Inter traveled to Sardinia today and put a beatdown on a Cagliari side that (somehow) won the reverse fixture. Outside of a few uncomfortable moments in the first half that never seemed like it would happen again, as Inter bounced back from last round’s loss to AS Roma in near-perfect fashion. Per usual Stefano Pioli’s team got it done against a team they always should beat but this time they didn’t just win, they stomped their opponents. All in all a good way to restart Inter’s winning streak (*knock on wood*).
Pioli returned to the 4-2-3-1 that has worked so well in the past for this game. Samir Handanovic had Danilo D’Ambrosio, Gary Medel, Miranda, and Cristian Ansaldi in front of him. Geoffrey Kondogbia and Roberto Gagliardini controlled the midfield, while Mauro Icardi was backed up by Antonio Candreva, Ever Banega, and Ivan Perisic. Given Joao Mario’s string of good performances just behind the striker it seemed like an interesting choice to drop him for Banega but it was a move that paid off in full for the Inter coach.
If you missed the first 30 minutes or so of this game I envy you, the play was ugly. Cagliari were sitting deep and clogging up the middle but it didn’t help that Inter couldn’t seem to string passes together. There were a few chances during that time though. Joao Pedro was put one on one with Handanovic early on and lobbed over the keeper only to see Medel race back to clear the ball off the line with an overhead kick. The only other real chances during the first half an hour were an Icardi sliding poke at the far post that went wide and a Kondogbia header that was tipped onto the crossbar.
Finally the game burst into life in the 34th minute. Banega sent in a pass over the top for Perisic and he controlled the ball and hit it across the keeper to give the away side the lead. 5 minutes later Inter had their second. A free kick was called for handball and Banega curled his effort into the back of the net. This seemed to wake up the home side and they immediately went searching for a goal. Davide Di Gennaro forced Handanovic to force the ball away just off the line from a free kick but a minute later Cagliari found what they hoped to be their lifeline when Nicolo Barella crossed for Marco Borriello to head home. Inter were forced back a bit for the final few minutes of the first half but Cagliari were unable to find their equalizer, something they would regret in the second half.
Inter came out ready to put the game to bed in the second half and Perisic restored Inter’s two goal advantage just minutes after the whistle. He passed to Icardi who held the ball well before laying it back into the path of Perisic and the winger curled his shot past Gabriel. From here on out the Nerazzurri pretty much had control over the match. Kondogbia and Gagliardini got more involved and the away side had more freedom to pass the ball around and control possession. They had a bit of a penalty shout in the 50th minute Icardi went down to the challenge of Bruno Alves, but the referee was unmoved. Gabriel was called into action numerous times in the next few minutes, palming a low cross out of the path of Icardi, stopping a D’Ambrosio thunderous shot from distance, and catching Miranda’s header. That good work was undone when he took down Icardi and the referee awarded a penalty to Inter which Icardi slammed into the back of the net.
Inter had more chances to extend the lead including a Kondogbia strike from distance and a shot from Eder (who had came on to replace Perisic). Banega was subbed off for Joao Mario and he almost picked up an assist early on, setting up Icardi but the striker could only hit the crossbar when he had most of the net to aim at. In the 88th minute Inter got their final goal of the match when Gagliardini struck a low shot from distance that beat Gabriel for his first goal as an Inter player (and his first goal in Serie A). The referee opted not to add any extra time (out of mercy?) and Inter strolled home with all three points.
Outside the disjointed moments in the first half this was a great performance. Perisic was full of confidence again and Banega showed what he can bring to the table when he’s in form. Personally I think his vision and creativity is a little higher than J. Mario which leads him to trying more difficult passes that sometimes don’t work out but when they do (like today) he’s great to watch. Icardi was back among the goalscorers and honestly Inter could’ve scored more if they had been marginally more clinical. It was a little disappointing not to see Gabigol today given the margin of victory but after Ansaldi picked up a bit of a knock Pioli seemed to play it safe and withdraw him for Yuto Nagatomo rather than sending on Gabriel Barbosa and risk a serious injury to his fullback. Pioli now remembers that the 4-2-3-1 works pretty well, I wonder if he’ll use it next weekend in the crunch fixture against Atalanta?