Inter diverted from its tried and true 3-5-2 formation, instead going with a 3-4-2-1 to mirror Verona’s shape. Lautaro Martinez and Ivan Perisic lined up behind Romelu Lukaku. Roberto Gagliardini was sacrificed from midfield, but other than that the team sheet was as expected. Verona, meanwhile, started two Inter loanees, Eddie Salcedo and Federico Dimarco.
As has been custom lately, Inter struggled to get things going in the first half. Verona had its defensive third locked down and the visitors couldn’t find a way through. It was Verona that registered the first real chance in the 26th minute. Dimarco went on a run deep into the box and let loose a sizzling low effort from a tight angle but Samir Handanovic kept it out.
Inter’s first and only shot on target of the half came in the 36th minute when a first-time Lautaro effort was pawed over the bar by Marco Silvestri. Other than that chance, Inter never tested Verona’s backline and lacked any sort of spark. For the fifth straight match Inter went into the interval with zero goals scored. But as was the case in all but one of those outings, the side from Milan claimed victory in the second.
The Nerazzurri came out of the break on the front foot and reaped rewards almost immediately when Lautaro and Hakimi linked up for a nifty opener in the 52nd minute.
Hellas Verona 0-1 Inter (Lautaro Martinez) pic.twitter.com/V1MRtw32a2— InterVids (@VidsInter) December 23, 2020
The hosts, though, were quite literally handed the equalizer ten minutes later. A Verona cross looked to be comfortably caught by Handanovic, but, uh, yikes...
Inter responded positively and managed to restore its lead by the 69th minute thanks to Milan Skriniar’s first goal since a 2-0 win against Benevento in February 2018.
Hellas Verona 1-2 Inter (Milan Skriniar) what a header it is. pic.twitter.com/ykjbg1Lqha— InterVids (@VidsInter) December 23, 2020
The visitors were able to coax the final twenty minutes to a conclusion with minimal fuss and walked out of Verona with all three points.
It wasn’t pretty (no thanks to the horrendous Bentengodi pitch) but even the giant-killers of Hellas Verona couldn’t keep Inter from extending its winning streak to seven.
The hosts were true to its tag of third-best defense in the league, sitting back and allowing Inter to have the ball, but not any space. Inter’s 60% possession was enough to earn it 18 shots with 5 on target. Still, for long periods of the match (most in the first half) Silvestri’s goal was untroubled and Inter relied on a moment of magic from Lautaro and Hakimi and set pieces. Growing pains when changing formation are unsurprising, though, and the first look at a 3-4-2-1 offered mixed results. Here is the combined heatmap of Lukaku, Lautaro, and Perisic.
Perisic often drifted out to the right flank, while Lautaro operated more centrally. Lukaku stayed higher up, but he too dropped back into the middle on occasion. The effectiveness of this new set-up is still to be determined, however. Perisic, for one, had very little impact (lowest number of touches of any Inter starter), and it doesn’t seem like this is a natural fit. Lautaro and Lukaku looked smooth, while the change of position may even suit Lautaro and allow him to work in the spaces left empty. The main concern, though, is in midfield. Verona was able to have more control over that sector with Barella and Brozovic forced into deeper roles and unable to have the same impact. Still, Hellas Verona is perhaps not the ideal side to try out a new shape against. Inter’s next outing with Crotone would make for an interesting second go at the 3-4-2-1 and there are some signs it could go well. Especially if Papu Gomez ends up in a different shade of Nerazzurri pretty soon...
Handanovic - 5: Handanovic was called into action just twice, but with vastly different results. His reflex save against Dimarco kept the scoreline level at a vital time, but there’s no excusing what came later on when he gifted Verona an equalizer. Fortunately, his mistake had no bearing on the end result but to say the least it’s not what’s expected from the captain.
Bastoni - 7: It’s becoming more and more difficult to come up with something to say about Inter’s back three that hasn’t been said on past player ratings. Its the same quality showing week after week. Bastoni was no different, winning a team-high 11 duels and making 6 long balls.
de Vrij - 7: Four interceptions and 10 duels won? Business as usual for the anchor of Inter’s backline.
Skriniar - 7: Skriniar’s skill on the ball was showcased once again as his passing accuracy of 89% was the highest. He also put in 3 clearances, 1 interception, and 1 key pass.
Young - 6: Young had a quiet outing, though that’s allowed with Hakimi bombing up and down the right flank. He made 79% of his passes and won zero duels.
Brozovic - 7: Brozovic had an up and down showing, perhaps thanks to the change of position. He lost possession a team-high 21 times, though made up for that with 4 key passes, including a superb assist on the gamewinner. The Croatian is definitely looking tired, however, so a break will do him good.
Barella - 6.5: Playing in a deeper role didn’t suit the Italian and he didn’t look at his best as minutes pile up. He’s looked worn out for the past week, and how he manages to keep performing at such a high level is an incredible feat. Wednesday was no different, as Barella won 10 duels and made 54 of 63 passes (86%).
Hakimi - 7.5: The Morrocan is finding his form, with 3 goals and 1 assist in his last 3 starts. He sent in a fantastic cross to Lautaro for the opener, not to mention an additional 3 key passes.
Perisic - 6: The Croatian had little say on the Bentengodi pitch, registering just 32 touches (the least of any Inter starter), a lowly passing accuracy of 58%, and no shots. After four months in a Nerazzurri kit, it remains to be seen what position suits Perisic best and the time is ticking down, if not already up as he’s been linked with a January exit.
Lautaro - 7.5: Inter’s first two shots on target of the game came via the Argentine and his class volleyed finish opened the scoring. It was an excellent outing from Lautaro, but you can’t help but wonder what it would be like if he put in this sort of game a bit more consistently.
Lukaku - 7: On a different day Lukaku could have notched at least a brace, but somehow his multitude of late chances all missed the back of the net. That doesn’t take away from his performance, though, which was full of battles with Verona’s center-backs. He took part in the most duels of any player (27!), winning 10.
Though Inter still haven’t reached first (thanks a lot Lazio), the Nerazzurri’s recent form has been remarkable. The first seven matches of the campaign saw Inter register 12 out of 21 possible points, while scoring 16 and conceding 11. Since then, though, Inter has picked up all 21 possible points and closed the gap with Milan to a sole point. Furthermore, Inter has scored 18 but let in a mere 6. When the Nerazzurri’s first choice backline is on the pitch, as it has been in each of Inter’s most recent seven fixtures, Inter is elevated to the next level.
Next up for Inter in January are some massive clashes with Juventus and Roma, as well as meetings with Crotone, Sampdoria, and Udinese. Continuing its current run of form in the new year will be a huge boost to Inter’s title hopes but it sure won’t be easy. For now, though, Conte’s side have a well deserved week and a half off.