The draw against Chievo Verona hurt Inter's chances for the Europa League, but favorable results from others allowed them to still have a chance. This week Inter took on Lazio and though the Roman side was flying high in 3rd place, Mancini knew that points were absolutely vital for them to stay in the hunt for European competition.
The only change from the side that took on Chievo is that Brozovic was replaced in midfield for Kovacic. Juan Jesus continued to play at LB and though Hernanes did not have a great match against Chievo, he was able to keep Shaqiri out and start against his former club.
Lazio started off the game better and took the lead after just nine minutes. Some good interplay between Candreva and Anderson left Candreva a chance at the center of the box and he slotted home although Handanovic got a glove to the ball. Inter tried to respond a few minutes later through Icardi but he seemed to have too much time to think and shot well over the bar.
Lazio was in the ascendancy and tried to extend their lead. Handanovic had to make a good save from Parolo and the rebound effort was going in but Ranocchia was there to clear the ball with a diving header.
In the 24th minute everything changed. Mauricio brought down Palacio and since he was the last man he was also sent off. The Argentine attacker did go down a little easily but it was a last man challenge so the ref was entitled to the decision he made. From the resulting free kick Inter were level. Instead of the usual smashing shot meant to get over the wall, Hernanes opted for a low shot around the wall that settled into the bottom left corner. At first it looked like he would not celebrate against his old team but he ended up going for his typical back flip, much to the disapproval of the home fans.
Inter now had a man advantage and it showed in their possession play. The team also pushed for the go-ahead goal before the break through Icardi Palacio and Vidic but none of them really threatened Lazio goalkeeper Marchetti. A free kick before the end of the half was much more dangerous though, with Guarin forcing a great save. The Colombian international did look like he hurt himself on the shout, and though he did return for the end of the half, he was unable to come out at the start of the second and was replaced by Podolski.
The second half saw saves from both keepers, Handanovic keeping out Klose and Marchetti stopping Hernanes from his second. In the 61st minute Icardi was brought down by Marchetti and the referee pointed to the spot and also sent off Marchetti. 2nd choice keeper Berisha came on for Klose and his first action on the pitch was guessing correctly and saving a weak Icardi penalty.
Like the match against Udinese, Inter were playing against 9 men and fans were hoping that the match would not be as uncomfortable as that one had been. Inter had all of the possesssion now as Lazio were sitting back and holding on to the draw. For the longest time Inter were unable to break down the capital city side and were either stuck passing the ball back and forth, or finally getting the ball forward for a shot to be wasted.
Finally in the 84th minute Hernanes finished breaking the hearts of his former fans. Kovacic performed an absolutely beautiful overhead flick to find Palacio, whose back heel left Hernanes through with only the keeper to beat and he coolly slotted the ball home. From there Inter were able to pretty much cruise to their victory, though there was some slight Lazio push back towards the end but it wasn't anything too worrying.
Things to note:
- Kovacic got the start in this match and while he was fairly effective at first, he really came into his own once the team switched to a 4231. While a lot of this can be due to the fact that there was much more space for him to work in with Lazio down two men, he also made a lot of good defensive contributions while there were more players on the pitch. His overhead flick that led up to the game-winning goal was just spectacular. Let's not sell him...
- After a couple of effective displays, Podolski was back to his usualy self. He messed up 3 good chances to give Inter back the lead, and completely missed a volley later on. Both Mancini and Wenger have both stated that he will be returning to Arsenal at the end of his loan and I don't think many Inter fans will be too disappointing in him.
- Shaqiri honestly must be wondering what on earth he has to do to play a game. After the Chievo match the Swiss international must have hoped to start this match over Hernanes, but for the 6th game in a row now he saw the start of the game from the bench, and for the 3rd time he did not see any game time. During the period when Inter were pressing for a goal against 9 men many fans were calling for Shaqiri's introduction into the match and though Hernanes did eventually get the winning goal, his creativity on the pitch could have helped. Mancini has said that the former Bayern player is young and will get more opportunities in time but if the situation calls for a player like him one must wonder why he is not playing. Hernanes did pick up a booking in this match which puts him over the limit and suspends him for Saturday's match against Juventus so Shaqiri will probably break his bench streak next weekend.
- Speaking of the Brazilian midfielder, Hernanes followed up his lackluster performance in the last round with 2 good goals today. He is really making it hard for Mancini to play anybody else in the trequartista position and his performances have been inspired recently. Lazio president Lotito spoke earlier about how selling Hernanes was "a masterstroke" and his recent matches (and especially his goals today) must be making Lotito regret those words. Even though he was playing agianst his old club, Hernanes still celebrated scoring, and after the match said that his actions were not directed against the Lazio fans, but against Lotito for those comments. (Tip: next time wait until after you're done playing against a former player before you try antagonizing him...)