With the Scudetto safely secured in Milan, Inter was at last able to play with no pressure, no worries, and no Juventus or Milan breathing down its neck. After months of grinding out victories, the suddenly on-the-loose Nerazzurri were a completely different team, both literally and figuratively. Even with an overhaul to the starting eleven, Inter put together one of the performances of the season and steamrolled past Sampdoria by five goals to one. With rampant celebrations outside the San Siro pre-match, a Roberto Gagliardini masterclass, a halftime goalkeeping substitution, and Andrea Pinamonti’s first goal in Nerazzurri, Saturday was a day to be remembered.
Antonio Conte was free to experiment as he liked in the lineup. Seven changes were made from the side that beat Crotone 2-0 last week, with Alessandro Bastoni, Christian Eriksen, Achraf Hakimi, and Lautaro Martinez the only first choice outfielders. Matias Vecino picked up his first start of the season, while Danilo D’Ambrosio and Andrea Ranocchia anchored the backline. Sampdoria took the pitch in its customary 4-4-1-1, with the ex-Inter contingent of Keita Balde and Antonio Candreva starting.
Despite the second-string lineup, Inter didn’t take long to find first-gear. The Nerazzurri drew first blood from an unlikely source only four minutes in. Everyone’s favorite midfielder Roberto Gagliardini bagged his third of the campaign, with Ashley Young providing the assist.
ROBERTOOOOOOOO GAGLIARDINIIIIIII 1-0 pic.twitter.com/uLN1cgWzyB— InterGIFs (@InterGIFs1908) May 8, 2021
The tone was set for an entertaining afternoon. A scattering of chances came at both ends throughout the opening chapters of play, but it was Inter who found the game’s second. Alexis Sanchez and Gagliardini combined on the counter to make it 2-0 in the 26th minute.
The chaotic state of action continued when the visitors pulled one back thirty-five minutes in. A cross to Candreva at the back post was mis-hit by the Italian but the ball still trickled goalwards. Handanovic was able to paw it off the goalline, but it was all for naught when Keita Balde blasted the rebound in.
Inter wasn’t to be dissuaded, however, and reinstated its two-goal lead almost immediately. Sanchez once again popped up on the scoresheet, beautifully volleying a Hakimi cross into the far corner.
As the 3-1 scoreline might suggest, the first half was a rather open affair. Inter’s shot tally of seven was not far off from Sampdoria’s six, but the Nerazzurri had the clear advantage in quality chances. Inter notched four shots on target compared to only two for Samp. Sanchez particularly caused the visitors problems with his technical skill and movement.
With a two-goal advantage secured, Conte gave Andrei Radu his season debut in place of Handanovic at the interval. Sampdoria was not to be outdone, however and made a whopping four changes to start the second half. The preseason-like feel of the game only grew with Ranocchia and D’Ambrosio attempting bicycle kicks in the early moments of the half.
Andrea Pinamonti and Marcelo Brozovic also made their entrances for Sanchez and Eriksen shortly after. It didn’t take long for the former to make an impact. He buried Inter’s fourth of the day in the 61st minute off a Barella assist, who had only come on moments before.
Barella again played a major role in the creation of an Inter goal, this time having a shot blocked by the hand of Adrien Silva for a penalty in the 68th minute. The referee originally awarded a free-kick, but VAR gave it as a spot-kick. Lautaro slotted home into the top corner for his first goal in the last five.
Inter’s concentration waned in the final minutes and Sampdoria was able to preserve the scoreline at merely 5-1 by the time the final whistle was mercifully blown.
Handanovic - 6.5: Reacted well to keep Candreva’s initial effort out, but couldn’t do anything to stop Balde from finding the back of the net. Exited at halftime to give Radu some well deserved minutes.
Bastoni - 7: The sole member of the first choice back three to start, Bastoni continued his impressive run of form. Led Inter with 85 touches, lost possession only four times, completed 5/5 long balls, won 5 duels, made 3 clearances, and blocked two shots.
Ranocchia - 7: The Frog might not have seen much match time this season, but he looked completely at ease going the full ninety vs Samp. Made 6 clearances, 3 interceptions, 2 tackles, won 4 duels, and was 5/6 on his long ball attempts.
D’Ambrosio - 7: The defense as a whole put forth a rock-solid effort and D’Ambrosio was no exception as he filled in for Milan Skriniar. He won five duels, made 3 clearances, 3 interceptions, and notched two key passes.
Young - 6.5: Assisted the opener but the Englishman's impact waned as the match wore on. Still boasted a respectable 2 key passes, 2 clearances, and 2 interceptions.
Gagliardini - 8: While a game between two teams with more or less nothing to play for was always going to be unpredictable, Gagliardini serving as one of the main protagonists seemed a bit too far out of the realm of possibilities. And yet, Lord Gags had a goal and assist to his name before exiting on the hour mark.
Eriksen - 6: The Dane was the quietest member of Inter’s midfield ranks. Had one key pass but struggled to consistently get on the ball. To be fair to him, he operated in a deeper role than usual to fill in for Brozovic, though it was still an underwhelming outing from Eriksen.
Vecino - 6.5: After lengthy injury layoffs, Vecino was at last back in the starting 11. It was his winning of possession in midfield and chip to Lautaro that sparked Gagliardini’s opener, while the Uruguayan also won three duels and made two long balls.
Hakimi - 7: Was a constant presence down the right flank and played with a freedom we hadn’t yet seen from the Moroccan. Assisted Sanchez’s second of the day with a pinpoint cross and had a driving run from box to box that culminated in a last-ditch save by Audero. Also won 5 duels and had the 3rd most touches on Inter.
Sanchez - 8 (Man of the Match): With talks of Inter needing to cut costs dominating the media the past week, Sanchez boosted his case for staying. Not only notched a brace, but caused Samp’s defense problem after problem and was the focal point of the attack.
Lautaro - 7: Has had trouble from the spot in the past, but his penalty to the upper ninety was unsavable. Was largely on the periphery outside of his goal, but still put in a hefty workload defensively and registered two interceptions.
Radu - 6.5: Radu was at last able to see the pitch and he made sure to not disappoint. While not put under heavy pressure by Sampdoria, he claimed several crosses confidently. Hopefully he gets the start against Udinese since its doubtful we see him against Roma or Juventus.
Pinamonti - 7: Pinamonti also had a first Saturday when he opened his account for 2020/21. Like Radu, he showed enough to deserve another look with three games left.
Barella - 7: Made an instant impact after he was brought on, drawing a penalty and providing the helper on Pinamonti’s strike. Fatigue had been catching up to Barella in recent weeks but it looks like the rest has him back to his best.
With Atalanta still to play on Sunday, Inter is now 15 points clear and still capable of reaching 94 points by the end of May. Next up for the Nerazzurri is Roma midweek at the San Siro before a visit to Juventus on the weekend.