That may have been a bit too close for comfort, but in the end Inter Milan started the end of the season off on the right foot. Two first half goals from the strike partnership of Lukaku and Lautaro (we still haven’t found them a nickname yet, have we?) were enough despite a nervy second period. Here are each side’s starting elevens.
Moving on to the thick of things, Inter started the match quite brightly. The attack was clicking and looked as sharp as it had in a while. Christian Eriksen had a goal disallowed for offside in the 2nd minute, but soon after Romelu Lukaku opened the scoring with his 18th of the season.
Lukaku played a neat one-two with Eriksen that resulted in the Belgian finding himself unmarked at the top of the six yard box with the ball at his feet. Although he failed to put much power on his shot, it still snuck under Emilio Audero’s arms and into the back of the net. To celebrate, Lukaku took a knee and raised his fist in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. That was an important gesture on his part. I would like to add, though, that in my opinion it is also the responsibility of white players to show support and not remain standing.
Inter kept the intensity on after the goal. It dominated possession and had multiple chances for a second: Candreva struck a half-volley from well outside the box that whizzed past the cross bar, while Lukaku skied an effort from close range that he could have been expected to do better with.
That goal would eventually come in the 33rd minute, thanks to more excellent team play. From the edge of the box Lukaku slipped a tidy pass towards Candreva, deeper in the penalty area. In turn, the Italian sent a ball across the goalmouth and onto a platter for Martínez to bury home from within the six yard box. That was a lovely play to watch, and even more so since it broke Lautaro’s six game drought.
Inter completely controlled that half. It had 75% of the ball, and outshot Sampdoria 9-2, with those two not even coming until the final couple minutes of action.
The front three all looked fantastic, which is not something we’re used to seeing. And the backline and midfield kept the visitors from getting anywhere near Handanovic’s goal. In other words, a great 45 minutes of football if you’re a Nerrazurri fan.
Unfortunately, the second half was intent on being very different. Sampdoria halved Inter’s advantage in the 52nd minute. From a corner kick, Omar Colley sent a header thundering off the crossbar and Morten Thorsby redirected the rebound goalwards. Handanovic was able to get a foot to the ball, but only succeeded in sending it trickling into the side netting.
Sampdoria’s confidence spiked, while simultaneously Inter became nervous and frustrated. Out of nowhere the game was back on. But despite the significant change in the atmosphere of the game, Sampdoria failed to find much of anything in the final third. The absence of its leading scorer, Fabio Quagliarella, was definitely felt. The visiting attack rarely had any sort of impact on the San Siro pitch. That was fortunate for Inter, which looked a shell of its previous self. Still, the Nerazzurri held on for the one goal win to move within 6 points of first.
There were many positives to take from that performance, even if the second half didn’t necessarily pan out as expected. First, Christian Eriksen has looked like a new man since the restart. Before the shutdown, he showed flashes of quality but couldn’t consistently be a threat since he didn’t fit with Conte’s system. Now, though, the Dane looks more like a part of Inter and can be counted on as a starter. We’re already seeing the returns, with Eriksen notching his first goal and assist in the last two matches. That link up play with Lukaku on the 1st goal was very encouraging, as well.
Another striker had a reversal of fortunes Sunday. With rumors about moves to Spain swirling around his head, Lautaro looked disinterested in the Coppa Italia semi final vs Napoli. That was not the case against Sampdoria, though. The Argentine tallied his first goal in seven games and played a bigger role in general. Whether he was buoyed by that dismal performance against Napoli, or if he’s banished the transfer rumors from the front of his mind, we desperately need this Lautaro and then some every game if Inter wants a real chance at the Scudetto.
There are many times when I wish soccer only lasted a single half. The 3-2 defeat at Dortmund, the first loss of the season to Juve, and last night all spring to mind. I don’t know about you, but I was very nervous that Sampdoria would somehow steal a point after that magnificent first half show was followed by a much less magnificent second half. Let’s listen to Il Mister himself:
“I hope these games will help us realise we must kill – in a sporting sense – the opponent and kill the game when we have the chance.”
Source | Antonio Conte
Inter was lucky that the team it left such a wide door open for was Sampdoria, rather than a side more suited for scoring multiple goals such as Sassuolo or Parma. Which reminds me, who does Inter play this week? Ah. Well, in that case, if it wants the three points, the Nerazzurri will need to be sharp for the full 90 minutes in its upcoming games.
See you Wednesday!