The action started slowly at the Olympiyski but Inter started to take control by the quarter-hour mark. The Nerazzurri’s first real chance of the game surfaced soon after. Lukaku was played in behind, and though his low shot was saved, the Belgian picked up the loose ball and chipped it to Nicolo Barella at the top of the box. The 23-year-old sent a half-volley pinging off the crossbar.
Inter continued to do everything but score, though that’s not a surprise when you see Shakhtar had adopted the infamous 6-3-1 formation.
Lukaku almost broke the deadlock from a dead ball in the 42nd minute when he smashed a free-kick from the top of the box into the crossbar.
The Nerazzurri struggled to break down Shakhtar, who had a clear game-plan and executed it well with the assistance of some iffy finishing from Inter. The stats tell the story perfectly. Antonio Conte’s side had 17 touches in the opposition box compared to just one from its Ukrainian counterparts. Furthermore, Inter outshot Shakhtar 8-2, though it put only 3 on target.
It was more of the same in the second half. Lautaro this time had an excellent chance to give Inter the lead, but horrible finishing let the Argentine down. A rebound of a Marcelo Brozovic shot bounced to his feet in the box but he completely missed the wide-open goal. Other than that, though, Inter had even more trouble finding a way through Shakhtar’s backline. The closest it came was a penalty shout in the 76th minute. Lukaku went down under contact from Valeriy Bondar in the box, who appeared to have his hands all over the Inter player. The referee waved play on, however, perhaps judging the contact to have been insufficient for a spot kick.
Inter tallied a grand total of one shot on target in the entire second period and unlike the first half, failed to put the hosts under much pressure. Whether through tired legs or a lack of mental toughness to push on in the Nerazzurri camp, Shakhtar was able to ease the result to a close.
This game was a far cry from the 5-0 domination we saw in the Europa League semi-finals. Though Inter was the better side again Tuesday, not only were its finishing boots were MIA, but Inter was completely out of ideas in the second half. It took just four shots in the second half, compared to double that number in the first, even as its possession tally increased from 55% to 63%. The quality of passing in the final third was not there, and all to often Inter reverted to long balls that Shakhtar dealt with easily. Out of 22 long balls in the first half, 86% were successful. The second forty-five saw 31 attempted, but just 61% finding their destination.
This, uh, pretty much says it all. Inter completely dominated the midfield, but Shakhtar’s heavy and never-ceasing defense has to be given credit as well. It sure worked, but of course the only sacrifice was that the hosts barely left their own half. Perhaps not the most exiting football, but everyone has their own preference.
The Nerazzurri at least did superbly defensively, limiting Shakhtar to just one shot on target. Perhaps this scoreline plus the Genoa shutout could reinspire the same defensive solidity we saw last season.
Handanovic - 6: Had very little to do in goal, making just one routine save. His distribution was perfect, however, with 14 out of 14 passes finding their mark.
Bastoni - 6: He was caught out of position in the first half which forced him into a yellow for cynically pulling back Tete. Other than that, he was as solid as usual in his first UCL appearance. Won seven of nines duels and made seventy-three of eighty-four passes (87%).
De Vrij - 7: The Dutchman was excellent, as we’ve come to expect. The highest passing accuracy from any outfield starter with 96% from 85 attempts. He also made a last-ditch tackle on Solomon, who would have been in on goal.
D’Ambrosio - 6: Made plenty of interesting runs down the right flank in the first half, though it would have been much more satisfying to see Hakimi making those runs instead. Didn’t have much to do on the defensive side.
Young - 6.5: Looked much more complete than Perisic has all season in the left wing-back position in his first start since September 30th. Was a force on both sides of the ball, and even showcased a nifty nutmeg. It was a shame to see him exit with injury and hopefully it’s nothing serious.
Barella - 6.5: If the 23-year-old scores that half-volley early on, we’d be talking about a much different game. Alas, the crossbar killed those hopes. Even so, it was another good performance from Barella. He was quite lively in the first half, and although that wasn’t the case in the second, it was by no means his fault.
Vidal - 7 It was business as usual for the Chilean. He won 9 of 11 duels, and once again was the engine in Inter’s midfield. Picked up a nonexistent yellow thanks to Dodo’s blatant dive, but that was his only blemish.
Brozovic - 6.5: The Croatian completed a team high 92 passes and was a classy presence in the midfield. Brozovic did win just two of nine duels, however, but overall did all of what Conte could ask of him.
Hakimi - 6: The Moroccan had an off night and yet still was a danger down the flank. His end product never came off, and there were times he seemed to shy away from one-v-ones where his speed would have come in great use. Perhaps he hasn’t yet recovered from his false positive COVID-19 test and the break from training that it caused.
Lautaro - 5.5: The Argentine disappeared on the Olympiyski pitch. He didn’t give opposing defenders much to worry about, therefore giving Lukaku more to deal with. And then he missed a sitter early in the second half. A quick spell on the bench could kick him out of this funk, but Inter doesn’t have that luxury. Hopefully he turns it around versus Parma.
Lukaku - 7 (Man of the Match): Lukaku once again was Inter’s focal point. Could he have done better with some of his chances? Maybe. But was he consistently getting in dangerous areas and causing serious problems even when the rest of the squad wasn’t quite up to speed? Yes. Once again deserving of the Man of the Match even if the goal never came.
Perisic - 5.5: It was good to see Perisic at his more natural positon of striker, though that’s where the positives stopped. Made just two of his nine passes and was largely on the periphery.
Eriksen - NA: The game was crying out for someone like him or Alexis Sanchez to break Shakhtar down, but wasn’t on long enough to make a real impact.
Pinamonti - NA
Conte - 6: Waited a little too long to bring on Eriksen, and perhaps should have brought Radja Nainggolan on to aid the search for a goal. Other than that, though, nothing can be blamed on his shoulders.