On the heels of a tough loss to Juventus in the midweek, Inter Milan managed to rebound quickly by beating one of the two teams that have successfully triumphed over the Turin side on Friday night. Operating on short rest after Tuesday’s clash, Inter and stand-in manager Cristian Stellini made things look easy at a ground that has haunted the Nerazzurri for the better half of a decade, cruising to a 2-0 win and a fourth successive Serie A clean sheet.
Just days after the defeat to Juventus, it seemed logical to think that Antonio Conte would instruct his assistant Stellini, who has been standing in during the manager’s two match ban for comments during the Udinese match, to rotate a few players into the starting lineup. However, the only changes came at wingback and striker, where Matteo Darmian and Ashley Young made way for Achraf Hakimi and Ivan Perisic while Romelu Lukaku took the place of Lautaro Martinez up top.
Selection was a bit tougher for the home side, as red cards to Nikola Milenkovic and Gaetano Castrovilli on top of an injury to Franck Ribery forced manager Cesare Prandelli’s to leave out three of his side’s most important players. The personnel situation also allowed for former Inter midfielder and Fiorentina stalwart Borja Valero a start against his former team. A second meeting with Cristiano Biraghi this season also made for a threat, whipping in crosses to the red hot Dusan Vlahovic.
FIORENTINA (3-5-1-1): Dragowski; Martinez Quarta, Pezzella, Igor; Venuti, Bonaventura, Amrabat, Eysseric, Biraghi; Borja Valero; Vlahovic.
INTER (3-5-2): Handanovic; Skriniar, de Vrij, Bastoni; Hakimi, Barella, Brozovic, Vidal, Perisic; Lukaku, Sanchez.
A lightning fast start for Inter saw the visitors almost take the lead before the first minute of the match had passed. Alexis Sanchez, Lukaku, and Nicolo Barella linked up to get into the Fiorentina penalty area, but Barella could not find Arturo Vidal in front of net. Just a few minutes later, Barella found himself in the box again. A ball from Hakimi found the Italian in the center of the box with only the keeper to beat. Goalkeeper Bartlomiej Dragowski, who has put in heroic performances against Inter in the past, pulled out a masterful save to keep the match level in the early proceedings.
The save did not deter Barella, who found the breakthrough after half an hour with a beautiful curling effort from outside of the box after a corner taken short by Marcelo Brozovic and Alexis. The shot curled past Dragowski and looked nearly identical to the young midfielder’s late winner against Hellas Verona last season.
After the goal, Inter sat back in what might not have been the best decision in the moment. The ensuing Fiorentina pressure forced a wild double save out of Samir Handanovic, who pushed the first effort from Giacomo Bonaventura onto the crossbar before making a kick save on the follow up from Biraghi. After the saves, Inter were able to soldier on into halftime with the lead.
After the shaky first half finish, Inter found their feet again after the halftime interval. Before the second half kickoff, Vidal was replaced by Roberto Gagliardini. The Chilean picked up a knock to the knee in the first half. The change did not disrupt the team one bit, especially for wingback Hakimi and Perisic, who found themselves in considerable space every time Inter came forward. This advantage on the flanks proved costly for Fiorentina just minutes into the second half, as Hakimi blew past Igor and into the defender’s penalty area where a simple square pass found fellow wingback Perisic who tapped home into an empty net.
The second goal all but switched Prandelli’s men off. The lack of any sustainable attacking quality and the oppressiveness of Inter’s press when engaged left the home side with very little spark going forward. Not even the inclusion of Christian Kouame, who has scored his only two goals of the season against Inter, was enough to put considerable pressure on the Inter goal. The away side, however, continued to pelt Dragowski in goal. Both Lukaku and substitute Lautaro Martinez had chances on goal while Hakimi got free twice more on the right side, but to no avail. The match ultimately ended at 2-0, a second successive league victory that has felt rather comfortable for the Nerazzurri.
Handanovic - 6.5 Other than the impressive double save, not much to do. He faced a few other minor shots early, which might have helped his sharpness in the big two. Some may argue that the shots were straight at him, but they were still put in with some real venom. Overall, can’t complain about his performance.
Skriniar - 7: Might have contributed more in attack than defense, but did well in both. Four Serie A clean sheets in a row is a commendable feat.
de Vrij - 7: Matched up primarily against Vlahovic and kept him quiet. An exemplary professional putting in another professional performance.
Bastoni - 7: Like Skriniar, he is tasked with getting forward to create overloads against sides that sit deep. Looked very good on and off the ball.
Hakimi - 6.5: It is so clear to see the improvements he has made defensively on top of his attacking threat. He defended well and got forward so quickly and dangerously he could have had multiple goals and assists if it weren’t for his decision making. One he perfects his final ball and decision making in the final third, he will be virtually unplayable.
Barella - 8 (MOTM): This guy cannot stop dropping world class performances right now. He fights for every ball, knows where to be every moment in both defense and attack, and now he’s starting to find his finishing boots. What a player that Inter have for years to come.
Brozovic - 7: Hard to think of him putting a foot wrong at all in this match. After a shaky performance against Juventus, this was just the performance he needed to rebound with.
Vidal - 5.5: Quiet performance in the first half and came off at halftime without doing much of note. Hope his knock isn’t serious.
Perisic - 6.5: A decent first half was followed up by a superb second half for him. He has been a question mark on the left at times this season, but with Ashley Young in the form that he is in at the moment, it might be time for Perisic or Darmian to make that left side their own.
Lukaku - 6: A quiet match in attack from Inter’s number nine, but his defense on Fiorentina’s corners was commendable. He never lets his head drop and he’s always there for his teammates.
Alexis - 6: While he didn’t find the net, he seems to be able to find passes that few other Inter players can pick out. Dropping deep and looking to create is his role now that his eye for goal seems to have passed him by.
Gagliardini - 6.5: Some might have been concerned to see him come on at halftime, but he played a very solid second half. Working hard and winning balls looked good on him.
Lautaro - 6.5: Lukaku seemed to perk up when his usual strike partner made his way onto the pitch. Both looked dangerous linking up and the Argentine nearly got himself a goal.
Darmian/Pinamonti - N/A
Conte/Stellini - 6.5: The loss midweek was tough and it was important to get a win here to keep everyone on the rails. A sound and comfortable win is never something any of us will complain about. Solid from both who were undoubtedly in communication throughout.
With everything still going well in the league, the focus will be on the second leg of the Coppa Italia semifinal away to Juventus on Tuesday. A big performance will be needed from Conte and his men to overturn the 2-1 aggregate deficit.