What could have easily turned into a trap-game ended in a 2-0 victory for Inter Milan at the San Siro on Sunday, and there’s certainly no shortage of talking points. From a lengthy VAR review to an absolute cracker of a goal, here are five big takeaways from the win over S.P.A.L. 2013:
VAR Reviews (despite doing their job) are taking very long
Borja Valero threaded a ball through the middle of the field and into the final third, Ivan Perisic flicked onwards to Mauro Icardi with a deft touch, Icardi played a simple short pass into the path of oncoming Joao Mario, and Joao Mario took two quick touches before being blatantly taken down inside the penalty area. What looked like an obvious penalty, however, was not awarded. Referee Claudio Gavillucci placed the ball just outside of the 18-yard box and deemed the foul an outside-the-area free kick.
Enter: Video Assistant Referee. The controversial new system was implemented in Italian football just this year, and has already made a handful of appearances (and one big absence) in the Nerazzurri’s first three matches. On Sunday afternoon at the San Siro, VAR did its intended job, and Inter were awarded their rightful penalty kick.
What’s worrying, however, is the time it took to make the correct call. After off-pitch officials failed to make a decision, Gavillucci himself ran over to watch the replay on a sideline TV. All in all, the affair took more than six minutes. At some point during the whole ordeal, I believe fans inside the San Siro actually went from jeering the referee for the call to jeering the referee for taking so long. Oddly enough, added time at the end of the first half was a mere two minutes. Get on with it.
VAR is a system that helps football as a whole head in the right direction, but is unfortunately not without its flaws.
Luciano Spalletti is slowly figuring out his perfect starting XI
Three games, three different starting midfields. More specifically: three games, three different starting trequartistas. I can confidently say I don’t think I’m alone in believing that this was our best starting XI yet. Roberto Gagliardini looked significantly better than he did against Roma, Borja Valero controlled Inter’s tempo (as always) and even chipped in defensively from time to time, and Joao Mario was increasingly confident in attack.
Luciano Spalletti looks like he finally has a starting lineup that he can stick with going forward. Considering that the assumed “feeling the team out” phase has produced a 3-0-0 start and an 8-to-1 goals-to-conceded ratio, well.... look out, Serie A.
Does less dribbling = more winning?
So far this season, Inter has proven to be somewhat of an offensive powerhouse. In Serie A, the Nerazzurri rank 4th in shots per game, 3rd in shots on target per game, and 3rd in passing success (all stats via WhoScored). Not to mention the second-highest goal tally & goal differential in the league behind Juventus.
There is one offensive category, however, that Inter are doing significantly worse in as compared with last year’s team: dribbling.
Despite the small sample size, Inter has had shockingly few successful dribbles so far this year. Last Serie A term, the Nerazzurri completed 11.4 dribbles per game. That was good enough for 1st in Serie A. Through the first three matches of the 2017/18 campaign, Inter are averaging a measly 7. That puts us 11th best in the league, level with less-skilled teams like Udinese and Bologna.
And so, the question is: what happened? The obvious answer is that we have fewer skilled dribblers (the departures of Geoffrey Kondogbia, Ever Banega, and Stevan Jovetic), and that we’re taking on fewer defenders. But I think it’s much different case.
This team is considerably more clinical and direct than last year’s. There’s less dribbling in circles, and more quick downfield passing. As a result, we’re now averaging 1.5 more shots on target per game.
After all: we are better this year. If that means trading dribbles per game for wins, I’m all for it.
Goal of the season so far?
If Ivan Perisic’s 87th minute thunderbolt of a volley didn’t make you get up and run around the room like the giddy 7-year-old all sports fans truly are deep down, check your pulse. Ivan’s second goal in three games all but locked up the three points against SPAL, and damn did it look beautiful.
We’ve sung his praises here at SoM for the past few weeks, but it’s still hard to fully express what Perisic’s power and skill can do for this team.
If not for one Andrea Belotti golazo on Match Day 2, Perisic’s wonder-strike might have even been the goal of the year in Serie A to this point.
Confidence going forward
As Will said in his player ratings, “Not great, but good enough”. In short, Inter got the three points to keep pace with Juventus atop the table, but it wasn’t in too convincing a manner.
But, a win is a win is a win. Great teams win tough matches just like this. That’s what makes them great.
In years past, this is a game I can see us drawing or even losing. Players sulk, the manager tries to come up with answers, social media goes into its habitual “crisis mode”, etc. We’ve been there countless times.
This team seems different. If we can continue to win these tough games consistently, especially over the next four “easy” fixtures, I can’t help but to have loads of confidence in this team going forward.