Stefano Pioli opted for a relatively strong starting lineup for this match. Samir Handanovic started in goal, while the backline was Pioli’s strongest (or at least his preferred) 4: Cristian Ansaldi, Miranda, Jeison Murillo, and Danilo D’Ambrosio. Marcelo Brozovic and Geoffrey Kondogbia played in midfield, and Rodrigo Palacio was supported by Ivan Perisic, Ever Banega, and Antonio Candreva.
Both sides started with attacking intent, though the home side had more possession. The first major chance saw Perisic shoot just wide after being played through by Candreva. Inter’s pressing was forcing Lazio players into mistakes and in the 16th minute it almost paid dividends. Kondogbia picked up a loose pass and his shot clipped the post. Unfortunately Inter’s attacks were for nothing when the away side struck against the run of play. Felipe Anderson beat Ansaldi for pace when a cross was sent in and the Brazilian’s header beat Handanovic.
Inter pushed for an equalizer but were leaving themselves dangerously exposed on the counter. First Miranda played a weak back-pass (though he was off-balance) and Ciro Immobile ran through but his shot blazed over. Then less than a minute later on the counter Felipe Anderson was played in (after beating Ansaldi for pace again) but his one on one shot was saved by Handanovic. Inter did have a few chances in remaining minutes of the half through Brozovic and Perisic, but Federico Marchetti wasn’t too troubled. The half ended with the away side leading to a goal to nill.
I’m just going to summarize the first half with the thoughts I posted in the comments or the live match thread: “ 1. Ansaldi is getting absolutely slaughtered for pace by Felipe Anderson. It cost the first goal and it’s allowing Lazio to sit back and defend when Inter has possession because they know Ansaldi will push up and they can just release the Brazilian on the counter which has often led to dangerous chances. 2. Joao Mario doesn’t have to worry about Ever Banega taking his spot in the starting lineup at all. The Argentine just doesn’t seem to make the right decisions at time, not going into the box to support Palacio when the wingers cross, etc. There was a moment when Perisic had the ball on his flank with nobody nearby to pass to, typically in that moment Joao Mario would drop towards the edge of the box to give him a passing option (or at least to occupy a defender so Perisic could try to beat his man). Nothing came of the move as a result and when the camera panned out Banega had been standing right next to Palacio. If he wants to compete with Joao Mario, Banega needs to start showing up and making good positional decisions. 3. A front four of Palacio, Perisic, Banega, and Candreva doesn’t work. Perisic and Candreva want to cross and Palacio doesn’t offer the height/power to beat defenders or the reputation/guile to occupy extra defenders to give other teammates a chance on the cross. Ultimately that second part hasn’t matter because Banega hasn’t been making runs into the box during crosses to provide an extra target (unlike J. Mario, another reason that could’ve been added to the second point). Either Icardi needs to be put in or the wingers need to be replaced with Eder/G. Barbosa (wide men who will cut inside and shoot rather than cross).”
Pioli seemed to hear my third point and at halftime he replaced Palacio and Banega with Mauro Icardi and Joao Mario. Unfortunately things only got worse 9 minutes after the second half when Miranda went across Immobile and the striker went down in the box. It was a pretty soft call and the referee doubled-down when he gave the Brazilian defender a red card. Lucas Biglia didn’t care though and he hammered the ball into the back of the net to double Lazio’s lead.
At this point Inter seemed gassed and was not really pressing Lazio for the ball and it looked like the game was finished. The home side got a lifeline though when Stefan Radu took down Icardi and received his second yellow card. Inter was revitalized with both sides at 10 men and poured forward looking for a goal. Lazio sat deep and defended for as long as they could but in the 84th minute Candreva sent in a cross with his weaker foot, Perisic headed it back into the danger zone, and Brozovic looped his header to half the deficit.
The San Siro was roaring at this point and Pioli’s men tried to score in the final minutes but Lazio’s desperate defending proved effective. Lazio was fine with conceding possession and corners since Inter were unable to punish them and the final whistle saw Lazio advance to the semi-finals at Inter’s expense.
I’m not as disappointed as I expected to be. I wanted the team to advance but I knew Lazio was a good side and could definitely beat Inter. I know Pioli made some mistakes with his starting lineup but he corrected them at halftime and who knows what would’ve happened if the ref hadn’t given a penalty and red card on Miranda (which he shouldn’t have). Ultimately it wasn’t the best performance by Inter but still one that deserved at least extra time and the clinical (and cynical) side won.
Now the focus can be put exclusively on the league. Up next is Juventus.