With Antonio Conte suspended, it was Cristian Stellini who roamed the touchline for the Nerazzurri. But even with the managerial change, Inter rolled out the same lineup as last week. The only alteration was Roberto Gagliardini for Christian Eriksen, who was only fit for the bench after dealing with a knee problem. Torino, on the other hand, was forced into several changes as it recovers from a major COVID-19 outbreak that saw two games postponed. Wilfried Singo (virus), Tomas Rincon (suspended) were unavailable while Andrea Belotti was only fit for the bench. Antonio Sanabria got his first start up front after a winter move from Real Betis and was partnered by Simone Verdi in a standard 3-5-2 shape.
Inter didn’t have to wait long to find its first (and as it turned out, only) clear look on goal of the half. An Ivan Perisic cross was headed narrowly wide by Lautaro from close range in the 4th minute. The Nerazzurri continued to rack up possession but the best chance of the half fell to Torino in the 29th minute. An unmarked Lyanco sent Simone Verdi’s set-piece delivery crashing off the post and across the goalmouth. Lady Luck smiled at Inter and Lukaku was able to acrobatically clear the rebound off the line to keep the scoreline level.
Despite holding 69% of possession, Inter failed to put a single shot on target from seven attempts. Salvatore Sirigu was never troubled thanks to a sturdy La Granata backline that afforded the Nerazzurri little breathing room in the final third. In fact, Torino should have gone into the interval ahead thanks to Lyanco’s header (one of Torino’s three shots) but Inter was let off the hook.
The Nerazzurri started the second half with clear intent but again fell short of penetrating Torino’s shell. Eventually, though, the constant pressure on the hosts paid off. Armando Izzo bundled into Lautaro at the top of the box and took the Argentine down for a penalty. Romelu Lukaku, who is yet to miss a spot-kick for Inter, stepped up and buried the opener in the 61st minute with Inter’s first shot on target.
But those who expected a stress-free conclusion at the Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino would be disappointed. After Achraf Hakimi saw a close-range effort saved by Sirigu, Torino went down the other end and concocted an equalizer from its first attack of the half in the 70th minute. A wild scramble in the box off a set-piece eventually ended with Sanabria poking the ball home from point-blank. Inter players were up in arms over a possible foul on Skriniar that appeared to at least deserve a VAR check from the replays.
Effettivamente il gol del Torino è irregolare, Zaza e Sanabria spingono Skriniar mentre spiove il pallone che lui sta per intercettare.— Tancredi Palmeri (@tancredipalmeri) March 14, 2021
Abbastanza inspiegabile che il Var non lo veda se l’ho visto io perfino in tempo reale pic.twitter.com/9hVyESLklT
The goal stood, however, and Inter was back to square one. The Nerazzurri threw the kitchen sink at Torino to find its second of the night. The scoreline seemed destined to end level at 1-1, but once again, it was Lautaro causing havoc in the final third that made the difference in the 85th minute. The Argentine’s incredible header from an Alexis Sanchez cross thankfully was enough to secure three points and Inter escaped a resilient Torino unscathed.
As much as we may enjoy multi-goal victories that never seem in doubt and offer frequent beautiful passages of play, football provides that luxury at a limited amount. Inter’s win over Torino was far from a vintage performance, but it counts all the same. The Nerazzurri “enjoyed” 69% of possession and outshot Torino 13-7 but both sides put 3 on target. La Granata had a clear goal in mind; that of stopping Inter’s attack by all means possible. Torino put everyone behind the ball and was focused on keeping its defensive shape at the cost of any sort of prolonged possession. Only two players had an average position in Inter's half and even they were still at midfield, while a mere 16% of the match play took place in the visitors defensive third (thirty-six percent was in Torino’s third).
And for long stretches, this game plan worked. Inter restored to shipping cross after cross to empty space or Torino center backs in the box, a habit we saw a bit too much of earlier this season. Out of 29 total crosses, only 9 were completed. Inter was only able to break through thanks to an Izzo error and Lautaro’s sublime header, though Christian Eriksen’s arrival for Gagliardini did go a long way towards the victory. Individual skill is usually what beats a bunker, and on a day when most key players were off a step (Barella, Hakimi, etc), finding a way to still walk away happy in March is what decides the table come May.
Handanovic - 6: Couldn’t do much on Torino’s goal but that was about the only action he faced all afternoon. The amount of players falling down around Handanovic plus the numerous deflections the ball took led to a practically unsavable goal.
Bastoni - 6.5: Definitely not the Italian’s best showing. Was lucky not to be punished for leaving Lyanco free on the first-half set piece and lost possession 16 times but was solid otherwise, making four long balls, leading Inter in touches, winning eight duels, and four clearances.
de Vrij - 6.5: Put together a strong outing, though he wasn’t asked to do much. Won 4 duels, had a 95% passing accuracy, and six accurate long balls.
Skriniar - 6.5: The only blemish on the Slovak’s afternoon was unnecessarily conceding the free-kick that led to Lyanco’s attempt. Was reliable in possession and stepped up defensively on the rare occasions Torino went forward.
Perisic - 6: Was one of the more dangerous Inter players (for what that’s worth) before his 56th minute exit for Ashley Young. Had one key pass, two accurate crosses, and won two duels. He fell to the periphery as the half wore on, however, and ended his outing with the second least number of touches on Inter.
Gagliardini - 6: It was the same Gagliardini of old; He offered very little in the final third, but lost possession only twice, had a passing rate of 94% thanks to numerous tidy short passes, and won five duels. His exit for Eriksen was much-needed and had the desired effect of coaxing some life out of Inter’s attack.
Brozovic - 7: Inter’s heavy possession numbers meant he was on the ball often. Brozovic didn’t disappoint, hitting 10 long balls and 2 key passes for a passing accuracy of 92%.
Barella - 5.5: Barella’s afternoon took a different route. He was poor in the first half, misplacing passes, trying to do too much when in possession, and looking far from his best. Barella improved some in the second half, making two key passes, three long balls, and winning three duels.
Hakimi - 5.5: Torino’s deep setup nullified the Moroccan’s strengths but his wayward decision making in the final third and cheap giveaways only added to Inter’s offensive problems. Still was able to cause Torino problems, but not to the extent we’ve seen in previous games.
Lautaro - 8.5: Was a spectator for much of the first half but came up big twice to secure the win for Inter. Drew the penalty for the opener before his world-class header as the game-winner where he was somehow able to redirect the ball across the goal even as he fell the opposite way. Was subbed out in the final few minutes to make way for Matias Vecino’s first appearance of the season.
Lukaku - 7: Though the general malaise over Inter meant the Belgian was frequently isolated up top, Lukaku unsurprisingly still found a way to get on the scoresheet and notch a key pass even with the least amount of touches of any Inter starter.
Young - 6: His sub for Perisic was a surprising one but the Englishman did well in his longest appearance for several weeks. Made two clearances, won three duels, and three tackles.
Eriksen - 7: After dealing with a knee inflammation midweek, the Dane was only fit for the bench. That was still enough time for him to make an impact, and it was Eriksen’s pass that led to the penalty. His attacking presence as a whole also opened up Torino’s defense, and after months stuck on the sideline, Eriksen finally seems to be a key player for the Nerazzurri.
As of writing, Inter has extended its lead over Milan to 9 points ahead of the Rossoneri’s evening clash with Napoli, though Juventus seems set to win at Cagliari and remain ten behind Inter albeit with a game in hand. Next up for the Nerazzurri is Sassuolo on Saturday where Inter looks to increase its winning streak to nine going into the international break.