After two long weeks Inter returned to action following the October international break, hosting Cagliari at San Siro in a match that they knew they couldn’t afford to mess up. With that in mind Frank de Boer named what is most likely the strongest starting XI at his disposal, picking Ivan Perisic, Ever Banega and Antonio Candreva in support of Mauro Icardi, who was involved in a nasty exchange of words with the Curva Nord on Sunday morning (details of which can be found here and here) but played up front nonetheless. Cristian Ansaldi and Davide Santon retained their places in the full-back area while Miranda and Jeison Murillo both started despite a tiring international period for the pair, with both Andrea Ranocchia and Felipe Melo unavailable due to injury problems. Massimo Rastelli surprisingly left Marco Borriello out of Cagliari’s XI meanwhile, preferring Federico Melchiorri in attack with Marco Sau, who scored the opening goal in the Rossoblu’s shocking 4-1 win at San Siro in September 2014.
In keeping with Inter’s concerning tendency this season to always concede the first goal of the game, the first big chance of the afternoon fell to the visitors as Luca Ceppitelli headed just over from a corner. It wasn’t a sign of things to come however, as from that moment onwards until half-time Cagliari struggled to even make it out of their own half. After the early let-off Inter dominated the opening 45 minutes without a single risk run at the back, although the dominance was more territorial than anything else. For the amount of time the team spent on the edge of the away side’s box, clear-cut chances were few and far between, with only Candreva managing to get a shot on goal in the first 20 minutes as he scuffed a difficult volley wide.
It was midway through the half that the biggest chance to take the lead arrived, as referee Paolo Valeri awarded Inter a penalty after Bruno Alves put his hands in Icardi’s face and pushed him to the floor. It took the officials an age to point to the spot, but in the end the assistant referee probably got in his colleague’s ear to inform him of what he had seen. Unfortunately it was to be a chance that went begging, as Icardi continued his troubled Sunday by firing wide and letting Cagliari off the hook.
Cagliari responded with a blocked shot from Simone Padoin on the counterattack, but soon enough the Nerazzurri were back in control as crosses rained into Marco Storari’s box. The problem was that practically none of them were able to pick out an Inter player, with too few men attacking the penalty area and not enough movement from those who were. Joao Mario tried his luck from distance on a couple of occasions but both shots went wide of the target, and thus the first half ended goalless.
From the moment the second 45 got underway it was clear that Cagliari had found some courage. Rastelli’s side started the brighter and caused confusion in the Inter back-line, with former Milan player Davide Di Gennaro curling wide from the edge of the box before Samir Handanovic produced a miraculous double save, denying both Melchiorri and Sau in quick succession.
Inter were suddenly all over the place in defence, but at that precise moment they found the opening goal with a nice counter-attack. Joao Mario spread the play wide to Perisic and then got into the box, where Ivan picked him out with a nice cut-back and the Portuguese midfielder scored his first goal in Serie A after Storari saved his initial attempt. For once, we hadn’t conceded the first goal in a match and were ahead after 55 minutes.
Unfortunately that was where the good news ended, because the 35 minutes that followed were a complete and utter catastrophe, from every single point of view. Straight from the kick-off Cagliari went up the other end and drew another amazing save out of Handanovic, who pushed Di Gennaro’s fierce volley to safety, and from there the pattern for the remainder of the game had been set. After a very cautious first half the visitors were suddenly throwing men forward, and Inter didn’t like it whatsoever.
The next clear-cut chance of the match came for Icardi ten minutes later, but this was just not his day at all and so predictably he headed wide from Ansaldi’s inviting cross. And within three minutes of that opportunity being wasted it was 1-1, as Melchiorri scored a messy equaliser with Miranda and Murillo both unable to intercept Di Gennaro’s chipped ball forward. There was a suspicion of offside, but Murillo did touch the ball as it came through to Melchiorri and so the officials must have decided it was a voluntary attempt to play the ball.
If Interisti had hoped that conceding would wake their team up, then they were to be disappointed in the most crushing manner possible. Eder and Gnoukouri replaced Candreva and Banega but neither had any kind of impact on the game, as both De Boer and his players descended into total confusion with a flat home crowd unable to believe what they were seeing. Crosses continued to be flung in from all angles, but they were all hopelessly inaccurate and Cagliari had no trouble at all in maintaining their shape and clearing them away, with no ideas left in the Nerazzurri’s tank. De Boer’s substitutions had not paid off in the slightest, but he saved his weirdest change until last when Jovetic came on for Ansaldi with ten minutes to play, a move that did nothing but confirm the fact that his side had absolutely no idea what it was supposed to be doing.
And with that in mind, it was very little surprise when Cagliari completed an astonishing turnaround with just over five minutes left. Handanovic came flying out of his goal to meet a corner but missed the ball, allowing it to run to Melchiorri on the far side, whose cross deflected off Murillo, then onto the post and then in off Handanovic, who couldn’t prevent himself sliding over the goal-line. It was a very strange and slightly unfortunate goal from our point of view, but it was impossible to begrudge Cagliari their lead as they had been the only team looking for another goal with any grain of lucidity.
In the seven or eight minutes that were left to play after that, Inter failed to create a single chance of note to salvage at least a point from the game – if anything, it was Cagliari who should have extended their lead with two more huge Handanovic saves, first on substitute Marco Borriello and second from former Juventus player Simone Padoin. But neither would be left to rue their missed chances, because before long the final whistle sounded and the game ended 2-1 to the away side, who notched up their second consecutive away win against Inter after the 4-1 success in their last top-flight campaign.
In short, it’s hard to think of any way this day could have gone any worse for us. After a first half in which were in complete control but never really gave the impression of being dangerous, I cannot emphasise enough just how much of an embarrassing, humiliating, shameful shambles the second half was. For once we managed to go in front in a match but we had no idea how to manage that lead, as the team totally lost its collective head in a quite extraordinary manner and were quite rightly made to pay for it. De Boer mustn’t be exempt from criticism either, as his changes were shambolically ineffective and only contributed to the increasing anarchy on the pitch, almost as if he was inviting Cagliari to punish our frightening lack of creativity and organisation. And then there’s Icardi, who spent the entire day getting booed by the Curva Nord and put in one of his worst performances in an Inter shirt – and it’s hard to imagine those two things are unrelated. If our dear ultras wanted to destabilise their team with their pathetic behaviour in the stands, chanting and unveiling banners against our captain, then they can give themselves a big pat on the back because they succeeded magnificently.
What a nightmarish day for all concerned. Dear oh dear.