Inter Milan played host to Bologna today hoping to extend the winning streak to four matches. Late injuries disrupted De Boer’s plans so Andrea Ranocchia had to come into the side for Jeison Murillo (lower back pain) and Geoffrey Kondogbia replaced Joao Mario (slight muscle strain).
Inter fell behind early in this match. Blerim Džemaili stripped the ball from Kondogbia and gave the ball to Simone Verdi who danced with Miranda and Ranocchia before feeding ex-Inter striker Mattia Destro to slot home. Inter’s midfield was struggling so Frank De Boer made a bold move by subbing off Kondogbia for Assane Gnoukouri in the 28th minute. The move paid dividends; Gnoukouri marked Džemaili out of the rest of the half, and Gnoukouri’s confidence on the ball and calm passing allowed Banega to have a bit less pressure on him and the two of them began to exert influence over the match. Inter got a stronghold on possession inside Bologna’s half and the away side was just sitting back hoping to avoid conceding a goal. That plan fell apart in the 38th minute when Antonio Candreva floated in a cross that Ivan Perisic beautifully volleyed into the back of the net (you can find a video of that goal here). Candreva and Mauro Icardi each had chances in the remainder of the half but the teams entered the dressing room at 1-1.
Candreva, Icardi, and Ever Banega all had chances to score early on in the second half but were unable to take them. The Argentine playmaker doesn’t quite seem to have the goalscoring touch in him so far and De Boer opted to pull him in the 66th minute for Eder, hoping that the Italian forward would be able to put away one of the chances Banega couldn’t. That move turned out to be ill advised for reasons that will be discussed later. Perisic had another chance that went begging and then FdB made the move the San Siro had been waiting for: Gabriel Barbosa came on for Candreva. The young attacker showed a little bit of skill but otherwise didn’t really impress in his debut, but we can expect to see a lot more of him in the near future.
As Inter continued to press forward for the winning goal, Bologna was always eager to hit on the counter. Inter struggled to deal with these breakaways and Ranocchia had to make a number of good sliding challenges to make sure Handanovic didn’t have to make a save. The Nerazzurri had two great chances to win the game in extra time but neither were taken. First Perisic sent a low cross right into the path of Icardi but the striker was unable to get a foot on it just in front of goal, then in the final play of the game the Croatian winger crossed right onto the head of a wide open Ranocchia who somehow put the ball wide.
This was a game Inter could and should have won. The team had a lot of chances but were unable to convert them, and matches like this need to be won if we want to end the season in the top 3. That being said, Frank De Boer probably learned quite a few lessons from today’s match including:
Can’t have a dominant midfield without J. Mario or Banega
The Derby D’Italia win over Juventus saw Inter have real control in the midfield thanks to the dual efforts of Joao Mario and Ever Banega. The two midfielders switched positions continually and made sure there was always somebody able to make a smart pass. The victory over Empoli lacked Banega, but Mario was able to control the midfield on his own, mainly due to the fact that Inter scored 2 goals early so there wasn’t much pressure. This match saw no Mario and Ever Banega struggled being the sole creative force on the team. Once Gnoukouri came on for Kondogbia Inter took more control, but when De Boer removed Banega the midfield lost its organization and fluidity. Banega will be available for the EL match on Thursday but Inter will be hoping Mario’s injury is very minor so he can return ASAP.
Inter has a €35m problem and his name is Kondogbia. The French midfielder had a terrible performance in the 28 minutes he was on the pitch and De Boer made the right call replacing him so soon. The fact that a 19 year old could come on and do a much better job in every way than Kondogbia should really be a wakeup call to the 23 year old. In the past I have called for patience with Kondogbia given that he is still young and has time to step up his game, but my patience is starting to run dry. If a decent offer comes in during January I would not be mad if the club sells him in order to help balance the books and allow one of the newcomers onto the EL squad for the knockout rounds (assuming of course we make it that far).
For all of Ever Banega’s strengths, scoring really isn’t one of them. He had a handful of chances but was unable to convert, though in his defense he wasn’t the only one lacking in front of goal today. Perisic (outside of the volleyed goal), Candreva, and Eder all missed numerous chances, and if Icardi is unable to take advantage of the 2 or 3 chances that falls to him in a game it looks like we might have a problem. With the club fighting on three fronts this season one of the other strikers is going to have to step up. Eder has impressed so far this season (though his appearance today was pretty meh) and he just needs to add scoring to what he can do for Inter. Jovetic and G. Barbosa will both have chances as well over the course of the campaign and somebody is going to have to help carry the burden with Icardi. Like InterMAD said in a comment from the match thread, “He can’t score in all 38 games. It just won’t happen”
This result leaves Inter in 3rd place, 4 points behind Juventus and 3 behind Napoli (though if AC Milan beats Fiorentina this afternoon Inter will drop to 4th). FdB’s team travel to the Czech Republic to take on Sparta Prague in the Europa League on Thursday before a big match next Sunday against AS Roma.