Despite the midweek fixture, Antonio Conte made only one change from the team that drew Napoli Sunday. Ivan Perisic was deemed fit enough to regain his starting role on the left-wing from Matteo Darmian. Spezia, on the other hand, made seven changes after losing 4-1 to Bologna, but Inter-loanee Lucien Agoume, unfortunately, couldn’t escape the clutches of the substitutes bench.
After surviving 13 league games in a row without trailing, it was only fitting that Inter would concede first in two games back to back. Spezia repeated Napoli’s feat from last weekend and Diego Farias gave the hosts a shock lead twelve minutes in. From the top corner of the box, the Brazilian sent a hefty effort to the far post, and though Samir Handanovic made contact, he couldn’t keep the back of the net unscathed.
The Nerazzurri struggled to respond and despite holding the heavy majority of possession, took until the 21st minute to register its first shot. Achraf Hakimi was the main suspect of Inter’s attacking failings, as the 22-year-old often appeared in dangerous areas only to lack the final pass or dribble to test Ivan Provedel’s goal. Eventually, however, the Moroccan got his end product right. Hakimi’s cross to Ivan Perisic was scraped home on the Croatian’s second attempt and Inter found itself level 39 minutes in.
IVANNNN PERISIC 1-1!!!! pic.twitter.com/8186vCejQa— InterGIFs (@InterGIFs1908) April 21, 2021
The half drew to a close before a reinvigorated Inter could turn the game on its head and tally a second. The Nerazzurri controlled the opening forty-five minutes, boasting 64% possession and 9 shots (4 on target) to Spezia’s sole effort. And yet, Inter failed to consistently penetrate into the final third and needed Perisic’s scrappy finish to draw level, while Spezia’s defense and midfield was rarely overrun or put under heavy pressure.
Inter remained on the hunt for a goal after the interval and came inches from a second of the night in the 49th minute. Lautaro Martinez was played in behind Spezia’s backline and let loose a low rocket to the near post. Provedel got a touch on it but could only redirect the ball off the post.
That miss would set the tone for the rest of the proceedings in Liguria. Inter continued to dominate the possession statistics but came up short where it mattered. The Nerazzurri’s best chance of the ninety came in the 68th minute. A loose ball fell to Lukaku who was one-on-one with the keeper, but the Belgian dribbled into Provedel before taking the rebound off Lautaro’s feet and missing again into a Spezia player. Conte began to throw more and more at the Spezia backline and brought on Alexis Sanchez and Ashley Young for Eriksen and Perisic. The changes were to no avail, however. Skriniar had an effort from a set-piece cleared off the line while a long-range effort from Lautaro pinged off the post. To add insult to injury, Inter then had two goals ruled out for offside in the dying minutes in what was a very frustrating Wednesday evening at the office for the good guys.
If that heatmap doesn’t tell the story vividly enough, here’s a fun stat for you. Inter took a grand total of 20 shots compared to Spezia’s 1. And the final score? One to one. Football is a sport that has the power to make me both want to scream loudly for hours on end into a pillow or wonder how something as beautiful as this exists for mere mortal consumption. You can guess which one I felt more like doing Wednesday. Anyways, I’m looking for some more pillows if anyone knows where they can be found.
Moving back to the game itself, this certainly wasn’t a vintage Nerazzurri performance. Inter’s ability to control the game without the ball and its counter-attacking skills are well-heralded, but Conte’s side admittedly struggles to break down concentrated defenses such as Spezia’s. Inter could only put five shots on target and went long stretches without causing Provedel any headaches. There certainly was some misfortune involved, as the Nerazzurri undershot its expected goals of 2.88xg and hit the woodwork twice. Still, there wasn’t nearly enough urgency and precision in the final third to say Inter had Spezia on the ropes.
Handanovic - 5: Was able to get a touch on Farias’ shot but couldn’t stop it from finding a way into the back of the net. He should have kept it out, as while Spezia’s sole shot of the game was full of pace, it was towards the center of the goal. It’s perhaps no coincidence that Inter went on its winning run during an error-free run of form from Handanovic but has now dropped points in the two games in which the Slovenian has left a lot to be desired.
Bastoni - 7: Had very little to do defensively and was able to take hold of the ball more. He made 7 out of 8 long balls and 87% of his passes with the 5th-most touches on Inter.
de Vrij - 7: The Dutchman also saw most of his work being done in possession. He had 111 touches (2nd most), 6 long balls, and a 92% passing rate. de Vrij also put in 3 clearances and won 4 duels.
Skriniar - 7: The Slovakian continued the general theme of inter’s back three. He had a passing rate of 96%, 4 successful long balls, and 1 one key pass while also winning 4 duels.
Perisic - 7: Perisic’s goal kept a draw from being a loss, but outside of that he had a very subdued game. The Croatian had the fewest touches of any starter and a passing rate of just 77%. Still, he showed that despite a brief injury layoff, Perisic is deserving of being the first-choice left wingback.
Eriksen - 6: The Dane’s creative skills could have come into great use to break through Spezia, but he instead had a relatively quiet outing before exiting for Sanchez. His touch total of 61 was only the 7th-most on the team, though to give Eriksen credit he did have 3 key passes. Still, it wasn’t a massive surprise that he was the first one off in favor of a more offensive setup.
Brozovic - 6.5: Inter’s midfield anchor once again put in a solid day’s worth of work. He led Inter in touches (117), made 10 long balls, had a 90% passing accuracy, and won 2 duels.
Barella - 6: Barella has seen his form take a downturn in recent matches and he wasn’t able to turn it around against Spezia. He played a chipped pass to Hakimi to spark Inter’s sole goal but struggled to make an impact otherwise.
Hakimi - 6.5: After several mediocre games coming into Spezia, it was good to see Hakimi start to return to form at the Picco. While he technically won’t get credit for it, Hakimi created Perisic’s goal and was one of inter’s main attacking threats. He again wasn’t perfect with his final product (he lost possession a team-high 16 times) but his speed and movement were a constant worry for the Spezia defense.
Lautaro - 7: The Argentine was Inter’s star performer. His movement and passing were in pristine condition and on another day he could have had at least a goal. Lautaro struck the post twice, notched 42 touches (his average is only 30), and won 8 duels.
Lukaku - 5: Lukaku’s name was absent from the scoresheet for the 3rd straight game and his performance Wednesday was that of a player running on empty. Whether he’s been overplayed or the hectic schedule is getting to the Belgian, Lukaku looks in desperate need of a rest. His miss midway through the second half when one-on-one with Provedel is scored 9/10 times, while Lukaku also missed from a tight angle in stoppage time when laying a pass to an open Lautaro was by far the better choice. Perhaps Inter’s clash with Verona could be a chance for a rare Sanchez start.
While this result definitely stings, it’s by no means disaster in terms of the Scudetto. There were contrasting fortunes among the other title contenders, with Milan losing to Sassuolo and Juventus beating Parma. Inter is back to a ten point advantage over the Rossoneri and 11 ahead of Juve. Atalanta could close the gap to nine if it beats Roma Thursday, but Inter needs only nine more points to clinch the title.