Whew. If you thought Inter would have eased into the international break with a somewhat straightforward victory, well, you were in for a nasty surprise Saturday night at the Città del Tricolore. The Nerazzurri endured a dreadful opening hour and relied on heroics from Samir Handanovic just to be within touching distance of Sassuolo. But once Simone Inzaghi turned to his bench, Inter awoke. Inzaghi’s quadruple sub paid its dividends as the good guys squeaked out a 2-1 victory thanks in large part to the endeavors of Edin Dzeko who scored the equalizer and drew the foul for Lautaro’s penalty kick game-winner.
And though it’s hard to forget just how hopeless Inter seemed in the first half, what matters, in the end, is the result. Thanks to Inzaghi’s willingness to bring his bench into play, a seemingly ageless Dzeko, and a fair amount of luck, Inter got the job done. Maybe what we saw in the first half is a reason for worry (the tendency to fall flat out of the gate as we saw vs Fiorentina, Shakhtar, Atalanta, and now Sassuolo isn’t ideal). We should probably be concerned that Inter hasn’t kept a shutout in league play since opening day. The midfield unit isn’t clicking when Hakan Calhanoglu is on the pitch, subsequently putting a lot of pressure directly on the back three.
But as the second international break of the season rolls around, it’s hard to be too displeased with anything from the Nerazzurri perspective. Through the first seven games of Inzaghi’s tenure Inter has five wins, two draws, zero losses, and leads Serie A in goals scored (averaging over three a game). Not bad, eh?
New Sassuolo manager Alessio Dionisi gave a surprise start to Gregoire Defrel leading the line over the Inter-linked pair of Giacomo Raspadori and Gianluca Scamacca. Other than that, though, it was the team we expected led by the lethal trio of Jeremie Boga, Filip Đuričić, and Domenico Berardi. Inter took the field in what could be reasonably argued to be its first-choice XI. There were three changes from the midweek UCL fixture, including Calhanoglu’s re-inclusion into the midfield, Perisic on the flank, and Joaquin Correa up top with Lautaro.
Inter and Sassuolo both bolted out of the gates and created a pair of quality opportunities within the opening stages. After some clinical quick passing in the final third, Nicolo Barella whizzed a rocket wide of the goal from the center of the box. Moments later Defrel let loose from the corner of the box on a counter-attack but Handanovic was able to make a diving stop.
As the half progressed Sassuolo began to stifle any attempts at possession from Inter with a high press. The Nerazzurri’s frequent giveaways only exacerbated the problems, which culminated in Sassuolo’s opener on 22 minutes. Boga picked Barella’s pocket deep in Inter’s half and embarked on a problematic dribble into the box. The Ivorian cut back and was taken down by Milan Skriniar’s outstretched leg. The ref had no hesitation in pointing to the spot and Berardi dispatched the penalty with precision.
Domencio Beradi from the penalty spot ✨— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) October 2, 2021
Inter Milan have their work cut out for them pic.twitter.com/2Zka4N4e3n
Inter continued to be overrun in the center of the park and was second-best by far to the hosts. Its strikers struggled to get in on the action and the midfield was bedraggled on the ball. The Nerazzurri were lucky not to go down 2-0 on the stroke of halftime when a disastrous backpass from Stefan de Vrij was met by an onrushing Defrel rather than the intended target of Handanovic. The Frenchman had a coming together with Inter’s keeper far outside of the box but the man in yellow decided there wasn’t enough contact for a foul. The halftime whistle was a more than welcome sound to the hears of Interisti.
But Inter’s fortunes failed to improve after the interval. Handanovic was called on several times to keep the scoreline manageable in just the first ten minutes of action. Inzaghi decided it was time for a change by the hour mark and brought on Dimarco, Darmian, Vidal, and Dzeko to throw another dimension at Sassuolo. It took just seconds for Inter’s Bosnian striker to put his name on the scoresheet. The 35-year-old connected beautifully with an Ivan Perisic cross to bring Inter level almost out of nowhere 58 minutes in.
Edin Dzeko:— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) October 2, 2021
57': subbed on
IMPACT . pic.twitter.com/dmT4AX6hC5
Inter sensed blood in the water and threw numbers forward as it hunted its second of the night. Sassuolo, on the other hand, looked entirely unaware of what had just struck it. The visitors’ toils were rewarded in the 76th minute. Dzeko was once again the star of the show. He was played in behind Sassuolo’s backline and bungled over by Andrea Consigli at the top of the box. It was Inter’s turn from the spot this time. Lautaro Martinez stepped up and sent Consigli the wrong way, putting Inter into the lead for the first time all day. The Nerazzurri closed up shop in a business-like manner and guided the game to its conclusion. Final score: Inter two, Sassuolo one.
Handanovic - 7.5: His best performance yet. Made seven saves, some of which would have caused any keeper to sweat. Handanovic’s stops on Boga and Duricic in the opening moments of the second half were especially crucial and gave Inter the foundation to go on and claim all three points.
Bastoni - 6.5: Not a vintage Bastoni showing but he still kept things clean on the ball and wasn’t a liability defensively. Went six for seven on long balls, won three duels, and made 2 clearances.
de Vrij - 5.5: Everyone has an off day and for de Vrij, that day was definitely today. Very lucky to get bailed out by Handanovic/the ref on his awful back pass, and looked shaky overall.
Skriniar - 5.5: Also guilty of his worst game yet of the season. Got burned by Boga’s pace and dribbling throughout the first half and committed an avoidable error on the penalty.
Perisic - 7: Much like Inter, Perisic was a tale of two halves. Practically invisible in the first half and conceded possession 14 times but sparked the comeback with a delightful cross to Dzeko. Also made 2 interceptions, 4 key passes, and 3 long balls.
Calhanoglu - 4.5: Hasn’t been the same player we saw in his debut against Genoa. Had just 39 touches, lost possession ten times, and had a passing accuracy of 81%. No impact whatsoever in the final third and his lack of physicality contributed to the midfield struggles. Also does not seem to be a natural fit alongside Brozovic and Barella. Time to give Vidal or Gagliardini (yep, I said it) a start after the break.
Brozovic - 6: Struggled to make any real impact but still was more than serviceable. Had a 83% passing rate (low by his standards), went 2/6 on long balls, and lost possession nine times. Was more effective on the other side of the ball, winning six duels and making thre clearances.
Barella - 6: His minutes are catching up to his legs. One of Inter’s best players Tuesday in Ukraine but had a day to forget against Sassuolo. Was caught in possession ahead of Sassuolo’s penalty, had a passing accuracy of 82%, and lost the ball a team-high 16 times.
Dumfries - 6: Struggled up against the Boga’s pace and tricky footwork, leaving Skriniar isolated against the Ivorian. Wasn’t able to cause any problems going forward either, making just 32 touches and completing 73% of his passes.
Lautaro - 7: One of Inter’s quietest performers up until his goal. The Argentine’s stat line read: 28 touches, 63% pass success rate, possession lost 8 times. Yeah, not Lautaro’s best game but in the end the scoresheet reigns supreme.
Correa - 5.5: Correa had an almost identical game minus the goal. Notched 24 touches, had a 45% pass completion and lost possession ten times. A Lautaro-Correa partnership might work one day but for now, Dzeko is a penciled in starter.
Dzeko - 8 (Man of the Match): Speaking of the Bosnian, it’s a fair assumption that Inter leaves Emilia-Romagna empty handed without his introduction. Dzeko’s physical presence gave Inter’s attack a reference point and his quality and experience was put to even greater use against a tiring Sassuolo backline.
Inzaghi - 7: Inter’s tactical concerns are down to Inzaghi to fix but he did admirably to change the fate of Saturday’s affair. The quadruple sub was what turned the tables on Sassuolo and set Inter up for its late push to all three points. Inter’s first half form is a worry (it’s been outscored 4-1 in the last three Serie A games), as well as how exposed the back three is. But for now, Inter keep up picking results and at the end of the day that’s what counts.
Inter has next weekend off thanks to the international break before a visit to Lazio Saturday the 16th, followed closely by Sheriff Tiraspol’s trip to the San Siro the next Tuesday. Sunday the 24th sees the first Derby d’Italia of the season. In other words, enjoy these two weeks off because things are about to get wild.