With a chance at making their name as the first Inter Milan side to progress past the group stage of the Champions League since the 2011-12 season, Antonio Conte’s side instead went out with a whimper. Wednesday’s 0-0 draw with Shakhtar Donetsk, alongside the 2-0 easy win for Real Madrid against Borussia Mönchengladbach, means Inter finish rock bottom of Group B. Bounced out of the Champions League for the third year in a row and in fourth for the first time in the club’s Champions League history. There was not much to take out of the match, and it is one for the club to forget, again.
INTER (3-5-2): Handanovic; Skriniar, de Vrij, Bastoni; Hakimi, Barella, Brozovic, Gagliardini, Young; Lukaku, Lautaro.
SHAKHTAR DONETSK (4-2-3-1): Trubin; Dodô, Bondar, Vitão, Matvienko; Stepanenko, Kovalenko; Tetê, Marlos, Maycon; Taison.
Inter went with a similar team to the one that came out victorious over Bologna on the weekend, with Ashley Young coming into the team for Ivan Perisic on the left while Nicolo Barella replaced Arturo Vidal in the center of the pitch, despite questions around his fitness in the run-up to the match. Shakhtar fielded a similar team to the one that held Inter scoreless in Ukraine, playing for a similar result.
Inter started the match in search of a goal with arguably the most determination they showed throughout the entire match. The early pressure only yielded a Lautaro Martinez close range effort that rocketed off of the crossbar. A second chance came again to Lautaro Martinez shortly after, but he headed straight into the arms of Shakhtar Donetsk goalkeeper Anatoliy Trubin. Shakhtar came out with the same game plan as the first match these two played in the group. The team that conceded 10 to Gladbach sat deep with every man behind the ball. This game plan suited them at the beginning of the match, with a draw between Real Madrid and Gladbach hypothetically leaving Shakhtar still in control of their own destiny. However, an early strike from Karim Benzema to put Real up at home dashed those hopes and meant that Shakhtar needed a win to go through.
The first half ended scoreless, with Shakhtar barely pressuring Inter’s goal. A predictably cagy half, but one that looked as if it would inevitably open up for both teams.
With everything to do in the second half, Inter set out once again in search for the goal that would send them into the next round, breaking the recent duck for both the club and manager. However, the threat in front of goal never really materialized. Shakhtar looked happy to accept a 0-0 draw to fall into the Europa League at the expense of spiting the team that had humiliated them 5-0 in August, and Inter looked increasingly inept in the final third. Shakhtar began to hit out at Inter with a few counterattacks, but remained largely toothless in attack.
Predictably, Shakhtar began to make their substitutions early to wind down the clock while Antonio Conte waited until nearly the 70 minute mark to make his first substitution. Ivan Perisic came on for a tired Ashley Young while later substitutions included Alexis Sanchez and Christian Eriksen, who had very little time to make a difference. The later two substitutes did link up with perhaps Inter’s best chance at a winner when an Alexis header from an Eriksen cross looked to be rifled on target, only to hit the onlooking and offside Romelu Lukaku. The Inter European curse personified. A copious amount of substitutions from both teams, coupled with some Oscar-worthy time wasting from the Ukrainian side, gave Inter an extra seven minutes to work with, but to no avail. Inter found themselves lacking on the final matchday with their destiny in their own hands, again.
Handanovic - 6: While he has now kept three consecutive clean sheets against Shakhtar in this calendar year, he has never really challenged in any of them. A few decent saves, but no win to show for it.
Skriniar - 6: It’s always an easy day at the office for the defense when the opposition decides not to attack you. Most of his work was in ball circulation into attacking players, which he did decently. Had one nice tackle on Taison.
de Vrij - 6: The same could virtually be written for all three center backs. Shakhtar’s counters were handled easily when they actually came.
Bastoni - 6: If the match could have been won with accurate passes alone, Inter’s defense would have been the men of the match. Bastoni rarely disappoints in any facet of his game. Sadly, he was a non-factor in the result alongside his defensive partners.
Hakimi - 6: Lots of hard work, but no end product. He could not follow up his two goal performance against Bologna with the match winner. Shakhtar’s setup did not allow him much room, but he did well with what he had. Subbed off when he began to look exhausted.
Barella - 6: Looked good for playing on supposedly one ankle. Created a chance early, but then was suffocated by Shakhtar’s low block. Hopefully no damange was done to that ankle.
Brozovic - 6: It is genuinely difficult to rate anyone above or below a 6 in this match. Brozovic, like most everyone else in this match, put in a statistically good shift. High pass completion rates and very few defensive tests. However, he also ran out of gas and belief in the end.
Gagliardini - 5.5: Back to mediocrity for the Italian. Offered very little of either side of the ball, looking scared to make the runs into the box he has been making in recent weeks. Without that, he was arguably the biggest passenger in a match full of passengers.
Young - 6: With most of the attacking play running through the right and center, Young was left with very little to do. Completed one of his few crosses but looked to have no ideas when he was on the ball. Probably could have been taken off for Perisic earlier.
Lukaku - 6: Statistics again look good for Rom in this match, but they mean nothing when they are nullified by a defensive opposition. He was most dangerous when dribbling at defenders, but rarely got the ball in a position or situation to do so. Standing offside and getting caught in the head with one of Inter’s best chances of the match was salt in the wound.
Lautaro - 5.5: The crossbar hit early in the match was unlucky, but most of the rest of the match was wasteful. Four of his five shots were off target, usually looking more like a clearance into the stands than a shot. That one crossbar will haunt for a while.
Perisic - 6: Probably attempted more long throw ins in this match than in his entire Inter career. Not much of a factor.
Alexis - 6.5: Looked a threat when he came on, but not enough. Might have gotten the winner, but his header drilled Lukaku at close range. Pain.
Eriksen - 6.5: Despite being thrown on late by Conte (again), he looked more creative than any of the starting midfielders. Could have had an assist on the Alexis chance, the karma.
Darmian - N/A
D’Ambrosio - N/A
Conte - 2: The rigidity of Conte’s system and his hesitancy to change apprach mid-game again showed in Europe. First Inter manager to finish rock bottom in the Champions League group stage. Only option for him to redeem himself now is a Scudetto.
Once everyone gets all the anger and disappointment out of their system, it’ll be time for Sunday’s lunchtime fixture away to Cagliari. See you all then for the beginning of the Scudetto or bust train!