Inter came into today's fixture with a seven game unbeaten streak (in all competitions) and were looking to extend their good form against Cagliari at home. Would the Nerazzurri continue this positive turn of events or did Zeman and Cagliari have something more sinister in mind?
Please click here for the Live Match Thread.
Official Lineups from the Inter site:
Inter: 1 Handanovic; 6 Andreolli, 15 Vidic, 5 Juan Jesus; 55 Nagatomo, 88 Hernanes, 18 Medel, 10 Kovacic, 22 Dodò; 8 Palacio, 7 Osvaldo
Substitutes: 30 Carrizo, 46 Berni, 9 Icardi, 13 Guarin, 17 Kuzmanovic, 20 Obi, 23 Ranocchia, 25 Mbaye, 28 Puscas, 33 D'Ambrosio, 44 Krhin, 90 M'Vila
Cagliari: 27 Cragno; 21 Balzano, 32 Ceppitelli, 15 Rossettini, 8 Avelar; 16 Dessena, 4 Crisetig, 20 Ekdal; 23 Ibarbo, 25 Sau, 7 Cossu
Substitutes: 28 Carboni, 3 Murru, 9 Longo, 10 Joa Pedro, 13 Caio Rangel, 14 Pisano, 17 Farias, 30 Donsah, 33 Capuano
The Nerazzurri started out slowly and let the visitors get the best of them as Cagliari's Sau took advantage of sloppy defending by scoring an early goal in the 10th minute.
Inter equalized as Palacio provided Osvaldo with a sublime kick which the Argentine striker easily placed in the back of the net in the 18th minute.
Interisti felt a surge of hope as the score line leveled with Osvaldo's goal. That hope was short-lived as dubious defending added to even more skeptical officiating that resulted in a yellow card for Nagatomo (25') and an even quicker second yellow card (27') ultimately leading to his expulsion. The Japanese international wore the captain's arm band for a brief stint before he exited the field.
The home side was down to ten men and it looked as if Mazzarri's men could only hope for a point at the Meazza.
The day went from bad to worse as Cagliari seemed to have a break out game against Inter. Juve cast off, Ekdal, scored a hat-trick as he scored in the 29th, 34th, and 45th minutes of the first half.
Although Vidic has had a nightmare of a time regarding his domestic defensive performances including bringing Sau down in the box in the 42nd minute, fortuitously for the Nerazzurri faithful, Inter goalkeeping sensation Handanovic saved Cossu's attempt which at the time kept the score line at 1-3. Unfortunately for Inter, Ekdal scored more goals in one half than he had from 2008 until today's match since being let go by his former owners, Juventus.
As the Nerazzurri began the second half with a 1-4 score line and a three goal deficit to attempt to make up, it was a similar display as the first half performance as perhaps being a player down was too much to overcome.
La Beneamata were not fortunate on this day. Not only an expulsion and a penalty call were awarded against them but also a goal was called offside making the situation go from bad to worse. (Osvaldo scored a goal in the 52nd minute of the second half but the referee nullified the offside goal).
Although injury had relegated Icardi to the bench, the young Argentine striker came on for his compatriot, Palacio, in the 69th minute of play.
The Nerazzurri made a few attempts to score but the events of the day seemed to neutralize their efforts and the final whistle finally blew ending the misery for Interisti as the score line read, 1-4 in favor of the visitors.
As with any result that ends in a disastrous manner, the questions will inevitably surface as to who or what is to blame for the defeat. Is it due to the five matches played in 15 days? Are the players already fatigued due to participating in multiple competitions and the play and travel involved? Considering Vidic's difficulty transitioning to league play, is it a systemic problem and should Mazzarri try a four man defense that may be more favorable to the Serbian center back? Did the officials get more things wrong than right in the match (again?)
The questions will most certainly circulate and while the list of negatives are quite long and the blame could possibly be cast at a variety of individuals, one thing is certain, Mazzarri and the squad must have a better reaction and on field response as they host Europa League opponents, Qarabağ on Thursday, October 2, 2014 and travel away to league opponents Fiorentina (who sit in 9th place) on Sunday, October 5, 2014.
A few positives amongst the many criticisms is the return of Palacio to the attack (assisted Osvaldo's goal), Osvaldo is scoring (5 goals in all competitions this season thus far), and Handanovic is demonstrating fine form (previous to today's debacle, Inter had only conceded one goal and today the Inter keeper saved the penalty kick before Ekdal's final goal).
According to the Inter site, the Nerazzurri sit in 5th place after five weeks of domestic competition and while today's match was far from perfect, the race to a Champions League spot is far from over.
Inter 1-4 Cagliari
First half: Sau (10'), Osvaldo (18'), Ekdal (29', 24', and 45')
Second half: N/A