Antonio Conte took no chances with the starting eleven. Despite reports that Sensi and Sanchez could start, it was the same lineup from the midweek draw with Spezia that took the pitch. Verona also kept much of the same team from its Tuesday defeat against Fiorentina, only making two changes in central defense. Inter’s loanee Federico Dimarco lined up on the left of the back-three of Ivan Juric’s 3-4-2-1 formation, while Eddie Salcedo began on the bench.
The Nerazzurri’s clearest opportunity of the half took only three minutes to make its arrival. Romelu Lukaku flicked Alessandro Bastoni’s delicious long ball over the defense and to Lautaro Martinez. From outside the box, the Argentine attempted a daring chip of Marco Silvestri, only to send the ball well over the crossbar. Lautaro’s chance kicked off a back-and-forth stretch of play, but by the time the dust settled, Inter’s advantage in possession had begun to mount. It was Verona, however, which had the next look on goal. A close-range effort from Daniel Bessa was pawed away by Samir Handanovic but Dimarco managed to send the rebound fizzing wide of the open goal.
The first half developed into a rhythm similar to the Spezia game. Inter held 60% of possession but landed just one shot on target. The Nerazzurri were too slow with the ball and when it did find a way to the final third, the final pass was absent. Lukaku and Lautaro struggled to beat Verona’s center-back trio and found themselves isolated from the midfield.
But despite hopes that the halftime interval could offer Inter a chance to reset, the second half continued in the same fashion. In fact, Verona began to take control and at one point had the Nerazzurri pinned back deep in its own half. Inter almost took advantage of the visitors putting numbers forward. Lautaro went on a slicing dribble from midfield deep into the Hellas box, only to see Silvestri kick save the end shot away in the 64th minute. In order to regain control of the match, Conte brought on Matteo Darmian and Stefano Sensi. The changes almost immediately paid off in the 69th minute when Achraf Hakimi smashed a freekick from 30 yards out into the post, with Silvestri watching on helplessly.
But as the final twenty minutes of action arrived, a scoreless draw seemed inevitable. Verona’s defense was proving to be a hard customer and despite the entrance of Alexis Sanchez, a tired Inter didn’t seem to have an answer. But that, my friends, is where Matteo Darmian enters. You may remember that there were no fans to greet him at his arrival to Milan when Inter signed him last summer. And yet, here we are in April and Darmian has saved Inter six points and is a surprisingly crucial reason they’re two wins from a Scudetto. He buried a 77th-minute winner against Cagliari two weeks ago and history has a way of repeating itself. Darmian slotted home yet another game-winner from, you guessed it, a Hakimi assist. And after seventy-six minutes of trial and error, Inter finally edged in front of Hellas Verona.
The Nerazzurri made defensive changes almost at once, with Danilo D’Ambrosio and Roberto Gagliardini entering the action. Inter dropped into a deep defensive stance, though Verona almost snatched an out-of-the-blue equalizer in the 83rd minute. A deflected cross looped into the air towards the goal and Handanovic managed to drop the ball into his own net. The referee bailed Inter out, however, calling a soft foul on the Verona player challenging Handanovic for the ball. But after ten more very stressful minutes, the trio of whistle blows finally brought an end to yet another laborious victory decided by one moment of quality in favor of the boys in black and blue.
Handanovic - 5.5: Made a big save on Bessa’s first half chance and closed down the angle expertly. But for the 3rd game running, he made a glaring mistake that would have ended in a Verona equalizer if not for a questionable foul call. The 36-year-old should have easily caught the looping cross but instead bundled it into his own net and further proved Inter’s desperate need for a new goalkeeper in the summer.
Bastoni - 7: Sent a spectacular clearance from his box to Lukaku’s head at midfield, which sparked Lautaro’s one-v-one with Silvestri 3 minutes in. The 22-year-old also made a crucial block on a Verona cross to avoid what surely would have been a Salcedo tap-in. Bastoni also notched 5 successful long balls and won 3 duels.
de Vrij - 7: Another spotless outing from the anchor of Inter’s backline. Had a 94% passing accuracy, won 5 duels, made 3 interceptions, and 5 clearances.
Skriniar - 7: Won 4 duels, made 93% of his passes (from the second most touches on Inter), and notched 2 successful long balls.
Perisic - 6: Had a rather quiet ninety minutes with only 30 touches (2nd least on Inter) and a passing accuracy of 71%, though he did win 5/6 duels. Only 28% of Inter’s attack went through the left flank, compared to 35% down the right.
Eriksen - 6.5: The Dane was also guilty of a somewhat average performance. He had the 4th-most touches on Inter (65) and a passing rate of 91% but like Inter overall, Eriksen wasn’t active in the final third and struggled to fine-tune his set piece delivery.
Brozovic - 7: With Eriksen and Barella not at their best, it was the Croatian that dictated midfield play. He led Inter in touches (87), had 6 accurate long balls, 3 clearances, and 2 interceptions.
Barella - 6: The constant energy we’ve become used to from Barella was nowhere to be found Sunday. Despite tallying 4 long balls, 50/55 touches, and the third most touches on Inter, he couldn’t imprint himself into the center of the park and lacked the pace to cause Verona problems. Barella still managed to go the full 90 but might need a few days off to bounce back.
Hakimi - 7: Hakimi was one of Inter’s best players against Spezia and he followed it up with an even more impressive performance Sunday. He was unlucky to not open the scoring with an incredible free kick but then got the assist on Darmian’s goal with a smart pass to split Verona’s defense.
Lautaro - 6: Lautaro should have scored his early chance with a smart finish rather than try to chip Silvestri but luckily it didn’t adversely affect the end result. Still, he hasn’t scored in 3 games and surely could have used the confidence booster.
Lukaku - 6: Lukaku has looked fatigued in recent matches, and it’s no surprise considering how he was run into the ground during autumn. Like Lautaro, he hasn’t scored in four. He was constantly hounded by Verona’s center backs Sunday and wasn’t given space to shoot. Lukaku was instead forced to frequently lay off the ball, which explains his 3 key passes. The Belgian is in need of a rest to rediscover his top form, and a trip to last place Crotone could be the chance for Conte to give him a breather.
With Milan slated to play Lazio Monday night, Inter’s lead increases to 13 points on both the Rossoneri and Juventus (who tied Fiorentina 1-1), though Atalanta could close the gap to a mere 11 points if La Dea beats Bologna. The Nerazzurri are now at 79 points and need only five more at most to secure the title. Next up for Conte’s side is a trip to all-but-relegated Crotone next Saturday to open up the final month of the season.