The prime-time kick-off on this matchday saw the battle of the Nerazzurris – Inter and Atalanta. Inter put on a competent display on Sunday night which might not have wowed like the 7-1 result in the corresponding fixture last season, but did go on to demonstrate this team's mental fortitude. Here are the key takeways from the match:
1. Spalletti's tactical acumen
The first half of this game was pretty even in both possession and quality of chances created. The second half showed why Spalletti is such a high-quality tactician. A small adjustment in midfield where Borja Valero and Matias Vecino somewhat swapped positions as the Uruguayan played further forward and the Spaniard dropped back to add more poise to the attack which looked somewhat rushed in the first half. Gagliardini and Valero seemed to strike a good understanding and were able to find the right passes from deep in their own half. It was good to see Spalletti using half-time to effect this change, small as it might be as Inter's second half display was definitely a step up.
2. Inter's over-reliance on Icardi
Mauro Icardi with his 13 goals, has contributed over half of the 25 goals Inter have scored as a team. Inter's reliance on Icardi as their lead scorer is higher than any other team in Serie A. Lazio come closest with Ciro Immobile contributing around 47% of Biancocelesti's goals. As a comparison, Napoli and Juve's leading scorers contribute 29% and 32% of their team's total goals. There was a moment in this game when Icardi was seen wincing after feeling contact. Every time Inter's captain goes into heavy challenges, Spalletti and all Nerazzurri faithful look on nervously.
Come January, Spalletti and Inter will have to decide if Eder and youngsters such as Pinamonti are adequate. As this season represents Inter's best chance in a long time for getting back into the Champions League, the new owners will have to evaluate the pros and cons of acquiring a striker this January. As long as Icardi is in form and is fit, this will not be an issue but if one or the other change, Inter will likely find themselves in a tight spot.
3. Professional Inter capitalize on other results
In the previous matchday, Inter could not take advantage of Napoli's draw against Chievo as Torino held Inter to a frustrating draw as well. This weekend saw all of Inter's direct rivals in difficult fixtures. Roma beat Lazio in the Rome derby, Napoli bested Milan at the San Paolo, and Juventus came up against a determined Sampdoria who beat the champions 3-2. The stage was set for Inter to claim victory and climb up to second. In seasons past, this team would have fluffed their lines and drawn or lost by playing like headless chickens. But this season, there is a renewed tactical awareness in the team and they have already shown they are made of sterner stuff. Tonight's win was another feather in that cap as the team put on a professional display that was more than enough to claim all three points while not necessarily blowing away the opposition. The team seems to find a way to win even when not firing on all cylinders and this is extremely pleasing as it is something all champion teams display in copious amounts. Inter find themselves in second place.
4. First clean sheet in a while
While no one would necessarily be worried about Inter's defense, the backline had not kept a clean sheet for three games in a row. One of those games (against Torino) also cost Inter two points. One has to go back to the Napoli game on October 21st for the last clean sheet. Tonight, the defense seemed a little more intent on not conceding anything. This was exemplified by Handanovic's courageous save against Andrea Petagna in the second half. Even though Atalanta did have a few opportunities, Skriniar, Miranda, and D'Ambrosio did well overall to smother whatever the Atalanta forwards could muster. The clean sheet will please Spalletti no end, and for those keeping track, Inter have six clean sheets for the season thus far. In comparison, Inter had eight clean sheets in all of last season and none after February.
Related to our clean sheet, a quick mention on Inter's number 33 who had an outstanding game. His performances this season are a classic case study of Spalletti's ability to make the most of what he has to work with. As someone once said, an expert chef is one who can walk into any kitchen and whip up a delicious meal with whatever ingredients are at hand!
5. No hangover from Monday night
There was some fear about the impact of Monday night's Italy result would have on the Italian contingent in the squad. Would the fans continue to flock to the stadium in the same number as before? Antonio Candreva, one of those who played on Monday, had a decent game, even if nothing spectacular. Most pleasing was the response he got on 72 minutes when he was being substituted. The San Siro gave a warm applause to their man who reciprocated the gesture. It was great to see that there was no extension of the national team's failure to the rapport between players at the club level.
What's more, the San Siro had over 52,000 people for tonight's game and Inter continues to be the best supported club in Italy when measured as a function of average stadium attendance. After Inter went 2-0 up, the crowd was as raucous as ever, showing that none of the passion has been lost.
So, overall a good weekend overall for Inter (Inter Milan) and one that sees them in second place, two points off leaders Napoli. The next two games should see Inter favored picking up six points before the big one at the J-Stadium. Forza Inter!