Antonio Conte made a few changes to Inter’s starting lineup in the Nerazzurri’s long-awaited return to action. Andrea Ranocchia slotted in for Stefan de Vrij, who was only fit for the bench after dealing with COVID-19 over the break. Ashley Young also got a rare start in place of Ivan Perisic after the Croatian picked up an injury in international action. The rest of the roster mirrored the one that carried Inter to its lengthy winning streak.
Bologna started on the front foot and dominated possession. The hosts put Inter under constant pressure when the Nerazzurri had the ball and Inter rarely looked at ease. The good guys were still able to limit Bologna any looks on goal and eventually started to grow into the game.
The Nerazzurri’s patience was rewarded with the opener thanks to, yep, you guessed it; Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian tallied his 20th of the season in the 31st minute, knocking home the rebound of his own header off a sizzling Alessandro Bastoni cross.
Inter crept into halftime with its lead intact, though it was far from a memorable performance. Bologna’s pressure kept Inter uncomfortable in the middle of the park, with the Nerazzurri struggling to consistently link together the attack and defense. Conte’s side had things locked down in the defensive third, however, and though. Bologna boasted 55% of possession, it was outshot 7 (3 on target) to 5 (1 on target) by Inter.
Bologna came out of the interval on all cylinders and Inter was barely able to withstand the Rossoblù’s charge. It was the Nerazzurri, however, which came closest to finding the game’s second. Inter was able to counter and the ball ended up at Lautaro’s feet at the top of the box. The Argentine then sent a curling effort pinging off the post in the 50th minute.
The rest of the half descended into a slow, disjointed affair. There was no rythm and while both teams tallied up shot after shot, few seriously tested the keepers. The only notable incident was when Marcelo Brozovic misplaced a simple pass in midfield and on the ensuring counter both he and Bastoni picked up yellow cards for two separate fouls. The duo had lasted ten games without earning the card that would have meant suspension only for them both to get yellows in a ten-second span. As the match wore on, Inter defended deeper and deeper while Bologna threw numbers forward, a combination which caused some rather nervy moments. The team in black and blue couldn’t be fazed, however, and took home a tight 1-0 win from the Dall’Ara.
While playing a free-flowing attacking style may have its benefits, it’s just as enjoyable to win ugly. That is, as long as you’re on the right side of the scoreline. And on a Saturday evening in Emilia-Romagna, Inter fought tooth-and-nail to a crucial three points that may just take it that much closer to the first Scudetto in the blue side of Milan since 2011. With Milan and Juventus drawing Sampdoria and Torino earlier in the day, Inter had a golden opportunity to move 8 and 12 points clear of its title rivals. And while it was certainly not a glowing performance, Inter got the job done by all means necessary. It took lengthy spells of concentrated defense, with only a few vague attacks scattered in from the Nerazzurri, to thwart Bologna; but Lukaku’s scrambled finish 31 minutes in proved to be enough in a match which saw only five of 26 total shots land on target thanks to both sloppy passing and strong defense.
Handanovic - 7: Was tested only twice, but stepped up on both occasions. Inter’s veteran keeper pawed a powerful Shouten effort over the bar late in the first half before stopping a Sansone volley.
Bastoni - 7.5 (Man of the Match): While he technically won’t be awarded the assist on Lukaku’s goal, the game-winner was in large part thanks to Bastoni. He had the vision to make a run into the final third and play a one-two with Young and his pinpoint cross was the cherry on top to a display of the center-back’s technical skills and potential in joining the attack. He also notched six accurate long balls and 3 clearances but Inter will have to make do without him against Sassuolo after he picked up a yellow for stopping a counter-attack.
Ranocchia - 6.5: The “Frog” started out shakily and made a few errors, though none were too glaring. He soon settled in, however, and didn’t look out of place despite last seeing action in January. The 11-year veteran made 3 clearances, 3 interceptions, and won 3 duels over the course of his evening in a very respectable outing. He could be relied on again Wednesday with Bastoni out.
Skriniar - 7: Despite going the full 90 in all of Slovakia’s international games, Skriniar put in a hefty shift Saturday. He had a passing accuracy of 91%, made 4 clearances, 2 interceptions, and won 4 duels.
Young - 5.5: While Ranocchia was able to bounce back from weeks on the bench smoothly, Young was not so lucky. He had the second-fewest touches of Inter starters and looked rusty from start to finish. His passing accuracy was 71% and he lost possession 7 times from 37 touches.
Eriksen - 6: While Eriksen has been one of Inter’s best performers recently, he had a mediocre return from the international break. His main contribution was an early free-kick that drifted narrowly wide, but the Dane was largely pushed to the periphery. His passing accuracy was only 74% and he lost possession 11 times, though it wasn’t total disaster as he was successful on 3 crosses and 2 long balls.
Brozovic - 6: The Croatian debuted a new tattoo, though his play on the field was to mixed effect. He made 2 key passes and led Inter in touches, but lost possession 15 times, including an unnecessary giveaway that resulted in the sequence where he and Bastoni earned yellow cards. Brozovic will be suspended Wednesday, but that may be just as well. We’ll need some time to take in his newest ink and seeing it adorn our television screen three times in a week may be too much.
Inter and Croatia midfielder Marcelo Brozovic unveiled a new and rather odd tattoo, as he now has the bomb emoji on his neck https://t.co/vC4CGNktHr #FCIM #BolognaInter #SerieA #SerieATIM pic.twitter.com/2Bf3HfwiWV— footballitalia (@footballitalia) April 3, 2021
Barella - 6: Wasn’t able to take control of the midfield and was sloppy in possession, losing possession 20 times and having a passing accuracy of 79%.
Hakimi - 5.5: While I still think Hakimi is a valuable part of the squad, his display against Bologna was perhaps his worst yet of the 2020/21 campaign. He repeatedly failed to find any sort of end product when he got into the final third and made only 1 key pass from 34 attempts. There were occasions where he made runs only to not receive the pass, but truth be told, Hakimi doesn’t inspire confidence at the moment.
Lautaro - 6.5: The Argentine couldn’t follow up his headed game-winner against Torino with another goal, he put in quite a shift off the ball. He won 8 duels and made 1 key pass, plus he struck the woodwork. Even so, he managed to lose possession 15 times despite making only 33 touches. Yeah, uh, yikes.
Lukaku - 7: Inter’s star striker once again came up big when it mattered. Despite rarely seeing the ball, Lukaku put his chance into the back of the net and it turned out to be enough for the three points.
Conte - 7: With de Vrij and Perisic unavailable to start, Conte was forced to alter from his tried and true XI. Young and Ranocchia were the obvious replacements, so the biggest decisions he had to make were regarding substitutions. Darmian and Sanchez made immediate effects and while Gagliardini seemed a more passive change instead of Stefano Sensi, it ended up working out.
Inter is back in action on Wednesday with the rescheduled Matchday 28 clash with Sassuolo at the San Siro before another home match against Cagliari Sunday. The Nerazzurri have to take care of business to stay ahead of the chasing pack but the 8 point cushion at the top of the table is a sight I very much enjoy.