Inter walked out for their last home game of the season under the early evening sunshine at San Siro, hoping to secure the win that would mathematically guarantee a fourth-placed finish at the end of a rollercoaster campaign. To overcome an Empoli side who had long since secured their Serie A survival, Roberto Mancini made two changes from the team that had put in such a tame performance against Lazio six days previously, with Juan Jesus replacing the suspended Jeison Murillo and Felipe Melo coming in for Gary Medel. That meant Stevan Jovetic was given another chance to play from the start alongside Mauro Icardi in a 4-4-2 system, with Ivan Perisic and Marcelo Brozovic playing on the wings.
At times during this match it felt like we had leapt twelve months back in time. In a weird turn of fate Empoli were also the last team to travel to San Siro at the end of last season, and on that occasion they took part in a kamikaze end-of-season match where every tactical detail was thrown out of the window in the second half, ultimately ending 4-3 in our favour. This year's fixture effectively picked up from where last year's had left off, with an end-to-end first half between two teams who wanted to attack but in truth couldn't be bothered to defend that much. Or at all, in fact. After a series of half-chances in the opening knockings it was Inter who took the lead on 12 minutes, as Lorenzo Tonelli committed a terrible error that had shades of Andrea Ranocchia by sprinting up the pitch and failing to win the ball. Ivan Perisic countered into the space Empoli's unprepared defence had left him on the left wing, Stevan Jovetic made a forward run to push two men back towards the goal and Mauro Icardi smashed home his 16th goal of another impressive goal-scoring season.
With the early goal in the bag, it looked as if Mancini and the club had received the response they were looking for after last Sunday's shocking display at the Stadio Olimpico, but if anyone had envisaged a comfortable victory from that point onwards then they were in for an unwelcome surprise. Empoli had lost each of their last five away matches heading into this game - and they hadn't even managed as much a goal in on their travels since 21 February - but it was difficult to tell that Marco Giampaolo's men were on a such bad run of form, as they offered a very positive response to going behind and exposed the gigantic problems we have been suffering in midfield all season. Samir Handanovic did well to deny the evergreen Massimo Maccarone from a tight angle on the half-hour, but the visitors persisted and soon found a deserved equaliser through Manuel Pucciarelli, after more good work from the former Middlesbrough striker and some sloppy marking from Juan Jesus (who had previously saved us on two separate occasions, however).
Inter seemed extremely distracted for much of the first period, leaving Empoli to control the ball and inviting pressure onto themselves, but the moment their lead had vanished they immediately came to life again and scored a second goal through Perisic. Icardi and Jovetic combined well on the edge of the Empoli box before the latter's shot was parried into the six-yard box by Alberto Pelagotti, where the Croatian arrived to tap into an empty net. That was in the 40th minute, and to all intents and purposes that was where the game ended.
After an enjoyable first half the second was an entirely different story, with Empoli controlling the ball for large periods but creating almost nothing with it. Inter barely managed either a shot on goal or three consecutive passes until Marco Di Bello blew his final whistle, spending too much time camped in their own half after failing to maintain possession. It was a complete waste of 45 minutes that nobody will ever get back, in other words. The only noteworthy event after the interval was Mauro Icardi picking up a thigh injury on 67 minutes, pulling up after trying to reach a nice pass from Kondogbia and immediately withdrawing himself from the action as a precaution. The severity of the issue will make very little difference to us as we have nothing left to play for in our final match, but let's hope Maurito doesn't have anything too serious all the same.
From thereon in Inter were content to sit back and protect their one-goal advantage, which eventually gained them their 20th victory of the season and mathematically assured them of a fourth-placed finish. That means we are guaranteed to enter next season's UEFA Europa League at the group stage, without having to negotiate any preliminary rounds, regardless of what happens in the Coppa Italia Final.
In summary, this was a classic end-of-season match that was enjoyable in parts but didn't teach us anything new. We did our best to throw away the win towards the end, but fortunately Empoli had spent so much energy that they couldn't take advantage of our collective slackness. They would have deserved a draw for the enterprise with which they played, but they didn't get it, and frankly nobody gives a hoot anyway. The best player on the pitch for me was Perisic, who racked up another assist and goal and was one of the few who continued to cause Empoli problems in the second half, while our worst performer was Felipe Melo, who just did what Felipe Melo does for 90 minutes.
Don't worry, we're nearly there. Only 90 minutes to go now.