Looking at results across Serie A this weekend, you wouldn’t have been blamed for putting the brakes on any hopes of a straightforward Inter win over lowly Cagliari. Milan had been held by Beto’s Udinese while Juventus stumbled to a draw with Venezia (though results like that from the Old Lady are becoming less and less surprising). Napoli and Lazio failed to pick up results of any kind against Empoli and Sassuolo, respectively. Of the traditional top seven, only Atalanta had picked up three points. Inter’s clash with Cagliari seemed like the perfect trap game, with the Nerazzurri coming off a delflating loss to Real Madrid and the opportunity to jump into first place looming. But Simone Inzaghi’s side navigated its Cagliari test with ease, putting four past the sorry Sardinians and taking sole command of first place in Serie A.
Simone Inzaghi made just two changes from the side that lost to Real Madrid, reinstating Stefan de Vrij and Alexis Sanchez into the XI in place of Danilo D’Ambrosio and Edin Dzeko. Joaquin Correa and Matteo Darmian remained sidelined with injury, but other than that, it was a first-choice lineup for the Nerazzurri. Walter Mazzarri’s Cagliari matched Inter in a 3-5-2 shape, spearheaded by Joao Pedro and Keita Balde, while Inter-loanee Dalbert got the nod on the flank.
Action began in much the way we expected, with Cagliari sitting deep enough to make Alessio Cragno look like a fourth centerback. Nicolo Barella peppered the 27 year old’s goal with a trio of long shots in the opening ten minutes but couldn’t make anything stick. Cagliari had just one venture into Inter’s half worth speaking about, when Raoul Bellanova blasted an effort to the near post from a tight angle but Samir Handanovic was there to parry the ball to safety. Inter’s domination only grew as the game progressed and it held almost 80% of possession at the midway point of the first half. The Nerazzurri’s constant presence in Cagliari’s half meant the ball was destined to bounce past Cragno eventually and the good guys found the opener 29 minutes in. A superb Hakan Calhanonglu corner was flicked in by Lautaro and Inter had a lead it would never relinquish.
HEADS UP, IT'S LAUTARO MARTINEZ pic.twitter.com/ZqDcsv9eUv— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) December 12, 2021
Inter had a handful of chances to double its advantage, including a point blank effort from Sanchez that Cragno somehow managed to close down. The Nerazzurri seemed to get a golden opportunity to make it 2-0 when Dumfries, sprung in behind by a Sanchez through-ball, was taken out in the box by a sliding Cragno for a penalty in the 42nd minute. But Lautaro made his spot-kick attempt all too easy for Cragno to read and the Italian denied the Argentine from twelve yards.
Despite the deceptively close scoreline, Inter was in full control, holding 77% of possession and tallying 13 shots (7 on target). Cagliari managed five attempts but never caused Handanovic problems. All Inzaghi could ask for at the interval was more of the same; Cragno could only play Superman for so long before the goals started to pour in at the Meazza.
Inter didn’t have to wait long to further stake its authority on the match. Alexis Sanchez opened his season account with a sublime volley from a picturesque Barella cross in the 50th minute.
Nicolo Barella— Jerry Mancini (@jmancini8) December 12, 2021
Top Notch Assist
The Nerazzurri blossomed with the two-goal advantage secured and racked up shot after shot on Cragno’s goal. Cagliari, meanwhile, looked like it would rather be anywhere else but the San Siro pitch. Mazzarri isn’t exactly known for progressive football but even the likes of Beppe Iachini or Luca Gotti would have grimaced at Cagliari’s anti-football mindset despite the two-goal deficit. Calhanoglu added to the visitors’ misery with a rocket into the upper corner in the 66th minute.
Lautaro made it 4-0 minutes later, controlling a clever Barella chip with his chest and slotting home past Cragno from close range.
Another Nicolò Barella assist, another Lautaro Martínez goal ☄️ pic.twitter.com/Kx3a3FbkCN— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) December 12, 2021
Inzaghi went to his bench with the three points secured, bringing on Vidal, Dimarco, and Satriano with twenty minutes to go. Cragno managed to keep the scoreline somewhat respectable, making five saves throughout the final stages with his backline melting away from Inter attacks like ice in an oven. The 4-0 scoreline flattered Cagliari by the time the final whistle was blown but Inter could have no complaints after a vibrant Sunday evening at the San Siro.
Handanovic - 6.5: Had very little to do but a shutout is a shutout. Dealt with Cagliari’s two shots on target well (both in the first half) and was a mere spectator for the second half.
Bastoni - 7: With Cagliari putting very little defensive responsibilities on Inter, Bastoni was able to take advantage of more offensive freedom. Had the third most touches, 7 accurate long balls, 4 interceptions, and a team-high twelve duels won.
de Vrij - 6.5: Good to see the Dutchman back in the lineup. Had little to do against the isolated strike pair of Joao Pedro and Keita Balde, the two of which combined for 36 touches.
Skriniar - 7: Was able to have a more offensive impact, like Bastoni. Notched one key pass, a 97% passing rate, four accurate long balls, and three duels won.
Perisic - 6: Not a hugely impactful evening from the Croatian. Perisic had just the eight most touches on Inter and a passing accuracy of 81%. Exited late to give 18-year-old wingback Mattia Zanotti his Serie A debut.
Calhanoglu - 8.5 (Man of the Match): Hakan’s superb form just keeps going and his season tally is up to six goals and five assists. Had three key passes and seven accurate long balls to go with his boxscore contributions. His set piece skill also continues to be a constant threat for Inter and the Nerazzurri have been lethal from the deal ball in large part thanks to Hakan.
Brozovic - 7: Excellent as always from the Croatian. Was second on Inter in both touches and accurate passes, and made 4 successful long balls and won seven duels.
Barella - 8: Back to his best after a few rough games. Partly atoned for his red against Madrid with a pair of classy assists and was a constant nuisance in the center of the park. Led Inter in touches (131), had a passing accuracy of 95%, and four key passes.
Dumfries - 7: One of his best games yet in an Inter kit. Drew the penalty foul and was a nonstop attacking force, creating several opportunities down the right flank and coming a couple of Cragno saves away from a goal.
Sanchez - 7.5: Showed some signs of rust and didn’t look all too comfortable on the ball, leading Inter in turnovers (18). The Chilean still flexed his quality with his first goal of the season and assisted Calhanoglu’s strike. He may not be here past January but it’s nice to see Sanchez is still a force to be reckoned with on his day.
Lautaro - 8: Added to his goal count (now at ten in domestic play) with a pair of quality finishes. His penalties, however, continue to be a concern and it might be time to give Calhanoglu the reins from the spot.
Inter gets a week off before it’s next in action for what feels like the first time in forever. The Nerazzurri travel to last-place Salernitana on Friday to kick off the final stretch of 2021, which concludes with a midweek home clash against Torino. For now, though, Inter can enjoy its slim one-point advantage over Milan at the top of the table, which satisfyingly reads Inter (40 pts), Milan (39), Atalanta (37), and Napoli (36).