The turnaround from Saturday’s victory away to Venezia was short, and tired legs had been on display late in the rain over the weekend, but Inter Milan managed well with injuries, rotations, and last minute absences to cruise to a comfortable 2-0 win at home against Thiago Motta’s Spezia on Wednesday.
After a run of matches that required high levels of intensity dating all the way back to the derby in early November, Simone Inzaghi’s team began to really show the mileage on their legs. Stefan de Vrij still has not returned from his injury with his national team, his backup, Andrea Ranocchia, picked up a thigh injury in Venice, and Matteo Darmian picked up a similar injury. On top of that, Nicolo Barella finally earned a rest and showed the miles he’s picked up over the past season as well as in the summer at the Euros. Alessandro Bastoni pulled out before warmups with a stomach illness. A long list of absentees for Inter brought Denzel Dumfries, Roberto Gagliardini, Danilo D’Ambrosio, and Joaquin Correa into a patchworked lineup that also forced Federico Dimarco into the back three.
Motta changed his Spezia team from their loss to Bologna in an attempt to cope with the Inter attack. They went from a 4-3-3 on the weekend to a 5-3-2 in this match, leaving out M’Bala Nzola, Giulio Maggiore, and Simone Bastoni, who all stood out last season for the Ligurians. Former Inter product Rey Manaj and Inter loanee Eddie Salcedo started up top for an attack that was rendered toothless for nearly the entire match.
INTER (3-5-2): Handanovic; D’Ambrosio, Skriniar, Dimarco; Dumfries, Gagliardini, Brozovic, Calhanoglu, Perisic; Lautaro, Correa.
SPEZIA (5-3-2): Provedel; Amian, Erlic, Hristov Kiwior, Reca; Kovalenko, Sala, Gyasi; Salcedo, Manaj.
Looking like a patched together side, Inter were slow to get out of the gates. The majority of play happened in Spezia’s half, but without threat for the better part of the first 20 minutes of the half. The first shot of the match came after 20 minutes from Jacopo Sala, who fired a long range shot harmlessly at Samir Handanovic against the run of play.
As Inter began to grow into the match, they began to look increasingly dangerous. This trend started with an attack that ended with Correa putting a shot in on Ivan Provedel. Dumfries got in on the action shortly after, cutting inside and getting off a powerful shot that was palmed away by the Spezia keeper.
The Spezia defense continued to bend, but did not break until a very impressive pair of short passes from Lautaro Martinez and D’Ambrosio found Gagliardini, who drove home a powerful shot from the top of the box.
The assist from Lautaro Martinez— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) December 1, 2021
Roberto Gagliardini finds his first goal of the season pic.twitter.com/etc1US2IWu
With Spezia defending so deeply and not really threatening in attack, it was clear early on that a second goal would kill off the match entirely. Inter set out immediately to try to get that second goal. It almost came straight away, as Correa had a shot blocked in the box four minutes after the goal.
At the end of the half, Spezia produced their most impressive chance of the match. A corner found Kelvin Amian in the box, who headed the ball down onto the goal line, where Handanovic got down quickly to make the save at point blank range, ending the half.
The second half quickly picked up the same trends that were apparent in the first. Inter made proceedings into one way traffic, constantly putting in shots towards the Spezia goal. Lautaro had the first decent chance five minutes into the half with a shot from distance that had to be saved by Provedel. Just over a minute later, Correa thundered a shot off of the crossbar, inches away from getting the second goal. Calhanoglu also had a powerful shot not result in a goal, as his effort from outside of the box on the half volley thumped off of the fists of Provedel.
The breakthrough moment came 10 minutes into the half. Lautaro had his shot from the edge of the box handled by young defender Jakub Kiwior, making for a disappointing debut. The ensuing penalty was converted by Lautaro, effectively putting the match to bed with over half an hour left on the clock.
Inter still went hunting for more, a nice bit of linkup between Calhanoglu and Lautaro got the midfielder in a one on one situation with the keeper, but the save was made on him. Spezia attempted to answer, but Handanovic was equal to chances from Manaj and Emmanuel Gyasi.
Late substitutes in the form of Alexis Sanchez, Edin Dzeko, Stefano Sensi, and Arturo Vidal all tried to get in on the scoring, but a Vidal shot was scuffed after touches from all four, bringing the back to a 2-0 finish when it could have been a much larger margin of victory on a different day.
Handanovic - 6.5: A much more assured day at the office for the Inter number one. He made a couple of great saves when needed. Hopefully it is not his only good performance of the month.
Dimarco - 7: A really good match for the Inter youth product. Did not let anyone past him in defense and was very creative in attack. His most complete performance this season so far.
Skriniar- 6.5: A calm performance at the center of the back three. Could not get as far forward because of it, but did well in a role not usually his.
D’Ambrosio- 6: He was not expected to be in the lineup and it showed a bit. The veteran did a decent job, but left a bit to be desired when he got forward.
Perisic - 7: His great run continues. No one is getting anything over him on the left right now. He’s making a solid case for a contract extension.
Calhanoglu - 8 (MOTM): Hakan has come out of nowhere to nail down his spot in the midfield when many were handing it over to Vidal a month ago. Not on the scoresheet but all over this match. Even put in a hard sliding tackle that Vidal would be proud of. Deserved a goal
Brozovic - 7.5: The work he does for this team is utterly irreplaceable. He is everywhere at once, directing play and keeping things moving. Could probably do his job with his eyes closed at this point.
Gagliardini - 7: Everyone groaned at his selection, but he pulled out one of those big games he has hidden away a few times a season, especially against teams from Liguria. Add Spezia to his list of victims now, along with Sampdoria and Genoa over the years.
Dumfries - 6.5: The Dutchman’s trials in settling at Inter seem to be getting him closer to confident. Defended well. Made a really great run late in the match where he started from inside his own half and used the space behind the Spezia defense to his advantage. More of that and he’ll be destroying opposition lines in no time.
Lautaro - 7: Very clever backheel to assist the opener, worked hard to force the penalty and has now convincingly converted a spot kick in two straight matches. Hopefully he’s exercised his demons now.
Correa - 6.5: Like Dumfries, Correa looked like he is close to putting everything together at Inter. Should have had a goal but is starting to pull off some dribbles, which he needs to be successful. Could use a bit more linking up, though.
Sensi - 6.5: Gradually working his way back into the Inter squad with these sub appearances. This was his best one to date. Controlled his part of the midfield and even got forward pretty well. Can the old Sensi make a comeback?
Dzeko - 6: Pretty standard substitute appearance while he tries to regain full fitness. Hopefully he will be ready to face his former club this weekend.
Alexis - 6.5: Recovering from his usual injury with Chile, he looked dangerous in attack. Dzeko and Alexis up top might have a combined age of 200, but they might be a dangerous combination if given some time together.
Vidal/Vecino - N/A
Inzaghi - 7.5: Injuries have been throwing him some curveballs, but he has adjusted the team perfectly in the past few matches. His Inter is so creative. In the past 8 matches, Inter have attempted an unreal 167 shots. They may not be clinical at times, but with that many attempts, something will go in. He is creating a very fun to watch project as his tactics begin to fully click in with the squad.
Inter have now moved within two points of first place Napoli and will be hoping to get a few key players back before a trip to Rome to face Jose Mourinho’s Roma in what will no doubt be a sentimental encounter. Roma are missing quite a few key players, but it will still take some quality to beat the special one.