Antonio Conte rolled out a largely first-choice XI Saturday evening on a cold and rainy San Siro pitch. He made just four tweaks from the team that was in Champions League action on Tuesday, bringing Ivan Perisic and Achraf Hakimi on for Ashley Young and Matteo Darmian, respectively. Arturo Vidal slotted in for Nicolo Barella, while Alexis Sanchez gave Lautaro Martinez a rest upfront.
Inter had the heavy majority of possession in the early stages and found the breakthrough 16 minutes in thanks to who else but Romelu Lukaku. Bologna has now gone without a clean sheet in 42 of its last 43 league outings. In case you needed any more of a reason to appreciate our back-three, there it is.
Inter 1-0 Bologna (Romelu Lukaku) pic.twitter.com/MWSkKmHdLr— InterVids (@VidsInter) December 5, 2020
Bologna started to see more of the ball after Inter’s opener, but the Rossoblu never were able to pierce the Nerazzurri’s armor. Inter, meanwhile, had several half-chances to make in 2-0 going the other way, the most notable of which came on the counter in the 34th minute. Sanchez and Lukaku found themselves 2-v-1 with Gary Medel. Medel was able to hold his ground and force Lukaku to an angle, where Bologna’s keeper Lukasz Skorupski came up big against the Belgian’s effort.
The Nerazzurri couldn’t be held back for long, though, and doubled its lead on the stroke of halftime.
Inter 2-0 Bologna (Hakimi) and what an assist by Brozovic pic.twitter.com/iByZzjbT7x— InterVids (@VidsInter) December 5, 2020
That wasn’t Inter’s best half of football this season, but the scoreline is all that matters. Bologna had a slight edge in possession (52%), but its 4 shots never gave Handanovic much stress. Inter always looked capable of causing Bologna problems when it went forward, but it couldn’t put the visitors under sustained pressure.
The second half looked much the same, but Inter’s passiveness combined with offensive Bologna substitutions pulled the visitors back into the game. From the back post, Emanuel Vignato blasted a low cross past a helpless Samir Handanovic and halved Bologna’s deficit in the 67th minute.
That scoreline wouldn’t survive for long, much to every Inter fan’s vast relief. Hakimi’s bursting speed earned him a brace and put the game once more firmly in the Nerazzurri’s grasp.
Inter 3-0 Bologna (Hakimi) masterclass pic.twitter.com/PhjmHC3WP7— InterVids (@VidsInter) December 5, 2020
With a two-goal advantage restored, the final twenty minutes of the game were nothing to write home about and Inter picked up another three points in the league.
This has been quite the week in the blue side of Milan. Inter kicked it off with a desperately needed win at Sassuolo, a topsy-turvy conquering of Monchengladbach that keeps Inter alive in the UCL, and now a business-like victory over Bologna.
The visitors certainly held their own at the San Siro, holding 55% of the ball and ending the night with the same number of shots as Inter (14 with 7 on target). What Bologna lacked, however, was gamechangers such as the likes of Lukaku and Hakimi. Inter judged in front of the Rossoblu in expected goals by 1.98xg to 1.12xg, but more importantly was where the shots were coming from. Seventy-nine percent of Inter’s efforts came in the box, while just 42% of Bologna’s came from inside the area. Surprise, surprise, the closer you are to goal, the more likely you’ll score, and that’s what happened Saturday. That’s thanks to the defensive work of Inter, in midfield and the back-three. Though Bologna isn’t the most powerful offensive presence, keeping them from sending much the way of Handanovic for large periods is further proof that the tactical switch to a simple 3-5-2 is working.
The Nerazzurri’s average positions looked exactly as Conte had drawn up the lineup sheet. Bastoni (95) can be seen venturing forward, while Brozovic (77) drops deep with Gagliardini (5) and Vidal (22) flanking him. The only difference is that Sanchez (7) is allowed to roam when he’s on the pitch, compared to Lautaro who usually partners Lukaku at the tip of the 3-5-2. Hakimi is also allowed more space to run in thanks to this formation, so his biggest strengths are amplified as we saw today.
Handanovic - 6.5: Though it’s a shame the 36-year-old couldn’t pick up his 2nd clean sheet in 3 games, he still had a solid outing. Handanovic made several routine saves early on for a total of 6 across 90 minutes, but was left out to dry on the sole Bologna goal. What wasn’t so great was Handanovic’s passing, which included a 44% competition rate out of 25 attempts and 15 losses of possession. Luckily for him, that’s not the goalkeeper’s primary focus.
Bastoni - 7: Another performance of a caliber that’s now the expected from Bastoni. He was excellent in possession, making plenty of driving runs into Bologna’s half and finding the mark with 92% of 60 passes. He also tallied a team-high 6 successful long balls. Bastoni also won 4 of 6 duels defensively and notched 3 clearances.
de Vrij - 7: The Dutchman was just as solid. All but 2 of 37 passes were completed, and he helped keep all but 3 of Bologna’s 18 attempted crosses from finding their target.
Skriniar - 7: If you’re noticing a theme in the ratings of Inter’s center-backs, it’s because there is one. Now that they’re all finally fit, Inter’s back three seems to be consistently putting in the work, making the days of leaking goals left and right seem like years ago. Skriniar specifically won 6 duels and made 4 clearances.
Perisic - 6.5: The Croatian’s pinpoint cross to Lukaku in the 16th minute was what got it all going. Though that was the high of Perisic’s outing, he didn’t look out of place at wingback, as we’ve seen previously this season. He, Young, and Darmian have proven to provide ample enough quality on the left flank, which was definitely a position with a big question mark hanging over it coming into this season.
Gagliardini - 7: Gagliardini carried on his good run of form into the weekend, and even could have gotten on the scoresheet if not for wayward finishing. He made 31/35 passes, including 2 key ones.
Vidal - 6.5: Vidal’s return to the starting lineup after a midweek suspension was for the most part a positive one. His 4 interceptions were the most on Inter, as the Chilean put in a more defensively focused 90 minutes.
Brozovic - 8: Brozovic was lights out, and that’s no understatement. His assist on Hakimi’s first goal was one of the prettiest passes of the weekend, while he lead the team in key passes (3), and touches (87). Furthermore, he made 97% of his passes, including 3 of 4 long balls. With rumors that a swap with PSG’s Leonardo Paredes fell through on deadline day, you can’t help but breathe a massive sigh of relief that that particular transfer never came to pass.
Hakimi - 8.5: The Moroccan’s opening half-hour, full of misplaced shots and crosses, couldn’t have been more deceiving. From the 45th minute on, he showed the quality he had hinted at early this season. He couldn’t have deserved that brace anymore, his first goals since September. Hopefully, this is a sign of Hakimi acclimating with Serie A, which understandably has taken a while considering its vast differences and superiority (Right? Right???) compared to the Bundesliga.
Lukaku - 7: Lukaku finds a way to score even when he’s not at his best, but that’s quite alright with me. His 16 touches and 8 completed passes were the lowest of any starter, but he did superbly on the opener to body Tomiyasu off the ball even as the Japanese defender had a full-grasp of Lukaku’s shirt. His 8th goal of the season moves him up to second in the Golden Boot race, 2 off Zlatan in 1st.
Sanchez - 6.5: The Chilean’s freedom to roam across the pitch had its up and downs. Bologna’s backline couldn’t get a lock on him, but at times it seemed as though he was running into his own teammates. With that said, Sanchez aced all 4 of his long balls and had a respectable 85% pass competition rate, the team average on Saturday.
Inter retains 2nd place no matter how the rest of Matchday 10’s results fall. The Nerazzurri are 2 points short of Milan ahead of the Rossoneri’s Sunday clash with Sampdoria, but 1 ahead of Juventus. Inter has 3 days until it’s in action once more, hosting Shakhtar Donetsk in a must-win Champions League clash. After that is a league clash at Cagliari on Sunday.
See you Wednesday.