Achraf Hakimi? Never heard of him.
Romelu Lukaku? You mean Jordan, right?
Antonio Conte? What does a Juventus legend have to do with Inter?
Amidst concerns that the champions of Italy might not be champions for all that much longer and wonders over how Inter was going to survive key losses, the Nerazzurri put down a marker in Simone Inzaghi’s debut. Big performances from Hakan Calhanoglu and Edin Dzeko led Inter to a thunderous Matchday 1 victory against a sorry Genoa in front of a small but raucous crowd at the San Siro. Seeing Dzeko (Roma legend) and Calhanoglu (Milan starter for almost half a decade) in Inter jerseys will take some getting used to but I’m not complaining.
Inter is back folks!
Simone Inzaghi’s first starting eleven as Inter manager had four changes from last season’s ‘best XI’. Hakan Calhanoglu got a debut start in midfield, Matteo Darmian lined up on the right flank, while Stefano Sensi played off the lone striker Edin Dzeko. Lautaro Martinez was suspended thanks to yellow card accumulation that carried over from last season and Alexis Sanchez was out injured (surprise, surprise…). Davide Ballardini’s Genoa took the pitch in its standard 3-5-2, headlined by strikers of two separate generations, Goran Pandev (38) and Yaya Kallon (20). Inter loanee Zinho Vanheusden started in the center of Genoa’s back three.
It took the Nerazzurri a grand total of six minutes to find the back of the net for the first time in 2021/22. Calhanoglu sent a corner-kick fizzing into the danger zone where Milan Skriniar pounced, sending a powerful header into the back of the net.
INTER SCORE THE FIRST GOAL OF THE SERIE A SEASON pic.twitter.com/GxoXMC6qOi— Serie A on Paramount+ ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) August 21, 2021
Inter continued to press its foot down on the pedal, leaving Genoa no time to gather its bearings. The Nerazzurri’s repeated onslaughts paid off in the 14th minute with its second of the afternoon. Quick buildup play through the midfield opened up space in the final third before Dzeko laid the ball off to Calhanoglu. The assister of Inter’s first was the scorer this time, ripping a long-range shot into the bottom corner.
THE BUILD UP PLAY. THE FINISH. HAKAN CALHANOGLU ON HIS DEBUT. pic.twitter.com/2mBfA2rncm— Serie A on Paramount+ ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) August 21, 2021
Inter had a flurry of chances throughout the remainder of the half. Dzeko struck the crossbar on a turn-and-volley, Marcelo Brozovic had three shots from outside the box that caused varying levels of concern for Genoa, and Ivan Perisic had a late goal disallowed for offsides. Genoa, however, almost made it 2-1 out of the blue in the 45th minute. Inter was caught trying to play out from the back and Kallon was slipped in behind the Nerazzurri backline. The Sierra Leone striker could only pull his shot narrowly wide of the far post.
With the exception of Kallon’s late chance, the first half was all Inter. Inzaghi’s side controlled 63% of possession and outshot Genoa nine (three on target) to three (none on target). Inter’s quick combination play constantly caused the Rossoblu headaches and kept the visitors’ from finding any sort of rhythm.
Genoa made two changes to start the second half, shifting to a 3-4-3 shape in order to put more pressure on the Inter backline. Ballardini’s side started to show signs of life and put its first two shots on target within the opening ten minutes of the half. Inter almost put the game to bed in the 56th minute when Calhanoglu found the target again but Perisic was ruled offside in the build-up. The pace of play began to slow as the half progressed but Inter still showed off ts final third prowess. Dzeko had a point-blank header pawed away by Sirigu in the 71st minute. The Nerazzurri couldn’t be held off for much longer, however, and found its third of the day in the 74th minute via Arturo Vidal, who had only entered the action minutes prior.
The cheeky assist from Barrella pic.twitter.com/X99vZS8WeM— Serie A on Paramount+ ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) August 21, 2021
Inzaghi rolled in the substitutes with the game done and dusted, bringing on Martin Satriano and Denzel Dumfries for their Serie A debuts. Inter wasn’t done yet, though, and Dzeko finally got his name on the scoresheet in the 87th minute.
EDIN DZEKO ON HIS DEBUT pic.twitter.com/M4108qEESA— Serie A on Paramount+ ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) August 21, 2021
Handanovic - 6: Handanovic was rarely tested but didn’t exactly inspire confidence when Genoa got within punching distance of the Inter goal. He lost control of a Genoa shot early in the second half and was lucky no one could pounce on the rebound.
Bastoni - 7: Had a much more active role in the final third than under Conte and made plenty of runs deep into midfield. He had a 93% passing rate, one successful dribble, and won 6 duels.
de Vrij - 7: The Dutchman was as reliable as ever, boasting a 96% passing rate, 6 successful long balls, and 82 touches.
Skriniar - 8: Skriniar came up big for Inter at both ends of the pitch. He opened the scoring with a powerful header and made a goalline clearance to preserve the shutout later on. The Slovakian made 4 clearances, 1 tackle and had a 92% passing accuracy.
Perisic - 6: Perisic committed a pair of costly offsides that cost Inter a pair of goals but was a threat down the left flank and led the hosts with seven cross attempts.
Calhanoglu - 8.5 (Man of the Match): It’s impossible to ask for a better debut of the Turk. He was a constant figure in Inter’s midfield and showed his quality in the final third. Calhanoglu had a passing accuracy of 85%, made 5 key passes, and completed a team-high eight long balls.
Brozovic - 7: The coaching change doesn’t seem to have affected Brozovic one bit. He led Inter in both passes (87), touches, (103), made 6 long balls, and won 4 duels. Brozovic tried his luck with a trio of long-range efforts but couldn’t open his 21/22 tally.
Barella - 7: Barella was equally impactful as his Croatian counterpart, winning 7 duels, completing 88% of his passes, and tallying two key passes and four longs. He also added a shrewd backheel assist to Vidal to his highlight reel.
Darmian - 6: Darmian was one of the quieter players in black (or dark blue in this case) and blue on the pitch. He had the second-fewest touches of any outfield starter but was dependable in possession, with a passing accuracy of 97% and one key pass.
Sensi - 6.5: Though he didn’t last the full ninety, Sensi put in his first complete performance in an Inter kit in what feels like- and probably has been!- years. He was very active but not hugely effective, which is understandable as he recovers full fitness.
Dzeko - 8: Only a stellar Calhanoglu showing kept Dzeko from garnering Man of the Match honors. He showed off his hold-up play skill with the assist on Inter’s second and finally got a goal of his own late on with world-class movement and header.
Vidal - 7: The Chilean only needed half an hour to notch a goal and an assist, showing he still has something left in the tank at 34. Vidal’s been linked with a move away from Inter all summer but perhaps his performance against Genoa has given the Nerazzurri cause to reconsider.
Dimarco - 6.5: Like Vidal, Dimarco had an eventful cameo. He showed his versatility and played as both wingback and center-back. The 23-year-old struck several meticulous passes with his left boot and made two interceptions and tackles. Perisic is the starter for now but it’s not hard to imagine that Dimarco will take over the left flank by the season’s end.
Inzaghi - 7: Inzaghi’s hand was slightly forced in terms of the starting eleven but his 3-5-1-1 experiment during preseason paid off. Inter already showed that it has adapted to Inzaghi’s style and the attacking play and quick passes were clear signs of Inzaghi Ball™. The Italian was proactive with subs as well and gave Satriano his very first minutes of professional play.
Though Genoa is far from a stern test, Inter did its job and did it very well. The Nerazzurri dominated from start to finish and had Genoa on the ropes. Inter was just as solid defensively as it was under Conte but even more free-flowing in the final third. The Nerazzurri had 60% possession and 16 shots, eight on target. Though the visitors created ten chances, expected goals were completely one-sided in Inter’s favor (2.21xg to 0.97xg).
And one more thing. Having fans back in the stands is something we’ll never take for granted again. Football just wasn’t the same in empty, silent stadiums. As enjoyable as the result was, I was just as happy to see the Scala del Calcio alive once again.
Just imagine this team with Dumfries, Lautaro, Dimarco, and possibly Joaquin Correa all fully settled.
Next up is a visit to Hellas Verona on Friday.