Inter Milan’s Tuesday clash with Sheriff Tiraspol felt about as much of a must win match for the home side as a Champions League group stage match in October can. Coming into the match, Inter had yet to record a win in the Champions League and were just days off of the weekend’s 3-1 loss at the hands of Lazio. Despite the past days and weeks, Inter put out the fire growing over their recent sputtering and put together a 3-1 win over Sheriff or their first home win in the Champions League since October 23 of 2019.
Simone Inzaghi made a few changes from the Inter side that lose at Lazio with a depleted, fatigued, and jetlagged squad. Federico Dimarco got the start in the back three alongside Stefan de Vrij and Milan Skriniar, most likely for his set pieces and because of the shaky form of Alessandro Bastoni. Arturo Vidal started over Roberto Gagliardini in the midfield while Ivan Perisic moved back to his preferred left wingback position to make way for Lautaro Martinez’s inclusion beside Edin Dzeko up top.
The biggest absence for Sheriff in this match was goalkeeper Giorgos Athanasiadis, the hero of Sheriff's first two Champions league matches. The Greek shot stopper was ruled out through illness. Luxembourg international Sebastien Thill started in the midfield again. The midfielder who scored the winner at Real Madrid and top scorer Adama Traore (not that one) outlined the biggest threats for the Moldovan champions.
INTER (3-5-2): Handanovic; Skriniar, de Vrij, Dimarco; Dumfries, Barella, Brozovic, Vidal, Perisic; Dzeko, Lautaro.
SHERIFF (4-2-3-1): Celeadnic; Costanza, Arboleda, Dulanto, Cristiano; Addo, Thill; Bruno Souza, Kolovos, Castaneda; Traore.
Inter took a couple of minutes to get going, but once they did, it was pretty much one way traffic for the home side. The Nerazzurri earned the first of their 13 corner kicks within three minutes. The set piece was taken short and headed over but indicated the type of match this would be. Inter’s sustained pressure with many men forward against Sheriff with a low block, ready to counter at a moment’s notice.
The home side found themselves on a break of their own 16 minutes in, but were unable to capitalize as backup goalkeeper Dumitru Celeadnic made a great save on Dzeko’s chip attempt. Denzel Dumfries had a similar chance moments before, but his heavy touch took the ball straight to the Moldovan keeper.
Inter continued to push onto the doorstep of the Sheriff goal, but were continually off target. Only a stray Sheriff counter broke up the Inter momentum from time to time, relieving a bit of pressure for the visitors. Dimarco continued his set piece assault with a dangerous free kick attempt on 34 minutes which required a flying save from Celeadnic.
Off of the ensuing corner, Vidal flicked a header on at the near post which found Dzeko peeling away at the far post. The Swan of Sarajevo broke Inter’s Champions League duck with a sublime volley that arrowed into the top corner of Celeadnic’s goal.
THIS FIRST TIME FINISH FROM EDIN DZEKO pic.twitter.com/eI8FQZQVeW— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) October 19, 2021
After the goal, Inter nearly made it 2-0 with a nifty Lautaro chance that was stabbed just with the outside of his boot. Sheriff managed to make one of their counters stick on 40 minutes, as Dumfries lost his man tracking back and forced Samir Handanovic into making a diving save on a Cristiano (not that one) shot from distance. Inter then pushed on to try to make it a 2-0 match, but a saved Perisic shot from distance and a wayward Lautaro header made for the last action of the half. A productive half, but one that perhaps Inter would have wanted more out of.
The second half started in a much more stretched fashion than the first, with Sheriff storming down the field on a couple of counters. The first forced a save out of Handanovic but the second ended with a foul on Bruno by Dimarco. On the ensuing free kick, Thill pulled out another moment of magic. His long range effort curled past Handanovic and gave the visitors an unlikely equalizer and left Inter will everything to do all over again.
Dimarco was instantly replaced by Bastoni for more defensive solidity. The home side had a nearly instant chance to answer, but as a cross fell into the box to Dumfries, he sailed it over the crossbar. Perisic hit the woodwork just after as well. After the Inter wingback’s effort, it would have been easy to see flashbacks to the crossbar robberies of previous matches against Shakhtar, but Vidal managed to put those worried to bed minutes later. The Inter press dispossessed Sheriff in their own half as Brozovic picked up the ball and fed it to Dzeko. The big Bosnian then made the final pass to free Vidal as he rushed in on goal. The Chilean squeezed a near post shot past Celeadnic and stamped out the Sheriff hope for a 1-1 draw.
Less than 10 minutes later, Inter put the match to bed with another set piece goal. A deep Brozovic corner was headed back into the fray at the far post by Dumfries. The looping header found de Vrij, who volleyed home the home side’s third of the match and sapped all hope from Sheriff.
Despite already having the win all but in hand, Inter went searching for more. A Perisic chip effort almost looped into the Sherriff goal, but Celeadnic recovered to make the save. Both Perisic and Lautaro swung at another chance that hammered the crossbar. A welcome cameo from Stefano Sensi also nearly saw him grab a goal, but his effort sailed just over. Lautaro also found one last chance in stoppage time, but his volley was saved very well before referee Danny Makkelie blew the final whistle on a solid Inter performance.
Handanovic - 5.5: The captain showed his age again. The Thill goal very well could have been saved. The other saves were fairly routine outside of the one on the Cristiano (still not that one) shot. Hoping we make it to the end of the season before anything catastrophic happens in his goal.
Dimarco - 6: Played very well up until giving away the cheap foul that led to the goal. His set pieces are always a danger, which help his case.
de Vrij - 6.5: Still trying to figure out how to hold together this unbalanced defensive shape, but is doing his best. Took his goal really well. Dutch linkup.
Skriniar - 6.5: Very solid match in defense, bar the blushes of the Cristiano chance, shared between himself and Dumfries. Always a stopper.
Perisic - 6.5: Very good match for him at both ends of the pitch. Created chances and stopped opposition chances. This is the Perisic Inter need.
Vidal - 7: Great performance from the Chilean. He has firmly put the mistakes of last year’s Champions League campaign firmly behind him. May not have known too much about the assist, but took the goal well.
Brozovic - 6: Kept things flowing in the midfield as he does at his best. That new contract needs to come very soon.
Barella - 6: Similar to Brozo, he had a match that we are all accustomed to but is so important to this team. Close to creating or scoring at least one as well. He will continue to only get better as this team settles under Inzaghi.
Dumfries - 5.5: It’s hard to get below a 6 while having an assist, but he looked like he was five miles deep into his own head for most of the match. Once he figures out his role in the defense and gains some confidence going forward, he will excel. But for now, he looks a bit rushed in everything he does.
Dzeko - 7.5 (MOTM): Stepped up big when his team needed it. Beautiful goal and smart assist to Vidal. As long as he is not overused, he will continue to be class.
Lautaro - 6: Was a bit quiet in the first half, but looked a big threat in the second. Should have had a goal but had some nice saves made on him. No complaints. The chances will even out.
Bastoni - 6: His presence calmed down the defense after the Sheriff goal. Also got forward as he does. Overall good substitute appearance.
Alexis - 5: After all those social media posts complaining about minutes, he has yet to show any reason to play. He will get minutes because Inter will need him to at times, but he needs to back up what he’s putting out for everyone to see.
Gagliardini - 6: Came on to give Vidal some rest and did well. Imposed himself on the match both defensively and offensively.
Kolarov/Sensi - N/A
Inzaghi - 5.5: Smart to start Vidal, but still yet to find some defensive balance. If Sheriff had connected a few more passes on their breaks, perhaps they get another goal. Once he figures out the defense and how to shut up shop with a lead, this team will be very strong.
This victory sets Inter up well with confidence to face rivals Juventus on Sunday in this season’s first Derby d’Italia. Juve have to travel to Russia to face Zenit St. Petersburg on Wednesday, so Inter will be the fresher team and playing at home. Hopefully, all these factors bode well for the Nerazzurri this weekend.