Inter retained their 11 point lead at the top of Serie A with another one-goal victory, this time against lowly Cagliari. Here are the five takeaways from the match.
Most Technical Midfield Since...
Nicolo Barella has been a mainstay for the Nerazzurri for the past 12 months, so fans were curious to see who would replace him in the starting 11. Vidal used to play his role in the Conte system while Vecino is probably the player with the most similar characteristics to the Italian, but in the end we saw Stefano Sensi partner with Christian Eriksen and Marcelo Brozovic as the midfield three. I've watched Inter for almost twenty years now and struggle to remember a midfield as technically gifted as these three in our colours. The decision paid off as these three were instrumental in helping Inter control the ball and create chances against a deep Cagliari defence. Indeed, Eriksen (4) and Sensi (2) had the most shots for the Nerazzurri and both were unlucky not to score. Conte subbed both players after Darmian's goal to help the side defend the counter, but surely this performance gave Conte confidence for the next time he needs to rest Barella.
A Great Week for Darmian
I wrote after Sassuolo how valuable Darmian's versatility had been for Inter and he proved his immense value yet again against Cagliari. He was serviceable in the first half and was unlucky not to score, but his goal late in the second after being moved to the opposite flank gave the Nerazzurri the three points. Not only that, he never ignored his defensive duties and kept both Nandez and Zappa (two very capable players) under wraps for the match. Once again, this is a player that arrived with no fanfare but has produced time and time again this season. He may well be the smartest transfer in recent memory.
The Threat of The Ex
Inter fans know that the most dangerous players to play are former Nerazzurri themselves. This made Cagliari a potential bogey team to face, especially given the recent fixture congestion. The potential threat of a 30 yard Nainggolan shot or a headed corner from Godin was ever present, but it was substitution of Kwadwo Asamoah that had me most concerned. Here was a player that had basically disappeared from the face of the earth (seriously, if you know why we got rid of Asamoah last year please put it in the comments below because I thought he was a solid player who just vanished) suddenly coming on with the scores at 0-0. It was written in the stars for him, Radja, Godin or even Zappa to get one. But none of them. Much like breaking the 'Sassuolo at home' hoodoo earlier in the week, keeping these guys scoreless was another sign that things are different at Inter.
A Disappointing Sanchez
Alexis Sanchez has played an integral role in the Scudetto charge and has been praised by Conte for doing so, however against the Rossoblu he almost looked like a player that was just trying too hard to have an impact. Inter had plenty of the ball and were always going to fashion chances, but the Chilean was guilty on a number of occasions of making a poor decision or holding the ball too long. That said, its not a real concern. He would be desperate to make the most of every starting appearance and on a better day could have been the key to unlocking a deep-lying defence. This was not that day, though, and we can be grateful to have a bench with someone like Lautaro on it.
The Hakimi We Know and Love
When we talk about Lukaku, he's often described as the perfect player for a Conte team. The same can be said for the Moroccan who's entrance to the game was pivotal for Inter to gain the three points. He had been poor for a few months now (last goal came against Roma!) but the immediately injected pace and incisiveness to the right-hand side and set up Darmian for the easiest of tap ins. Inter fans have been how devastatingly brilliant Hakimi can be this season, and dips in form are to be expected for such a young player. For as long as Conte is in charge, however, we know that we have the perfect environment for Hakimi to continue to grow into a truly special player.
Have any thoughts on the above? Or do you know what happened with Asamoah at Inter? Let us know in the comments below!