It took 330 minutes over two seasons, but Inter finally found the back of the net in the Champions League against Shakhtar Donetsk, and to great effect. A goal after 60 minutes and a quickfire second from Edin Dzeko six minutes later proved to be enough to break the resolve of the Ukranian side. The win, coupled with Real Madrid’s victory over Sheriff Tiraspol, has guaranteed Inter another round of Champions League football.
Like last match, Simone Inzaghi came into the match without Stefan de Vrij and Alexis Sanchez. He rolled out nearly the same Inter side that took an impressive 3-2 victory over Napoli, bringing Dzeko back into the fold over Joaquin Correa, who picked up a small knock in the victory on Sunday. The team come out high on confidence, looking to finally break the narrative of scoreless draws against Shakhtar.
Shakhtar brought back their young goalkeeper Anatolii Trubin, who produced two man of the match performances in the two matches against Inter last season. The Ukrainian was not fit for the first match between the two in 2021. Roberto De Zerbi’s side came into the match with a glaring hole up top, missing a true striker. Both Lassina Traore and Junior Moraes were missing for the visitors, leaving them with a number of support attackers, but no true center forward. This no doubt affected the Italian tactician’s approach to the match.
INTER (3-5-2): Handanovic; Skriniar, Ranocchia, Bastoni; Darmian, Barella, Brozovic, Calhanoglu, Perisic; Dzeko, Lautaro.
SHAKHTAR (4-2-3-1): Trubin; Dodo, Vitao, Marlon, Matviyenko; Stepanenko, Maycon; Tete, Pedrinho, Solomon; Fernando.
As if following a script, the first half had all the pressure possible from Inter, but a disallowed goal and some golden chances missed. Nicolo Barella stabbed at a ball in the box and pushed it over the crossbar 12 minutes in and Shakhtar sent a warning shot into the arms of Samir Handanovic a few minutes later. From a corner, Andrea Ranocchia almost turned a header in, but the effort glanced just wide.
Around the 30 minute mark to the end of the half, Inter really picked up the pressure on the Shakhtar goal. Chances from both strikers, a long range effort from Ivan Perisic, and the disallowed goal due to the heel of Matteo Darmian were barely answered with half chances by Shakhtar. Inter could not find the net though, leaving many scratching their heads.
The home side went into the half with 1.57 on their xG to Shakhtar’s 0.28. The half also produced an interesting stat in that Inter have had 62 shots in the first haves of their Champions League matches this season, only to have one goal to show for it, according to Opta. A frustrating half, but one that Inter showed they could continue to pile pressure on despite being denied at every turn.
At the beginning of the second half, De Zerbi made a change, taking off captain Taras Stepanenko in favor of Marcos Antonio. Inter continued to press for a goal, chances came from Perisic and Lautaro before the home side again thought they had taken the lead by way of an acrobatic Lautaro goal from a Perisic long throw. The goal was given but then ruled out because of a Lautaro push on Mykola Matviyenko just before the shot. It again seemed that Inter were doomed to being kept off the scoresheet by Shakhtar.
The pressure was finally emphatically relieved by Edin Dzeko on the hour mark. The Bosnian helped to start a counter that sprung Perisic down the left. His cross was headed away from Lautaro and directly into the path of Darmian, who had his shot blocked. The ball rolled out to the edge of the D where Dzeko finished the flowing move he helped start by firing a low driven shot into the corner of Trubin’s goal. No woodwork, no foul, no offside. Just the elusive goal against Shakhtar. Celebrations of relief sent the fans to the stadium rails and the players and manager down the touchline towards the goal scorer. The wait was over, but the job not yet done.
EDIN DZEKO— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) November 24, 2021
Inter have had the ball in the net three times today. This one counted pic.twitter.com/iljD3LcOBu
Inter wasted no time in effectively putting the match to bed. Just minutes later, Perisic, who had his touch all over this match, found himself with time and space to float a perfect cross into Dzeko at the back post. The cross left Dzeko with little to do, a simple header into the open net marked 50 goals in Europe for the big Bosnian while also drawing Inter within inches of the knockout rounds.
Edin Dzeko scores his 50th goal in Europe pic.twitter.com/5B9JnhD8Dd— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) November 24, 2021
Shakhtar did not want to go quietly into the night, despite being down by two goals. A chance from Artem Bondarenko flashed just wide of the Inter goal before Dodo missed the visitors’ best chance of the match with nine minutes remaining. Marlos and Dodo found themselves in loads of space in the Inter penalty box. The Brazilian’s shot made it past Handanovic, but careened off of the near post and across the goal line. Mykhailo Mudryk could not catch up to the ball at the back post.
Inter somehow used all of their karma from the number of chances narrowly missed in the matches between the two teams in this one passage of play, keeping Shakhtar off the scoresheet in a moment where the visitors could have pressed for a second with the time still left on the clock. Instead, Inter were able to cruise through the final minutes of the match. Stefano Sensi even made a surprising cameo appearance and even had a good chance to score saved by Trubin. As the final whistle rang out, all eyes then moved to the match between Sheriff Tiraspol and Real Madrid, where dropped points by the Moldovans would guarantee Inter a dance in the next round.
Handanovic - 5.5: A pretty average rating for the keeper these days, It looked like one of those days where any awkward shot could beat the Inter number one. It almost happened with the Dodo chance late. One has to wonder what would take for him to find some consistent confidence, if anything.
Bastoni - 6: Had an okay day at the office, but had to be bailed out by a backtracking Perisic a couple of times. A bit of a drop off from the match against Napoli from the entire back three.
Ranocchia - 6: Deputized well for de Vrij again, but risked being beaten for pace by the Shakhtar front three. Nearly had a goal late, which would have been the cherry on top of his two match starting run.
Skriniar - 6.5: The best of the back three on the day. Got forward often while still securing his side of the defense. No complaints.
Perisic - 8: Continuing on his best Giacinto Facchetti impression, Perisic was virtually unplayable in attack. His defense was also immaculate, singlehandedly stopping multiple Shakhtar attacks. Two great assists. His contributions are growing bigger to this team by the match.
Calhanoglu - 6.5: The Turkish midfielder continues to grow into his new role. Doing his best Arturo Vidal and Barella impressions, he got stuck in well in defense, winning four ground duels. He also made some smart passes in transition. He’s made massive improvements over recent weeks.
Brozovic - 6.5: A standard Brozovic performance. Massive in Inter’s buildup in this Inzaghi system which relies on consistent possession and overloading in attack that takes time to create. So crucial to this team.
Barella - 6.5: Another leggy match from Inter’s workhorse, but he played through it very well. Won the ball in the midfield three times from three attempts. Hopefully he can get some rest with the lax schedule coming up.
Darmian - 6.5: Another player in this team who has found a consistently high level of play. Made some clever plays in attack, but seemed to lose steam before the inclusion of Danilo D’Ambriosio, which is through no fault of his own. He may also be able to rest in upcoming league fixtures.
Dzeko - 8.5 (MOTM): While he looked a little off in the first half, he roared to life in the second. The pressure of trying to find the elusive opener did not break him, and he got European goals number 49 and 50 in style. Maybe he should keep the head bandage on for a few matches.
Lautaro - 6.5: Missed his share of chances, but had a goal disallowed through a foul he did not really need to commit in order to find space. Led the press and worked hard regardless. Good to see him with his head up again.
Correa - 5.5: Not very noticeable in this substitute appearance. No shots and one unsuccessful dribble the time he got forward. Just not up to speed with everyone else on this occasion.
Vidal/D’Ambrosio/Dimarco/Sensi - N/A
Inzaghi - 6.5: Had his setup right and has begun to fully implement his vision onto the squad as a whole. Players are understanding their roles and it shows. Kept everyone levelheaded and the goals eventually came. Momentum is now on his side.
After a tense run of matches, Inter’s schedule softens momentarily. Upcoming matches against Venezia and Spezia will give the Nerazzurri a chance to recharge before a matach against Jose Mourinho’s Roma on the heels of the final Champions League group stage match against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu. For now though, let’s enjoy having Champions League football past December.