Antonio Conte made several changes from Inter’s midweek outing. Romelu Lukaku, Achraf Hakimi, and Ashley Young were sent to the bench in place of Alexis Sanchez, Matteo Darmian, and Ivan Perisic, respectively. Marcelo Brozovic’s COVID-19 test was positive for a “light viral load” yesterday, so the midfield three was unchanged.
Sassuolo was without forwards Francesco Caputo and Grégoire Defrel so 20-year-old Giacomo Raspadori got the start up top, supported by the fearsome trio of Boga, Berardi, and Djuricic.
Inter’s bright start to proceedings immediately proved profitable. A scrappy Alexis Sanchez and Lautaro Martinez combination broke the deadlock for the Nerazzurri just four minutes in. It was the Chilean’s first goal of the campaign, making him Inter’s eighth goalscorer of 20/21. Lautaro forced a turnover from Sassuolo’s center-back Vlad Chiriches in midfield and the loose ball fall to Sanchez. The 31-year-old lofted a chip over Sassuolo’s defense to Lautaro who’s penetrating run took him deep into the box where he laid the ball back to Sanchez who capitalized from a yard out.
Lautaro almost got on the scoresheet himself in the 11th minute. He attempted a nifty chip on Sassuolo’s keeper Andrea Consigli from outside the box but the box bounced narrowly wide of the open goal. Inter’s second goal wasn’t to be delayed much longer, though. Vlad Chiriches sent a sizzling Arturo Vidal shot trickling across his own goal line in the 14th minute.
Scrappy goal and it's 2-0 to Inter. This is what I wanna see. pic.twitter.com/ETbqpstGuK— Condotti SMILEY (@Smiley_1932) November 28, 2020
Sassuolo was without a single attempt until the 21st minute but it opened its shot tally in style. A curling long-range effort from Filip Djuricic left Handanovic in the dust, only to ping off the post.
The Neroverdi continued to grow into the game and see more and more of the ball in the final third. Inter held firm, however, and did enough to stop the likes of Boga and Berardi from causing too much damage. Sassuolo may have had 63% possession in the first period but it was the Nerazzurri which had an 8 to 6 edge in shots and consistently found the more dangerous chances.
Sassuolo came out of the break on the front foot and kept Inter pinned in its own half. But when the visitors did manage to escape, it found and took advantage of plenty of space going the other way. It was Roberto Gagliardini who found the all-important third goal to almost fully ensure that the three points were heading to Milan.
The final thirty minutes played out exactly how a 3-0 game would be expected to and Inter was able to ease to a well-deserved victory at the Mapei Stadium.
Just when the season seemed to be hitting a dire low point, Inter put in one of the performances of the campaign and picked up a much-needed three points in the league. Though this wasn’t the prettiest of showings from the boys in black and blue, it was exactly what was needed against an attacking side like Sassuolo.
The heat map:
Similar to the Madrid match, the opponents had the vast majority of possession. This time, though, the circumstances were very different. Whereas Madrid bossed the game, Inter was able to manage the state of play fantastically well against Sassuolo, albeit in a more covert manner. All too often we’ve seen Inter throw away results by wasting possession and chances but this time the opposite was the case. Inter locked down Sassuolo’s potent attack, limiting the hosts to just 0.75 expected goals and three shots on target from thirteen attempts, none of which came in the second half. This was all while Sassuolo boasted 66% of the ball but it obviously did not result to much. Inter’s defense has definitely struggled this season, but keeping a shutout against an almost 100% Sassuolo (which was the highest scorer in the league coming into Matchday 9) is worthy of plenty of praise.
The Nerazzurri’s offensive pursuits were just as admirable, however. Three of the Nerazzurri’s four shots on target (eleven total attempts) found the back of the net and Inter was all over Sassuolo in the first twenty minutes, in no small part thanks to Sanchez and Lautaro. Though the Nerazzurri did cool off in the final third as the match wore on, it always seemed to cause problems when it did venture forward.
Handanovic - 7: The 36-year-old put in a solid day of work. Handanovic made three saves and completed ten long balls and all but five of twenty-seven passes.
Bastoni - 7: Bastoni was on his A-game as well. He won four of six duels and converted 85% of his passes. He also made five long balls but his offensive contributions were less than usual due to no fault of his own but instead the style of the game.
De Vrij - 7: The Dutchmen made twenty-six of twenty-nine passes, plus three long balls. De Vrij made seven clearances as well and lost possession a team-low four times.
Skriniar - 7.5: With the exception of one misplaced pass early in the second half, this was a spotless showing from Skriniar. He made three interceptions, eight clearances, 90% of his passes, and for the second game in a row had the most touches on Inter (66). It’s impossible to say who’s the best of the back-three, but seeing Skriniar makes me a lot more comfortable when he’s on the pitch.
Perisic - 6.5: The Croatian was solid on both sides of the ball. He had an early shot that went stinging off Consigli’s gloves and made five clearances. After a rough start to life in Milan, he’s starting to show his quality in recent weeks.
Vidal - 6.5: Vidal has started on the road to amends for his midweek collapse. He made three tackles, two interceptions, and seven of his nine long balls found their target. The Chilean also played a major role in Inter’s second strike of the game, though it was more thanks to his choice of power over accuracy more than anything else, to be honest.
Gagliardini - 7: The Italian’s second goal of the season put the result beyond doubt and it was a classy finish as well. He won five duels and made two tackles and clearances on the other side of the ball. Gagliardini is rarely the star performer, but on his best day he can definitely be a force in the center of the park.
Barella - 6.5: Barella was played in a deeper, more defensive position and it showed. He made four interceptions and three tackles, even as he notched the third-most touches (59) and found success on 31 passes.
Darmian - 7: The summer addition continued to prove his worth on both ends of the pitch. Five tackles were to his name, while the former Parma man was accurate on all three of his crosses and made two key passes.
Lautaro - 8 (Man of the Match): The Argentine was superb on the opener, fighting through the Sassuolo defense and never giving up on the play. It was a shame his exquisite chip didn’t find the back of the net but that doesn’t take away from an excellent performance from the Number 10.
Sanchez - 7.5: The Chilean showed great vision to play Lautaro in behind leading to the first goal and was rewarded with one of the simplest finishes of his career. Sanchez often found himself playing in the space behind Lautaro, which gave the team another dimension in the final third. And for perhaps the first time this season amidst injury after injury, he looked at home in the starting lineup.
Conte - 7: Conte “won” the Golden Tapir (a satirical award given out to a Serie A coach in distress) this past week but sure didn’t look the part Saturday. The only consternation in the starting eleven was the midfield, which threatened to show signs of fatigue after the midweek Madrid game. That wasn’t the case, though, and without Brozovic (virus) and Nainggolan (muscle fatigue) Conte didn’t have many options to choose from anyways. It was good to see another Sensi appearance from off the bench and hopefully, the Italian is nearing a return to full fitness sooner rather than later. As for Eriksen, the situation is not so bright. In the ten minutes that the Dane was on, all that he managed to do was horribly misplace a pass out for a goal kick on a counter-attack. Unfortunately, that’s a pretty fair representation of his time here in Milan. You can’t win them all...
Inter jumped Sassuolo into second place with this result and is two points back of Milan ahead of the Rossoneri’s Sunday clash with Fiorentina. Roma could still jump Inter if it beats Napoli, but Juventus’ draw with Benevento means that the lowest Inter could land after Matchday Nine’s conclusion is third. Next up for the Nerazzurri is a must-win visit to Borussia Monchengladbach on Tuesday as Inter looks to avoid being dumped from the UCL group-stage the third year running. After that Inter returns to league play Saturday when it hosts Bologna.