Inter played hosts to Empoli in the final match of this Serie A season. Though a lot of the season had been disappointing, there was still cause for motivation going into the game. Inter still had a chance to make the Europa League provided they won and Sampdoria lost their game against Parma. Also, key striker Mauro Icardi was still in the running for the "capocannoniere" top goalscorer award for the league, only two goals behind Luca Toni. So there was optimism that the Nerazzurri would close out the season with a win and a few goals for Icardi.
With Vidic out injured, Felipe slotted alongside Ranocchia in central defense flanked by Nagatomo and Juan Jesus. The midfield trio of Kovacic, Medel, and Brozovic remained unchanged. Up top saw the usual Argentine pairing of Palacio and Icardi supported by Hernanes.
Inter came out wearing the home kit they will be using for next season. I will admit it took me half a second to get used to seeing them in the usual black and blue stripes but I'm glad the classic look is back. Icardi also came out of the tunnel with his new daughter, Francesca Icardi.
The first half was controlled by Inter. Nagatomo started with a long range effort that Bassi was able to tip over the bar, and Brozovic, Palacio, and Icardi all tried to open the scoring in the first 45 minutes but were unable to. Throughout all this pressure Empoli were unable to get a single shot on goal in the first half. Not for a lack of trying, the Inter players found themselves tied 0-0 at the break. (Also during the first half Felipe got injured and had to be replaced by Santon, who wasn't originally starting because...Mancini logic.)
Whatever Mancini said to the players during the halftime interval seemed to work because they stormed out of the gates and took Empoli by surprise in the opening minutes of the second half. In the 49th minute a Kovacic through ball found Icardi in space and instead of taking the chance himself, he selflessly played the ball across for Palacio to score in an empty net.
4 minutes later Icardi would get his goal. Another Kovacic through ball went straight through the Empoli defense for Icardi to run clear onto goal and curl the ball into the bottom corner. At this point Inter looked like they would be cruising towards an easy victory and would just try to pad the scoreline to help Icardi's bid to overtake Luca Toni on the goalscoring charts.
But then as soon as things looked simple, the other side of Inter showed up. The "I don't know what I'm watching but it's definitely not defending" Inter. Just 6 minutes after Icardi had doubled the lead Vecino beat Santon and his cross that took a deflection off Ranocchia found an unmarked Mchedlidze to head home.
Before there was even a chance to truly digest what had happened Empoli were level. 3 minutes after making the scoreline 2-1 Pucciarelli shrugged off a challenge from Ranocchia to drive the ball past Handanovic in the 62nd minute.
Both sides pushed for a third goal. Mchedlidze was one on one with Handanovic but his effort was saved and the rebound blocked while Brozovic sent his shot into the stands after being set up by Palacio. Brozovic would get his goal in the 70th minute though. The ball fell kindly to him in the area and he lashed it past Bassi to score his first goal for the Nerazzurri.
Icardi skied an effort in the 75th minute before getting his second in the 77th minute. Hernanes found the young Argentine in the area and he slotted home to restore Inter's two goal advantage.
And again as soon as things looked settled, Empoli decided to make the Inter fans sweat again. Mchedlidze shot from the edge of the box and scored leaving Handanovic rooted to the spot in the 88th minute. Inter were not really troubled for the rest of the match though and Mancini was able to give Federico Dimarco (17 year old Primavera defender) his Serie A debut in the dying minutes of the game.
Though Inter were able to secure victory Sampdoria got a draw against Parma which was enough to make sure they held on to 7th place and kept Inter in 8th just outside a Europa League position.
While finishing the season in 8th place is a disappointment there are reasons to be optimistic for next season:
- Icardi's two goals saw him finish with 22 league goals, level with Luca Toni for the "capocannoniere" and with him only being 22, Mancini believes he will only continue to improve.
- Kovacic had another good game and his performances lately have been improving, so provided he is not sold then he will be an important component to next season (in his post-match comments Mancini spoke of his desire to keep the young Croatian midfielder).
- Inter has a very young core that Mancini can build around (Icardi, Kovacic, JJ, Shaqiri, and Brozovic) and Thohir has promised investment in the summer transfer window.
- With Mancini at the helm fans finally have a coach they can stand behind and trust to improve the team.
- Without European football next season the team can focus on the league and returning to the Champions League for the 16/17 season.
All together many fans are optimistic that this was the last "Year Zero" and the 15/16 season can finally see Inter returning back up the Serie A table to where this historic team belongs.