After last weekend’s win against Hellas Verona, Inter set themselves up for a path that required just four more points to secure their first Scudetto since 2010. With the chance to possibly lock up the trophy on Sunday if Atalanta drop points to Sassuolo, Inter came into their match against Crotone on Saturday with nerves, but managed to snatch all three points late to continue the recent pattern of second half winning goals. The win also means Inter have all but mathematically sealed the Scudetto, even eliminating Juventus from contention for another consecutive Italian title. With the good vibes flowing throughout the club and fanbase, let’s look at what could be the Scudetto clinching win.
Both teams lined up in their usual 3-5-2 formations. For Inter, Stefano Sensi got a surprise start while Matteo Darmian also got a start after scoring another match winner against Verona. This forced Christian Eriksen and Ivan Perisic to the bench. Crotone made one change from their 4-3 victory over Parma, bringing in Milan youth product Niccolò Zanellato in the midfield for Ahmad Benali.
CROTONE (3-5-2): Cordaz; Magallan, Golemic, Djidji; Molina, Messias, Cigarini, Benali, Reca; Ounas, Simy.
INTER (3-5-2): Handanovic; Skriniar, de Vrij, Bastoni; Hakimi, Barella, Brozovic, Sensi, Darmian; Lukaku, Lautaro.
The match began with an exchange of chances at both ends, Sensi was making runs and taking shots reminiscent of his sparkling form of fall 2019 while Samir Handanovic had an early save to make at the other end of the pitch on a shot by the in form Adam Ounas. Playing against the league’s bottom team can offer chances for experimentation. Stefan de Vrij and Alessandro Bastoni started the match in one another’s usual positions, with de Vrij on the left and Bastoni in the middle of the back three. This quickly changed once Inter were put under pressure, as the two returned to their usual positions, though this may be something we see more of in the future.
Inter unsurprisingly took the initiative and made the match mostly one way traffic. Crotone had a few small spells of possession where Inter tried to hit back out on the counter, but it was in the periods of sustained Inter possession that the visitors were able to put together their best chances on goal. Romelu Lukaku hit the post on a header from a corner while draped in Crotone defenders and Lautaro Martinez hit the opposite post shortly after with a shot from the edge of the Crotone penalty area. Sensi also forced a save out of veteran goalkeeper Alex Cordaz with a dangerous shot from close range, but luck was just not quite on Inter’s side in the half.
Inter continued to knock on the door early in the second half, but could not find the spark needed to get past the Crotone defense. This forced Conte into a triple change of substitutions on 65 minutes. Alexis Sanchez replaced Lautaro, Perisic replaced Darmian, and Eriksen replaced Sensi, all predictable subs from the Inter manager.
It did not take long, just four minutes, for the changes to result in the needed goal. Alexis and Lukaku played in Eriksen on the edge of the box after a clever touch from the Dane to start the move. He finished it by lashing home a shot from the edge of the box that took a deflection on its way through for a goal similar to his first in Inter colors against Ludogorets in the Europa League in early 2020.
Inter nearly doubled their lead on the counter shortly after, with Perisic assisting Lukaku on a quick burst forward, but a VAR check ruled the substitute offside just as the move began. Crotone pushed forward as Inter afforded them possession after getting the important first goal, but they never really threatened Handanovic in goal. The visitors put the match beyond any doubt late into stoppage time. Nicolo Barella picked the ball off of Milos Vulic after a Crotone free kick and released Achraf Hakimi who will never be caught in such a footrace. The Moroccan then slotted the ball home through the legs of Cordaz just moments before the final whistle, sending Inter back to Milan with the title possibly being sealed this weekend.
Handanovic - 6: Not much to do for the captain, which might be the best possible outcome for the Inter number one following some questionable play in recent weeks. His one early save was really all he had to do.
Bastoni - 6.5: Interesting experiment between he and de Vrij early in the match, though not much transpired while he was in the central spot in the back three. He moved back to the left and got forward in the way that is standard for him now.
de Vrij – 6.5: A very no-nonsense performance once he moved back to his usual position. He knows his role and always plays it very well.
Skriniar - 7: Inter’s most important center back in this match. His tackle on Simy as he got in behind the defense was immaculate. Having an aggressive stopper type defender is so important in a back three. Great game all around.
Darmian - 6: While he does get forward and pop up at important times, this match did not quite suit Darmian, who has a bit more of a defensive mind. Perisic’s quality going forward would have been better from the start, but Darmian did not do anything particularly bad, just a very pedestrian performance.
Sensi - 6.5: This was the most Sensi-like performance from Sensi this season. He can really do it all in the midfield, making plays, making runs, shooting in dangerous positions, dictating tempo. He showed he still has a lot to give at Inter, he just needs some more minutes to get back to peak performance.
Brozovic - 7: A vintage performance from Brozovic. While he is not always the one popping up on the scoresheet, it is matches like this where his influence from the heart of the pitch can sometimes go overlooked. His composure helped keep Inter rolling in this match.
Barella - 6.5: Barella’s lively style has led him to a bit of burnout late in this season. His intensity in pressure was not there in the early stages of the match, but he was able to keep up the hard work in the second half and contributed to Hakimi’s late goal.
Hakimi - 7 (MOTM): The young Moroccan continues his run of impressive form with a late goal. He seems to have found his feet again, though the final ball still does not come off at times. His seven goal and seven assists in the league are still great numbers for such a young player, especially from the wingback position.
Lautaro - 6: Outside of his shot that found the post in the first half, Lautaro had a pretty quiet match. The inclusion of Alexis was part of what eventually led to the breakthrough.
Lukaku - 6.5: The goals have not been there recently for Lukaku, but his work everywhere is still there to be seen. He should have broken his drought, but Perisic was offside on the pass from Inter’s number nine. Did factor in with an assist for the Eriksen goal with a nice piece of play with his back to goal. Fitting that he might have assisted the goal that seals Inter’s title.
Eriksen - 7: It was also fitting that it could be Eriksen who scored Inter’s title winning goal. With all of his issues settling into the club, he has become a very important part of the team, both starting and off the bench. This time, his bench contributions may be the biggest this season.
Perisic - 6.5: This was a match suited for Perisic, as he had the freedom to get forward with little risk. Should have been able to hold his run on the disallowed goal, but played well beyond that.
Alexis - 7: The difference between Alexis starting and coming off the bench is really night and day. Off the bench, he can unlock tired defenses, which he helped do on the first goal building up with Eriksen and Lukaku.
Conte - 7.5: Managing a club like Inter and keeping everyone’s heads in the match even with chatter off the pitch is no easy feat. Many have tried and few have succeeded. Conte is one of the few that have succeeded. Smart subs as well in this match.
All eyes will be on Atalanta’s matchup with Sassuolo on Sunday, as they are the only team not mathematically out of contention. Any drop in points will result in an Inter Scudetto, though some will be hoping for an Atalanta win so Inter can seal the title themselves at San Siro against Sampdoria next weekend. Either way, celebrations are likely on the horizon.