Inter came into this match knowing a win was the only result that would make fans happy. Poor form both in Serie A and the Europa League meant that pressure was high, and the club’s Europa League campaign was on the line. Off the field issues weren’t exactly great either, so a win was even more necessary to bring a smile back to the faces of the players, management, and fans.
Frank De Boer switched things up for this game and went with a 433. Samir Handanovic stayed in the starting lineup thankfully (no offense to Carrizo but Handa’s heroics were needed today), while Andrea Ranocchia’s red card against Sparta Prague meant Miranda partnered Jeison Murillo at the back flanked by Yuto Nagatomo and Davide Santon. In the midfield Gary Medel was in between Assane Gnoukouri and Marcelo Brozovic, while Mauro Icardi had Eder and Antonio Candreva on the wings to support him.
Inter almost took the lead in the 3rd minute. Cuco Martina sent a poor backpass to his goalkeeper which Icardi intercepted but at such a tight angle he could only back heel and Forster was able to block it. The next chance occurred in the 8th minute when Miranda decided against jumping for a long ball and allowed Jay Rodriguez to run through but he tried to cut inside and allowed the defender to get back and stop a shot. Nagatomo came up big in the 28th minute when Southampton almost scored on the counter and the Japanese defender had to clear the ball off the line. The away side cranked up the intensity from there with James Ward-Prowse flashing a shot just over and Martina sending in a cross that Long flicked on just a second ahead of an onrushing Rodriguez. Inter’s only real chance on goal in the first half was a shot from Eder just outside the box that went side.
While the first 45 minutes wasn’t as awful as the opening periods against Hapoel or Sparta, it was still fairly bad. Nobody looked particularly motivated to either get open for a pass or run at the Southampton players and force them to make a tackle. The away side was more than willing to sit deep and let Inter have possession with the defenders and Brozovic (and the Croatian’s time off the pitch was showing).
The second half saw the away side forced into an early substitution when Shane Long injured what looked to be his hamstring and had to be replaced by Charlie Austin. The home side improved a bit after the break, with Gnoukouri taking a much more active role in the match. Him and Eder combined to find Icardi who could only shoot high, and then the young midfielder ran and the Southampton defense before picking out Icardi whose shot was blocked by a sliding Virgil van Dijk.
Even with Inter starting to improve it was a bit of a surprise when they took the lead in the 67th minute. Santon sent in a low cross and Candreva ran onto the ball to smash a left-footed shot in off the underside of the crossbar. The goal galvanized Inter but that confidence only lasted about 11 minutes when Brozovic got a second yellow for an unnecessary tackle (his first booking was no better, a late late slide tackle after the Southampton player had already passed the ball). He didn’t have a night to remember and it surely wasn’t how he wanted to return to the side after spending so much time out of it.
The English side poured forward looking for an equalizer after the Nerazzurri were reduced to 10 min. A free kick saw Van Dijk’s volley forcing Handanovic to make an incredible point blank save due to Inter’s frustrating habit of keeping a very high line when defending set pieces. The same man headed off a corner and Nagatomo stepped up again to clear off the line before Handanovic had another huge save stopping Austin late on. The home side held on through 5 minutes of extra time to pick up all three points.
This wasn’t a great performance. It wasn’t even a good performance, but for now all that matters is that Inter got a win. The club now has a shot at surviving in the EL, but more wins are needed from the remaining 3 matches. The players won’t always be as lucky as they were today so they’ll have to do better if they want to keep picking up points.