Inter Milan headed to Germany to face Borussia Mönchengladbach knowing that only a win would keep their hopes of progressing past the group stages of the Champions League alive. Antonio Conte’s men showed the urgency of a team with their backs against the wall. The Nerazzurri were able to find a bit of last season’s early spark, staving off a comeback attempt from Borussia Mönchengladbach and coming away with a massive three points, thanks in large part to Romelu Lukaku’s second half brace.
With the squad virtually back at full strength, bar the suspended Arturo Vidal, Antonio Conte opted for a starting XI that closely resembled the team that made last season’s Europa League run. The first choice back three of Milan Skriniar, Stefan de Vrij, and Alessandro Bastoni got another start while a midfield of Nicolo Barella, Marcelo Brozovic, and Roberto Gagliardini, which started every match of Inter’s summer Europa League run, was employed for the first time since the summer. Antonio Conte also returned to last season’s 3-5-2, opting for a regista to play deeper in the midfield over this season’s more common trequartista further up in the midfield.
INTER (3-5-2): Handanovic; Skriniar, de Vrij, Bastoni; Darmian, Barella, Brozovic, Gagliardini, Young; Lukaku, Lautaro
BORUSSIA MÖNCHENGLADBACH (4-2-3-1): Sommer; Lainer, Jantschke, Ginter, Wendt; Kramer, Neuhaus; Lazaro, Stindl, Thuram; Pléa
Inter started the match with intent, especially on the right, where Matteo Darmian and Romelu Lukaku found success in being able able to get in behind the Gladbach defense. Inter produced some pressure, but mostly sat deeper than in previous matches, ready to hit the free scoring Gladbach on the counter. A flurry of early pressure produced a breakthrough when a switch of play from left to right in the final third found Matteo Darmian in the penalty box, who put the ball through Yann Sommer’s legs and into the back of the net.
Matteo Darmian's first goal in European competition in 6 years is a beauty. pic.twitter.com/pTfZkU6qQn— Champions League on CBS Sports (@UCLonCBSSports) December 1, 2020
Inter did not let off immediately after the goal, as they have previously, bringing more pressure in the hunt for a second before the half. Lautaro found himself free on the counter, played in on goal by Lukaku. He was denied the second goal by some last ditch defending and goalkeeping by Stefan Lainer and Yann Sommer. After Lautaro’s chance in minute 33 of the match, Gladbach took on the initiative, forcing a couple of saves out of Samir Handanovic, including a sprawling save on a deflected Marcus Thuram shot. However, Inter’s defensive efforts were not enough to shepherd the one goal lead into halftime. A cross from Inter loanee Valentino Lazaro found Alassane Pléa, who equalized with the final touch of the half.
The late first half goal by Gladbach threatened to turn the tides of the match in the second. A free header from Thuram from a cross five minutes into the second half went wide, but Gladbach continued their threat on the Inter goal from the end of the first. Inter began to grow back into the match just after the hour mark, as Lautaro and Lukaku played a neat interchange on the edge of the Gladbach box after an Alessandro Bastoni cross. The resulting shot from Inter’s number 10 thumped Sommer’s post and ricocheted back into play. Just two minutes later, Inter retook the lead. The move began in the midfield with some great defensive work by Gagliardini and Brozovic to win the ball off of Thuram and ended with Lukaku rolling past Denis Zakaria slotting the ball beyond Sommer after being played in by Brozovic.
The man of the hour, Romelu Lukaku comes up huge for Inter Milan pic.twitter.com/16E2C2czjd— Champions League on CBS Sports (@UCLonCBSSports) December 1, 2020
Lukaku’s goal put Inter back into the lead and restored their confidence. That confidence showed itself in Lukaku’s second goal of the match, which capped off a beautiful move started by an Alexis Sanchez chipped ball over the top of the opposition for fellow substitute Achraf Hakimi to run onto then cross to the feet of Lukaku, who then only had Sommer to beat in the box.
14 goals in 12 European matches, Big Rom is alive! pic.twitter.com/Zkq81GBI35— Champions League on CBS Sports (@UCLonCBSSports) December 1, 2020
While many Interisti began to breathe a sigh of relief at 3-1 with less than 20 minutes left in the match, they would quickly be holding their breath again. A goal just three minutes later from Pléa again, after Sanchez was dispossessed in his own half, put Gladbach within reach of a draw.
Not so fast— Champions League on CBS Sports (@UCLonCBSSports) December 1, 2020
Plea gets his brace and puts @borussia_en in striking position pic.twitter.com/KA89vVblUh
Things got even more tenuous, as Pléa put the ball in the back of the net again seven minutes from full time. The goal, which was originally given, was disallowed by referee Danny Makkelie after a consultation with the video assistant referee. With the goal disallowed, Inter were able to stave off Gladbach through six minutes of extra time to set up a grandstand final matchday for the whole of Group B.
Handanovic - 6: The captain made a couple of impressive saves in the first half and was arguably hard done by on the two Gladbach goals, though he did look rather static on the first which was likely out of his reach anyway.
Skriniar - 6: Though he has been a welcome addition back into the side over the past few matches, he was beaten for the first Gladback goal as he lost track of Pléa in the box. Beyond that, he had a quiet but solid match.
de Vrij - 6.5: No complaints about the performance of Inter’s Duchman. He stopped everything that came his way and was accurate on the ball. No heroics needed.
Bastoni - 6.5: The face of a baby, the composure of a veteran. He was a tad sloppy early, but his play late in the match to hold up the ball and waste time at 3-2 was the mark of a maturing defender.
Darmian - 7: Scoring the first goal and playing well in an advanced role exemplified the solid work he has put in so far at Inter. He earned this start after shutting down Boga on the weekend and did not disappoint. Subbed part of the way through the second half to freshen up the right side with Hakimi, but not as a mark on his performance.
Barella - 6.5: Covered a lot of ground and cleaned up when necessary. His placement in a deeper role means we won’t get as many backheel flick assists, but we do enjoy more solidity in the midfield.
Brozovic - 7.5: The Croatian once again proved his value in the regista role. He offered an outlet for distribution in the midfield and contributed to the solid defensive phase in the middle of the park. He was crucial in the second Inter goal, providing the assist for Lukaku. More of this version of Brozo, please.
Gagliardini - 7: Back to back impressive performances. Assisted Darmian’s opening goal and worked hard from box to box. Looked very much like Pioli’s Gagliardini from early 2017.
Young - 5.5: Not the Englishman’s night. He seemed outpaced by the younger Gladbach attack at times and struggled to string things together. Nowhere to be found on Gladbach’s first goal. Perisic came on for him very late to hold onto the result.
Lukaku - 9 (MOTM): Big games call for the biggest players. Lukaku looked up for this match from kickoff. He feasted on Gladbach’s high line and got his brace. He continues to thrive at Inter.
Lautaro - 6.5: Had everything but his goal. Stung the hands of Sommer a few times in the first half and should have put at least one in the back of the net. He looked lively, though. Alexis Sanchez came on and offered a slightly more free roaming option up top.
Hakimi - 6.5: The more room for the Moroccan to run into, the better. On for Darmian to chase the win, he provided the final assist with help from Sanchez’s chipped ball. His speed is still his greatest asset, and it needs to be exploited it more.
Sanchez - 6.5: After a great performance against Sassuolo, Alexis provided an attacking threat again. His ball for Hakimi on the third goal was inch perfect. He offers a very different attacking profile than Lukaku or Lautaro as he is comfortable dropping off and collecting the ball in the midfield, looking to play in others. Can be faulted in losing the ball on the second Gladbach goal, though.
Perisic - N/A
Conte - 7: After the trequartista experiment, Conte seems to have gone back to basics. The 3-5-2 suits this team so well and it has showed in the past two matches now. His team selection was spot on and his substitutions were proactive and paid off. His team lives to see another CL matchday.
Inter will now look to the weekend, where they have the chance to make it three wins on the bounce against Bologna on Saturday. Let’s keep the good run going!