It’s not often that the game of the season comes as early as Matchday 2, but that may just be the case this season. In a seven goal thriller that I needed no invitation to rewatch, Inter Milan triumphed 4-3 thanks to a miracle comeback against Fiorentina.
The game started in the worst way imaginable, with Fiorentina opening the scoring just three minutes in. The play began with a Christian Eriksen give-away in midfield, but Aleksandar Kolarov was particularly at fault. He merely stood still as Christian Kouame and Giacomo Bonaventura passed amongst themselves in the goalmouth.
The Nerazzurri looked incredibly shaky and sloppy following the goal. Truth be told, it was lucky enough to only be down by one. Still, by the 10th minute Inter had begun to grow into the game. Conte’s side thought it had won a penalty in the 18th minute when referee Gianpaolo Calvarese judged Lautaro Martinez to have been tripped in the box by Martin Caceres. A quick glance at the VAR monitor proved that wrong, however, as the Fiorentina defender cleanly won the ball and was in fact kicked by the Argentine.
Despite mounting pressure from Antonio Conte’s side, Fiorentina had two excellent chances to double its lead. From close range, a Nikola Milenkovic header narrowly missed the crossbar while Samir Handanovic was forced into a one-on-one kick save against Kouame.
Inter, though, would get the last laugh of the half thanks to a beautiful strike from Lautaro Martinez. Nicolo Barella deserves plenty of credit as it was his driving run on a counter-attack that set up Lautaro.
Inter 1-1 Fiorentina (Lautaro Martinez) pic.twitter.com/O6y9wuy6SH— InterYaEuropaLeague (@InterELGoals) September 26, 2020
Inter dominated possession (65%) but struggled in the final third with only one sole shot on target from seven attempts. Fiorentina, on the other hand, was able to get into dangerous positions on the rare occasions it ventured forward out of its compact shape. Safe to say, there was a Stefan De Vrij and Milan Skriniar sized hole in the Nerazzurri backline.
Inter’s momentum continued right into the second half, with Inter taking a fortunate lead in the 52nd minute. Lautaro carried the workload, but his cross still needed a hefty deflection to find its way into the back of the net.
The lead, though, was rather short lived. Gaetano Castrovilli netted in his second straight match, albeit with the help of some questionable Nerazzurri defending.
It didn’t take long for Fiorentina to flip the game on its head and retake its lead in the 63rd minute. Once again, Inter was exposed in transition.
INCREDIBLE pass from Ribery, Chiesa with the cool finishpic.twitter.com/DCvhz2sMrd— Karim (@Futball_Karim) September 26, 2020
Inter’s push for a second equalizer lead to the creation of several chances, but none could be converted. Romelu Lukaku sent a first-time effort wide from inside the six-yard box, while Bartłomiej Drągowski made stops on a low Lukaku drive and a Barella rip from distance that almost found the top corner.
La Viola had a superb chance to put the game to bed in the 81st minute. Franck Ribery worked his magic on a counter-attack and set up a wide-open Dusan Vlahovic in the box. The 20-year-old blasted the ball well wide but really should have scored or at least tested Handanovic.
That miss would come back to haunt Fiorentina in cruel fashion. Lukaku, who up to that point had had a relatively inconspicuous game, opened his 2020/21 tally with the sixth (!) goal of the game in the 87th minute.
That was by no means the end of it, though. Less than ninety seconds after the equalizer, Danilo D’Ambrosio of all people gave Inter the lead, and for good this time!
Inter Milan four, Fiorentina three!!
Inter “did well in attack but our defense made us pay,” said Antonio Conte after the final whistle, and hooboy, was he right. Still, the story went a bit deeper than that.
As Il Mister said, defending seemed like an afterthought all too often. The absences of Stefan de Vrij (suspended) and Milan Skriniar were highlighted in severe fashion. Neither D’Ambrosio nor Kolarov were up to speed, and Bastoni looked a bit out of sorts when pushed into the central position. Although the sale of Skriniar now seems unlikely anyways, you would have to think a defensive performance as dire as this would persuade Conte to reinstate him into the starting eleven and any offer short of massive size to be refused.
Depth, though, is not a concern. Conte had the luxury of bringing Radja Nainggolan, Arturo Vidal, Stefano Sensi, Alexis Sanchez, and Achraf Hakimi off the bench. Not one sign of Gagliardini and most subs were even made before the 75th minute! Those players, who could all be excellent starters on their day, pushed Inter to victory against a tiring Fiorentina. This is going to be an incredibly important asset in a 2020/21 season that will look a lot like the way 2019/20 ended.
As for the game itself, it very much mirrored the stats. The Nerazzurri, with 67% of possession, was like a blanket across the pitch and kept 82% of the play in either the middle third or final third. Fiorentina, on the other hand, conceded the midfield and looked to attack on the counter. That certainly worked, but it wasn’t enough when Inter was clicking, which wasn’t always. Out of 21 shots, only 8 found their way to the target, and Inter was forced to take almost half from out side of the box. For contrast, 80% of Fiorentina’s shots came from within the penalty area. That explains La Viola’s expected goals of 2.25 compared to Inter’s 1.7. What matters, however, is the scoreline, and Inter certainly won that battle.
Handanovic - 5: It’s never a good look for a goalie when they concede three, and this was no exception. He’s still the first-choice, but there needs to be a successor in place sooner rather than later.
Kolarov - 6: He gave up on the play on the first goal, which is a huge no-no. Other than that, it was more or less mediocre from the Serbian. Skriniar please!
Bastoni - 7: Like us, Bastoni seemed to miss the presences of Vrij and Skriniar.
D’Ambrosio - 7: A fairly average performance had a fantastic ending, and the 32-year-old keeps coming up with clutch goals.
Perisic - 6: The ex-Bayern man had an inconspicuous return to the San Siro, which although disappointing, isn’t necessarily surprising.
Brozovic - 7: Not bad from the 27-year-old but more is required.
Eriksen - 6: A giveaway prior to the opening goal and a mere two touches in the box took away from a solid workman like performance from the Dane. Still, seeing him start was a nice surprise that hopefully becomes the norm soon enough.
Barella - 7: Barella perhaps was lucky not to be sent off early on for a studs up challenge on Ribery, but rebounded with another good showing in the right of Inter’s midfield.
Young - 6: Dear Conte, please start Hakimi. Signed, Inter fans.
Lukaku - 7: Despite bagging a goal, this was a disappointing game by the Belgian’s standards. Lukaku didn’t have the general impact he usually does, but that can be attributed to rust more than anything else.
Lautaro - 8 (Man of Match): The 23-year-old got the vital equalizer before halftime, and did all the work leading up to the second. A great start to the season for Lautaro, as InterPool predicted.
The subs - A very good combined performance, but nothing special individually. Sixes for everyone except Hakimi, who gets a seven for his assist on Lukaku’s goal.
Conte - 6: Not sure what he was doing with the starting lineup, but at least subs were made when they were needed.
Starting the season with the three points was a must, one way or another. It was certainly “another” yesterday, but it counts all the same. There’s not much time to reflect, though, with Benevento coming up Wednesday.