Needing a win after dropping points in two consecutive league matches, Inter Milan managed to right the ship with a comfortable 2-0 victory away at Empoli. A heavily rotated Inter side saw Danilo D’Ambrosio, Alexis Sanchez, and Federico Dimarco stand out to help secure the Nerazzurri’s first clean sheet win since the opening matchday at home against Genoa.
Midweek fixtures typically see the most rotation for every team in the league. For Aurelio Andreazzoli’s side, three changes were made. Most importantly for the Azzurri, the strike partnership of Milan product Patrick Cutrone and Inter loanee Andrea Pinamonti was not tampered with after the strikers scored three of Empoli’s four goals against lowly Salernitana.
With Simone Inzaghi unavailable through red card suspension, his stand-in Massimiliano Farris presided over four changes to the team that drew to Juventus. D’Ambrosio made his first start of the season in place of Milan Skriniar, Roberto Gagliardini replaced Hakan Calhanoglu, Dimarco started over Ivan Perisic, and Sanchez got his first start to finally give a rest to big Edin Dzeko. Only four starters in this match started Inter’s last match against Empoli, the nail-biting 2-1 win at home on matchday 38 of 2018-19 to secure Champions League football in the dying moments of the season.
EMPOLI (4-3-1-2): Vicario; Stojanovic, Luperto, Ismajli, Parisi; Zurkowski, Ricci, Bandinelli; Bajrami; Cutrone, Pinamonti.
INTER (3-5-2): Handanovic; D’Ambrosio, de Vrij, Bastoni; Darmian, Barella, Brozovic, Gagliardini, Dimarco; Sanchez, Lautaro.
Empoli started the match with a flurry of pressure. An early corner and some pressure around the Inter penalty box produced a sprawling save from Samir Handanovic on a shot from Petar Stojanovic that looked to be arrowing into the top corner after 12 minutes. A corner six minutes later spawned a passage of play that found Sebastiano Luperto free six yards from goal, but a sprawling D’Ambrosio made it across in time to block the defender’s shot with an outstretched leg.
The last-ditch block from D’Ambrosio seemed to snap Inter into action a bit. Dimarco fired a long-range shot kick that required a save from Guglielmo Vicario. Lautaro took a shot from the following corner, but it sailed harmlessly over.
Inter found the breakthrough 12 minutes from halftime. D’Ambrosio made a driving run from his center-back position and played a nifty one-two with Sanchez, who made a clever play to chip the ball over the Empoli backline onto the head of D’Ambrosio, who never stopped running. The looping header dropped into Vicario’s goal, giving Inter a somewhat undeserved lead. The Inter defender notably dedicated his goal to his teammate Denzel Dumfries, who had a tough appearance against Juventus, giving up the dubious penalty in his first Derby d’Italia.
Alexis Sanchez with a gorgeous chip and Danilo D’Ambrosio is on hand to score pic.twitter.com/JjdXLzrHdk— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) October 27, 2021
Inter almost had a second just before halftime, but Sanchez could not latch onto the inch-perfect ball from Alessandro Bastoni. His cross after being dragged away from goal could not find a finish either.
Felling much more in control with the 1-0 lead, Inter started brighter and with more possession than they managed early in the opening half. Sanchez put a header on target from a Darmian cross on one of the first attacks of the half.
Inter continued to bring pressure, but forced perhaps the most decisive moment of the match on the counterattack six minutes into the half. An Empoli corner could not find a target and allowed Inter to break with Nicolo Barella. The Italian international was then brought down by Samuele Ricci on a terrible sliding challenge that left Barella in a heap. Referee Daniele Chiffi judged the challenge to be worthy of a red card, sending Empoli down to ten men.
With a man advantage, Inter poured on the pressure. Vicario was forced into a save by a close-range shot from Matteo Darmian minutes after the sending off. Sanchez put home the rebound but was offside. Gagliardini then hit the post with a header a few minutes later. Vicario made his most impressive save of the match just after the hour mark, when he denied Lautaro’s header with one arm when the ball looked to already be past the Empoli keeper. Lautaro could do nothing but offer Vicario a dazed fist bump to commend the save.
Lautaro did manage to get his revenge. However, it came by way of an assist. The Inter striker found himself on the ball out wide and played a teasing cross that made it all the way across the face of goal before being swept home by an onrushing Dimarco, effectively putting the match to bed with just under 25 minutes remaining.
The match began to fade away after the second goal. Gagliardini put home a ball with his arm and earned a yellow card for his troubles, Dimarco went hunting for a second on a couple of occasions, but nothing else was to come out of the match. Inter weathered some early pressure but managed to kill off the match early in the second half and conserve some energy for upcoming matches against Udinese and Sheriff Tiraspol.
Handanovic - 6: A quiet match for the Inter number one, which is always good for the team. One serious save to make and stayed mostly anonymous through the match.
Bastoni - 7: The young Italian seems to finally be picking up form again. Defended well on his side and nearly had an assist on a perfect pass to Sanchez. This bodes extremely well for Inter going forward.
de Vrij – 6.5: Received a rare yellow card but did not let it affect his performance defensively. That terrible outing away at Sassuolo is long in the past now.
D’Ambrosio - 8 (MOTM): What a match to have for a first start on the season. Defended well in place of Skriniar, made a great last gasp block, and got his goal through some great running and finishing. Need to see some more of him if he is going to be performing like this.
Dimarco - 7: He has been mostly as advertised from his loan spell at Verona and continued that today. Great set pieces, dangerous shots from deep, and grabbed a nice goal. Just needs a bit more polishing and can be a really solid player for years to come.
Gagliardini - 6.5: Played a tidy game without any glaring mistakes. Could have had a goal on a couple of occasions. A bit dumb to take the yellow card for trying to do his best hand of god impression, but overall had a good match.
Brozovic - 6.5: Had some issues early trying to impose himself on the match, but began to find space as time went on and had a standard match as the director of the midfield. Very solid.
Barella - 7: It is hard to remember very many bad performances he has put in this season. This match was no different. Hard work on both sides of the ball and used his speed to get on the counter that forced Ricci into taking the red card. One of the two big anchors of this midfield as always.
Darmian - 7: Perhaps the most reliable man in the squad. He can always be relied on to give the team solid defense on the right side and was especially dangerous with his crossing today. Did not get an assist, but continuously caused problems.
Sanchez - 7: Began to show some of the form that made him such an important option off the bench last season. His playmaking ability is still there even if his scoring has waned in recent seasons. Great assist for D’Ambrosio. Should have had a goal of his own as well.
Lautaro - 6.5: Still yet to find the back of the net recently, but still working hard in the buildup. He hasn’t been finding much room to operate in within the penalty box, but did well to move out wide and get that ball across to Dimarco for an assist. Also robbed of his goal today. A big confidence boost.
Vecino - 6.5: Nice cameo appearance. Looked dangerous and made some nice passes. Could be someone Inter need in the coming weeks so a performance like that off the bench is welcomed.
Correa - 5.5: Very rusty looking in his return to fitness. Being fit is one thing, being sharp is another. Needs to gain some sharpness in a few more appearances.
Kolarov - 6: A bit surprising to see him in for de Vrij late in the match, but he did his part. Good in defense and in his passing.
Sensi/Dzeko - N/A
Farris - 7.5: Did well as the stand-in for the suspended Inzaghi. Put out the team as was told and made substitutions that did not hurt anything. Always good to preside over a clean sheet away from home.
Next up for Inter is a home match against Udinese on Sunday before a trip to Moldova to face Sheriff Tiraspol next Wednesday in the Champions League. This run of matches from Empoli to Sheriff needs to be 9/9 points on the board in all competitions, and Inter have started it very well.