinho converted a corner kick to cut the deficit to only one goal.
Guarin came on for Hernanes in the 24th minute as Inter tried to exact more ball possession as they had in the first half.
Zanetti came on for Jonathan in the 35th minute as Inter looked to hold onto their lead.
Unfortunately, the final result would come down to a mistake and Guarin's stray back pass did not reach intended target Samuel but Livorno striker Emeghara instead who leveled the score to bring the score line to 2-2.
Inter's performance was underwhelming and the Nerazzurri should win games like today. The inconsistency reflected by Inter this season has only made the quest for European competition that more challenging. Understandably, resting players who played midweek like Guarin, Cambiasso, Nagatomo are important in staving off injury but in facing a side battling regulation, it is inexcusable not to bring home three points and a victory. Additionally, the continued absence of Kovacic from both the starting lineup as well as playing altogether is alarming especially facing a Livorno side filled with five Inter products.
If the Nerazzurri have any hopes in salvaging this season, then changes need to be made in maintaining mental focus, defensive intensity, and incorporating game changing players like Kovacic into the lineup.
Inter with 49 points now trail 4th placed Fiorentina by three points as they sit in 5th place. They are closely followed by 6th placed Parma with 47, 7th placed Atalanta with 46, 8th placed Lazio with 45, 9th placed Hellas Verona with 43, and 10th placed Milan with 42 rounding up the first half of the table.
The Nerazzurri face 17th placed Bologna and 12th placed Sampdoria, before they face 6th placed Parma and 3rd placed Napoli. The final three matches of the season include the derby match away against Milan, home versus Lazio, and away against Chievo.
It is gut check time for Inter and while the Nerazzurri have whittled away opportunities to challenge for Champions League, it is not too late to secure a Europa league berth if the players and coach rise up for the occasion.
Livorno 2-2 Inter
First half: Hernanes 37', Palacio 46'
Second half: Paulinho 9', Emeghara 40'