Inter’s last Serie A match saw the team collapse in the second half allowing Cagliari to win. After an unimpressive but vital win in the Europa League on Thursday, Inter faced Atalanta in a Nerazzurri Derby needing a Serie A win and hoping for a good showing to go along with that. We got neither.
Ever Banega didn’t play midweek so everybody expected him to start this match but Frank De Boer decided to surprise us and bench him for reasons I look forward to hearing about in the post-game press conference. Instead he stuck with the 433 from the midweek match with Yuto Nagatomo and Davide Santon flanking Miranda and Jeison Murillo plus a midfield of Marcelo Brozovic, Gary Medel, and Joao Mario. The front line was made up of Ivan Perisic, Mauro Icardi, and Eder.
Atalanta roared out of the gates and immediately put Inter under pressure. The home side targeted Inter’s right flank and proceeded to expose Nagatomo time and time again. They took the lead in the 10th minute from a corner, Jasmin Kurtić got in front of his marker and flicked the ball to the back post for Andrea Masiello to head home. Atalanta didn’t let off after the goal, they employed a heavy pressing system to destabilize Inter to make sure nobody had time on the ball to make the right pass. Joao Mario looked rattled, Brozovic looked worse, and oftentimes the ball just ended up at the feet of Handanovic who just had to boot it away and give possession back to the team in front. This system of pressing and then attacking down Inter’s right side through Boukary Dramé produced a lot of crosses but not many that found a target thankfully. Samir Handanović did have to be alert though to stop chances from Andrea Conti and Rafael Tolói. Inter went into the break thankful that the score was only 1-0.
I was going to leave my first half recap at that but then I realized those who didn’t see this match and just reading this article would think, “oh ok that was a pretty poor half but not worse than some of the other games so far this season”. No this was awful. This was worse than Chievo, worse than Hapoel, worse than Southampton, and worse than Sparta Prague. The Inter players couldn’t string two or three passes together if their lives depended on it, and until around the 30th minute nobody was willing to run at the Atalanta players and take the initiative rather than just waiting for the opposition to swarm them. Mauro Icardi was so isolated that he might as well have not been playing, and Nagatomo looked like an old horse that needed to be taken behind the barn and put down. It was that ugly. If Atalanta had been the slightest bit clinical or more accurate with their crossing the scoreline would’ve seen the home side up probably by 3 goals. Oh and I almost forgot to mention how Gary Medel elbowed Kurtic in the head and will likely pick up a retroactive ban since the referee missed it.
Despite what was probably the worst 45 minutes Inter has played all season, the team started the second half without making any substitutions. Yet because hope is the most dangerous emotion a fan can feel, Inter leveled the scoreline in the 50th minute. From a free kick 30 yards out Eder hit a perfect strike that beat Etrit Berisha. Suddenly the away side had a bit of energy and the players were willing to find space for passes. That only lasted a few minutes though before Atalanta wrested control of the game back, forcing Handanovic and Murillo to save Inter no less than 5 times in 12 minutes.
Now I want you to imagine that you’re the manager of Inter. You’re feeling quite a bit of pressure and you know a win would do a lot of good for your cause. The game is tied 1-1 but you know that Atalanta has been getting a lot of joy down Inter’s right flank all match so you pull Nagatomo for Cristian Ansaldi. That’s an acceptable move to deny the home side an easy target on the counter as Inter pushes for the go-ahead goal, one that could’ve been made at halftime but that’s just nitpicking. Next you decide to change something up in the midfield. Marcelo Brozović has been playing poorly all game (he didn’t play all that well in midweek either so who knows why you started him today but whatever) so you decide to substitute him. Do you bring on creative genius Ever Banega? Nope. Do you bring on Assane Gnoukouri, who won’t bring a whole lot of positive forward play but won’t make any major mistakes? Nah. You decide to bring on the midfield version of Andrea Ranocchia, Geoffrey Kondogbia. As one can expect he made no major contributions and probably came close to giving the ball away in his 28+ minutes on the pitch as many time as Brozovic during his 62 minutes. Finally you send on Antonio Candreva for goalscorer Eder. I’m not really mad at that switch I’m still just a little bitter over the second one. Why not send on Banega? Hell why not go for broke and send on Mr. Unpredictable Gabriel Barbosa? A draw wasn’t going to do much good and the team didn’t even walk away with that anyways.
Returning from that little rant to the events that occurred on the pitch Inter had a couple of good chances after Atalanta’s flurry of opportunities from the 59th to 71st minute. Icardi (perhaps inadvertently) laid the ball off for Perisic but his shot was saved while Joao Mario lined up a good shot that was luckily deflected right into the arms of Berisha. A minute later it all fell apart for Inter. Franck Kessié cut inside and for some reason Santon slid and took him down for a penalty. Handanovic got a hand to Mauricio Pinilla’s strike but it was just too powerful for the goalkeeper to keep out.
Inter is now in 14th place with 11 points from 9 matches. I hate firing coaches so early in a season. I especially hate it when it’s a coach that just came in for the new season. I hate it even more when it’s a coach that came in 12 days before the start of the season and is trying to implement a new style of play. But at this point I’m running out of defenses for him. At least in the early matches of the season we could see flashes of what FdB wanted from this team: a smart tactical pressing system, control of the midfield, smart passes, a more involved Icardi, and accurate crosses with the winger from the other side plus a midfielder running in to support the striker. But ever since the Roma loss those plans seem to have gone out the window. Either De Boer has been so desperate for points he decided to revert to what he thought would be a more simple style of play to buy him more time, the players just seemed to forget what they learned while away for international duty, or they just aren’t trying anymore. The heat on Inter just got cranked up. Will management stand by earlier statements to give De Boer more time, or will they succumb to the pressure and fire him?