With Inter coming of one match three days ago, and another coming in the same time frame, Antonio Conte made some changes to the lineup. Alessandro Bastoni, Stefan de Vrij, Marcelo Brozovic, and Arturo Vidal returned after resting against Benevento, while Mateo Darmian and Alexis Sanchez replaced the suspended Achraf Hakimi and Romelu Lukaku.
In a mirror of the January meeting between these sides, Inter started off the scoring early. After heavy Juventus possession to start the game, Lautaro Martinez finished off a lethal counter-attack to make it 1-0 in the 9th minute.
El Toro! Built different since he became a dad pic.twitter.com/QK77U7mvMS— ➐ (@QKalamity) February 2, 2021
But unlike the previous outing, Juventus bounced back and found the equalizer. In the 26th minute, Ashley Young pulled Juan Cuadrado to the ground in the box, and though the referee needed VAR, it was a clear foul. Cristiano Ronaldo blasted the spot-kick down the middle.
The Old Lady then completed its comeback in the 35th minute. A de Vrij back pass went into no man’s land, with both Samir Handanovic and Bastoni going for the ball. Handanovic was too slow, however, and the isolated Bastoni sent a loose touch to the feet of Ronaldo. The Portuguese sent a driven effort trickling into the open goal from the edge of the box, with Handanovic stranded yards out of the penalty area.
Inter handed Juve both goals, but the Bianconeri still had the upper hand over the course of the half. The Nerazzurri was outshot 2 to 5, with the visitors holding 63% of the ball. The equalizer took the wind out of Inter’s sails. With the hosts mentally crumbling, Juve was able to fully press its advantage whereas prior to the penalty Inter found joy on the counter and held its own defensively.
Antonio Conte’s side came out of the break on the hunt for an equalizer in what had become an end-to-end second half. Inter’s best chance came in the 57th minute when Alexis Sanchez was gifted the ball from a Juventus error inside the box, but with the goal wide open, the Chilean’s low shot was somehow blocked off the line by Merih Demiral. Mateo Darmian had the next clear-cut look on goal. The Italian received a splitting pass through Juve’s defense and from deep inside the box sent a blast at the center of the goal but Gianluigi Buffon managed to paw it away.
Inter stayed on the offensive, racking up 59% possession and 9 shots (4 on target) compared to Juventus’ 5 in the second period. But a combination of poor finishing and a lack of an edge in the final third that say, Lukaku or Hakimi could have provided, meant Juve was able to put numbers behind the ball without going under severe pressure. And for the second year in a row, Inter go on the road in the second leg needing a multi-goal victory to reach the Coppa Italia final.
Handanovic - 5: Was in complete no man’s land on the second Juve goal, and why Handanovic, a not very mobile keeper on the best of days, decided to come gallivanting out of his box in a cup semifinal is a very curious case. Much more would be expected from the captain, but unfortunately, a new goalkeeper seems to be required in June. If there are the funds for it...
Bastoni - 5.5: Also at fault for the goal, as it was his loose touch rather than clearance that fell to Ronaldo. Other than that was very solid, with 9 accurate long balls, 96% passing accuracy, and the second-most touches on the Nerazzurri.
de Vrij - 6.5: Decent shift from the Dutchman, 92% passing success, 4 completed long balls, and Juve’s attack quiet for much of the game (those massive blunders aside, of course).
Skriniar - 7: The standout performer on Inter’s backline, with the most touches, 95% passing accuracy, 1 key pass, and 6 long balls. To think Inter was even considering selling him to Tottenham just six months ago. What a season so far from the Slovak.
Young - 4: So much for “experience”. There was no need to latch onto Cuadrado in the penalty area, and boy did Inter pay the price for Young’s lapse in judgment. Also offered very little going forward, as his 31 touches were the second-least amongst starters.
Vidal - 6: Not the Chilean’s best match, but the little midfield action meant this wasn’t a game that suited him, plus he picked up a yellow that will rule him out of the second leg. But seven accurate long balls and a 90% passing rate weren’t too shabby.
Brozovic - 5.5: Had a very muted showing and struggled to make any sort of impact thanks to Dejan Kulusevksi’s constant presence on the Croatian. His 54 touches were well short of the average of 76 per game this season and Brozovic had a mere 83% passing accuracy.
Barella - 6: Sent in a perfect assist to Lautaro for the opener but that was about it from the Italian. Had an underwhelming passing rate of 65%, and just 46 touches. This was a far cry compared to his previous outing with Juventus, but credit to Juventus for shutting him and the rest of Inter’s midfield down so effectively.
Darmian - 6.5: Wasn’t quite at the same level as Hakimi but still offered a very serviceable threat down the flank. Could have and perhaps should have scored the equalizer, along with 6 duels won, the 5th most touches, 2 interceptions, and 3 tackles. He deserves an extended run at left wingback at the least, considering the dire straits Young finds himself in at the moment.
Lautaro - 6.5: Got the goal from a feisty finish but did very little else. Tallied a mere 16 touches (the least of any starter) and lacked any sort of service. Though Sanchez may be comfortable dropping back to facilitate build-up, Lautaro is very much not. That, plus the lack of a main striker to play off of, meant it was a very subdued showing from the new father. His partner Agustina Gandolfo gave birth to their daughter Nina this past week. Congratulations!
Sanchez - 6.5: His nifty footwork and hold-up play sparked Inter’s goal but finishing remains a huge issue for Sanchez himself. Had no excuse not to score on the open goal, which would have been the cap to an overall decent showing. Had the 4th-most touches and 3 key passes, as well as 4 duels won.
Perisic - 6: Offered a sizeable upgrade to Young when he came on midway through the second half, with 2 key passes and a 92% accuracy rate. The final product just isn’t there, though, and that’s keeping him from being the set-in-stone starter.
Inter’s Coppa run isn’t over just yet, with a second leg still to come at the Allianz Stadium next Tuesday. It sure took a massive blow, though, and with the away-goals rule still in effect, Inter will need to score at least twice in Turin to advance. With the return of Lukaku and Hakimi, that’s very much possible, but can Inter turn its game up a level as Juve has done since it’s Derby d’Italia defeat? For now, the Nerazzurri travel back to Fiorentina on Friday, this time in a league fixture.
See you then.