As the Nerazzurri players traveled to Genoa to face Sampdoria in hopes of turning around Inter's recent bout of poor form on the pitch, heading into round 33 most of the talk was about the sordid love triangle between Lopez, Icardi, and Nara. Although the headlines were filled with storylines that only the most imaginative of Hollywood screenwriters could only script, considering Inter's current lackluster performance and results, it would be imperative for the players not to be distracted by any personal drama and to maintain full focus on the task at hand, obtaining a victory and three important points to continue the challenge for European football for next season.
Overshadowed by some of the personal drama that had spilled onto the pitch was the return to the starting lineup of the young Croatian international, Kovacic. It had been nearly two months since his last start and his appearance amongst the starters for Inter could only be a positive focal point for the Nerazzurri.
Official Lineups from the Inter site:
INTER (3-5-2): Handanovic; Ranocchia, Samuel, Rolando; D'Ambrosio, Hernanes, Cambiasso, Kovacic, Nagatomo; Icardi, Palacio
Substitutes: Castellazzi, Carrizo, Zanetti, Andreolli, Campagnaro, Alvarez, Guarin, Kuzmanovic, Taider, Botta, Milito
Coach: Walter Mazzarri.
SAMPDORIA (4-2-3-1): Da Costa; De Silvestri, Mustafi, Gastaldello, Regini; Palombo, Obiang; Sansone, Soriano, Eder; Maxi Lopez.
Substitutes: Fiorillo, Costa, Salamon, Fornasier, Renan, Sesti, Bjarnason, Lombardo, Krsticic, Wszolek, M. Rodriguez, Okaka.
Manager: Nenad Sakić
[Note: Sampdoria head coach, Siniša Mihajlović, was unavailable on the bench as he served a suspension.]
Officials: Valeri, Posado, Tasso, Ghiandai, Celi, Di Paolo
(Please click here for the Live Match Thread and comments).
Mazzarri kept his familiar 3-5-2 formation but with one important change to the lineup, the reintroduction of Kovacic into the midfield. The starting XI consisted of Handanovic in goal; Ranocchia, Samuel, and Rolando in a three man defense; D'Ambrosio, Hernanes, Cambiasso, Kovacic, and Nagatomo in midfield; and Icardi and Palacio up top.
While most of the players were trying to go about their normal business, only the slightest indication showed the tension that had now spilled onto the field of play. Prior to the match, Lopez and Icardi did not shake hands and this would only serve to accentuate the off field drama that had now spilled onto the field.
Both sides came out of the gates attacking and were intent on taking all three points. The first few moments of the match was quite open as both sides took possession and tried their hands at goal.
Icardi scored in the 13th minute as Palacio crossed a perfect ball onto the feet of the young Argentine striker who found the back of the net to bring Inter the one goal lead. An unwritten rule for most players who face their former clubs is to not celebrate if or when they score goals. Unfortunately for the Sampdoria supporters, as Icardi scored the exceptional goal, he demonstratively celebrated which provoked the home crowd to jeer him as well as prompting the referee to award a yellow card for his goal celebration.
Sampdoria player, Costa, while on the bench also received a yellow card in the 15th minute for protesting Icardi's goal celebration. The young Argentine's actions post goal scored seemed to be adding fuel to the fire to an already tense situation.
In the 18th minute, Ranocchia fouled Gastaldello in the box and the home side was awarded a penalty. As Lopez stepped up to attempt to convert the penalty kick, Inter keeper Handanovic guessed right and saved another Lopez shot (the Nerazzurri keeper had already saved a shot in the 10th minute from the vengeful seeking striker).
Handanovic with an incredible save to keep the Inter lead over Sampdoria at 0-1.
Heads were already heated and in the 20th minute things steamed up on the pitch even more. Eder dove just outside of the Inter box and received a yellow card for simulation. Tensions boiled over and Eder let his temper get the best of him as he tried to get into a physical altercation with Handanovic. A second yellow card was given to the Sampdoria player in the 21st minute and the Genovese side was now down to ten men on the pitch. Could the Nerazzurri capitalize on the man advantage?
In the 28th minute, Ranocchia received a yellow card as he fouled Lopez. The Italian defender will miss the next match due to a yellow card accumulation.
Lopez in the 33rd minute forced yet another magnificent save from Handanovic as Sampdoria still tried to equalize despite their man disadvantage.
Handanovic had another save as Sampdoria tried to score in a counter attack in the 45th minute of play as Soriano fired a missile towards goal.
The eventful first half ended with Inter leading Sampdoria, 0-1.
Although the first half was filled with high drama that stemmed from both on and off the pitch histrionics, the half time break was much needed as both sides came out with more level heads and the players concentrated on the game at hand.
Inter came out dominating possession as they took full advantage of being a player up. What was lost in the first half due to personal storylines and the drama that followed the players onto the pitch was Kovacic's midfield presence. The young Croatian influenced many plays both offensively and defensively as well as a few attempts at goal himself. Kovacic's had a solid performance even though he has hardly had an opportunity to showcase his talents to the frustration of many Interisti.
In the 9th minute of the second half Kovacic won the ball with a great tackle putting his defensive skills on full display for all to see.
Hernanes took a corner in the 15th minute and Samuel rose to the occasion as he powered home a header for goal to bring the Nerazzurri lead to a two goal margin over Sampdoria.
Beautiful play between Kovacic and Palacio eventually led to an Icardi goal in the 18th minute as the young Argentine scored his second of the match to bring the Inter tally to three goals to Sampdoria's nil. The Nerazzurri took full advantage of a tired home side that had played most of the match with a man down.
The first substitute for the Nerazzurri came in the 23rd minute as Mazzarri smartly subbed off Icardi for midfielder Alvarez. With Inter running up the score and taking into consideration Icardi's personal drama and his jeer received goal celebration, his exit from the pitch was probably best to protect him from possible retribution or acts of frustration from the opposition.
In the 30th minute, Taider was substituted on for midfielder Hernanes.
Former Genoa man, Palacio surely mustered up a Derby Della Lanterna-esque performance as he followed up another solid performance with a well-deserved goal to bring Inter to a four goal lead over home side, Sampdoria.
The last Nerazzurri substitute was in the 40th minute, as another former Genoa striker and Inter legend, Milito, came on for Kovacic. Although Mazzarri's Inter was already up four goals to nil, the coach seemed intent to continue to attack and possibly build upon the already soaring confidence of the players on the pitch.
While tomorrow's headlines will surely play upon the personal drama that seemed to spill onto the pitch, the Inter performance even considering their man advantage, was what should be celebrated and focused on. The Nerazzurri not only won the match despite the off pitch drama, they did so in a resounding fashion with a four goal margin albeit with a man advantage. The match ended with the score line of 0-4 in favor of Inter.
It will be interesting to see how President Thohir reacts to the negative headlines involving Icardi as the new Inter owner has made it an important focal point to brand the Nerazzurri globally. Thohir has already made positive waves by securing the free signing of veteran Manchester United defender, Vidic but the recent headlines may not be as welcomed for the Beneamata. The details of the Icardi, Lopez, and Nara love triangle have attracted global attention and more importantly, the story seems to only gather more steam rather than die down. This type of personal situation is usually handled behind closed doors but the continued bad press seems to have placed Inter in a precarious situation, a club often associated with the class of Zanetti has now become a butt of jokes. Many Interisti are hopeful that this is not the direction that the new owner is taking in terms of publicity and that the legacy of class and integrity are maintained at Inter. Thohir not only has his hands full in developing a winning squad for the future but also maintaining a classy Inter image to market internationally. This summer transfer market will be eventful for Inter as it will determine the direction the Nerazzurri will be heading into as all eyes throughout the world watch the identity of the new Inter.
Inter are now still in 5th place in league standings with 53 points, as they now trail 4th placed Fiorentina by five points. Next week's match against 6th placed Parma will be important and hopefully the Nerazzurri can continue the type of ball possession (56% versus Sampdoria's 44%) and the bountiful goal conversion ratio they demonstrated today, as Inter converted four out of their six shots on target.
The Nerazzurri will face Parma (away), Napoli (home), Milan (away), Lazio (home), and Chievo (away), to round out the season. It is now time to put aside excuses and distractions and to fight for every result from here on out if Inter hope to qualify for European competition next season.
Man of the Match:
Samir Handanovic with six saves on the day including a saved penalty kick.
Sampdoria 0-4 Inter:
First half: Icardi 13'
Second half: Samuel 15', Icardi 18', Palacio 33'