“Sports relieve stress,” they say. Well, clearly whoever runs such experiments has never encountered the team we all love from the San Siro that plays in black and blue. In just ninety minutes, Inter managed to send us through a whirlwind of emotions en route to a 2-2 draw with Atalanta. It was chaotic, tumultuous, and just about any adjective with a meaning similar to ‘crazy’ you care to use. Just watching Saturday night’s affair was exhausting.
Both coaches largely went with the starting elevens that had been forecasted by the Italian press. Inzaghi chose Ivan Perisic and Matteo Darmian to anchor the wings in place of Federico Dimarco and Denzel Dumfries, while the Lautaro/Dzeko partnership continued up top. Inter-linked Duvan Zapata was supported by Ruslan Malinovsky and Matteo Pessina for Gian Piero Gasperini’s side.
Inter’s best moments of the first half came soon after kickoff. Edin Dzeko bungled a Matteo Darmian cross just wide from close range after two minutes but it wouldn’t take much longer for the opener to make its appearance. In a play eerily similar to Inter’s second goal against Sampdoria a few weeks back, Lautaro Martinez added a fourth strike to his rapidly growing 2021/22 tally. The Argentine struck a Nicolo Barella cross with a superb volley into the top corner that left Juan Musso helpless.
It only took Lautaro Martinez 5 minutes to open the scoring pic.twitter.com/BXWsOdCnIA— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) September 25, 2021
But as the half wore on, proceedings quickly began to look a lot less favorable for the good guys. Atalanta’s influence started to grow and La Dea’s high octane attack became more and more involved. Ruslan Malinovsky (more on him later) and Marten de Roon fizzed a pair of long-range efforts narrowly wide. Atalanta’s pressure resulted in a corner count as tall as the Meazza. On the fourth of such attempts, a loose ball found its way to Matteo Pessina on the endline but Handanovic managed to close down the angle in time to keep out a sure goal. Inter’s lead would only last a few more minutes, however. Remember how I said Malinovsky’s name would find its way into this recap a few more times? Well, it’s not good news. The Ukrainian brought Atalanta level on the half-hour mark with a trademark long-range rocket. The goal came about thanks to La Dea’s high press, which suffocated Inter’s attempts to build out from the back and led to a misplaced pass by Darmian. Two quick vertical passes later, Malinovsky was in prime shooting range and there was nothing anyone wearing the blue and black shirt could do.
WHAT A STRIKE FROM RUSLAN MALINOVSKYI pic.twitter.com/rAp8BKRvNz— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) September 25, 2021
Atalanta was in the mood and flipped the game on its head eight minutes later. Malinovksy’s wicked left boot once again had a starring role in the buildup. The 28-year-old let loose on another blast and though Handanovic made the initial save, he left a rebound in a disagreeable location. Rafael Toloi was unencumbered as he volleyed home the wayward ball from the center of the box. By the time halftime rolled around, Lautaro’s delightful volley seemed like ancient history. Inter kept a mere 41% of possession and managed 7 shots (2 on target) compared to Atalanta’s 12 (3 on target). The visitors’ high press all but ended Inter’s attempts at build-up play before they began. Perisic and Darmian were particularly ineffective and looked off the pace on both ends of the pitch. Though Inter could have had another goal if Dzeko’s decision-making had been a tad better, there was no doubt that Gasperini won the first-half tactical battle and had a deserved lead.
Atalanta came uncomfortably close to doubling its lead in the opening stages of the second half. Malinovsky and Jose Luis Palomino had chances but Inter managed to stay within touching distance of La Dea. Malinovsky came even closer to a brace in the 51st minute. He banged a freekick from the top corner of the box off the post and Bastoni was on hand to clear the rebound before Zapata could make contact. Inter struggled to make a dent in the final third, prompting Inzaghi to bring on Dimarco, Dumfries, and Vecino at the hour-mark. The latter almost made an immediate impact when he headed a Barella cross goalwards but his fellow South American, Musso, made a stellar stop. Gasperini compensated by taking off Malinovsky and Zapata, clearly setting the stage for an onrush of Inter attacks in the final thirty minutes. Barella came inches away from a goal of his own in the 62nd minute when his cross fizzed through the box and needed a fingertip stop was kept out of the back of the net. The Nerazzurri couldn’t be kept at bay for much longer however and Dzeko atoned for his earlier error with the equalizer in the 71st minute.
Right place, right time— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) September 25, 2021
Edin Dzeko levels things for Inter ⚫ pic.twitter.com/66bDlhEw4x
Inter continued to step up the pressure on Juan Musso’s goal as it hunted the game-winner. The closing stages of action were far from straightforward, however. Josip Illicic tried his luck with his weaker right foot from inside the box on a counter-attack in the 82nd minute, seemingly just attempting to get the ball on frame and see what would happen with Handanovic in goal. Inter’s veteran keeper luckily avoided any further blushes and pawed the ball over. The next big talking point came in Atalanta’s box when a cross struck Merih Demiral’s outstretched arm. The referee (a certain Fabio Maresca) needed VAR to make the call but a penalty was eventually awarded. Federico Dimarco, however, blasted the spot-kick off the crossbar. Though Dzeko and Sanchez both have iffy records from the mark, it’s a bit of a mystery why someone with as little experience as Dimarco was chosen to decide the game. The 23-year-old’s miss seemed even more costly when Roberto Piccoli sent the three points back to Bergamo in the 88th minute. VAR was once again to Inter’s rescue, however, and the ball was ruled to have crossed the end line (you can see a screenshot of the incident below) in the build-up to the 20-year-old’s goal.
Roberto Piccoli thought he had scored the winner for Atalanta in the 88th minute...but VAR pic.twitter.com/6Wwj3Uj7kP— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) September 25, 2021
Despite six minutes of stoppage time, the drama eased to a close at the San Siro. Final score: Inter two, Atalanta two.
Handanovic - 4: It’s not easy to find something the entire Inter fanbase would agree on. But the dire need for a new goalkeeper has got to be pretty high up on the list. The veteran has done plenty for Inter but there’s no way around it anymore; he’s a liability. Atalanta’s second goal was thanks to a very generous rebound from the hands of the Slovenian and Piccoli’s goal, though eventually disallowed, was a very savable shot. Send Ajax whatever it wants in January, Andre Onana is a must from the winter transfer market.
Bastoni - 5.5: Not Bastoni’s best afternoon. Picked up a soft yellow early on which limited his defensive freedom. Had just 35 touches and two long balls attempts before an early exit for the more attacking Dimarco.
de Vrij - 6.5: A solid outing for the Dutchman. Made 2 clearances, won 6 duels, and kept Zapata largely under control.
Skriniar - 6: It’s a testament to how good he’s been this season that Saturday was one of Skriniar’s poorer performances yet. The Slovakian kept Toloi onside on Atalanta’s second and wasn’t quite as effective at shutting down Atalanta’s attacks as he’d like.
Perisic - 6: A fairly inauspicious evening for the Croatian. Had the fourth-most touches (47) on Inter but didn’t do a whole lot on either side of the ball. Became more involved in the second half when Inter put more emphasis on attacking but could do with a rest, especially if it means giving Dimarco a full ninety.
Calhanoglu - 5: Hakan was always going to be a level or two below Inter’s other starting midfielders but the difference in quality was particularly stark Saturday. Had just 41 touches, zero key passes, and a passing accuracy of 79%. His decision-making and final product in the final third left a lot to be desired as well. Still, it’s going to take time for Calhanoglu to become as comfortable in a 3-5-2 as he was in a 4-2-3-1. For now, though, Matias Vecino might deserve a shot at the starting role.
Brozovic - 7: Brozovic was his usual classy self in the middle of the park. Struggled to get a foothold in the first half amidst Atalanta’s heavy press but rebounded after the break to take a key role in midfield. Led Inter in touches (75), had a passing rate of 94%, completed all seven of his long balls attempts, and had two clearances, interceptions, and blocked shots each.
Barella - 8 (Man of the Match): Barella marked his sixth game in a row with a goal or assist in superb fashion. He was consistently Inter’s main threat in the final third and tallied 5 key passes, 3 accurate crosses, and 2 long balls by the time all was said and done. What a player.
Darmian - 5.5: Darmian’s wayward pass led to Atalanta’s equalizer and capped an underwhelming overall shift for the Italian. Notched 25 touches and had a passing rate of only 67%. He came up clutch for Inter in several big moments last season but isn’t cutting it as a starter so far.
Lautaro - 7.5: The Argentine’s goal is one of the finest volleys you’ll see this season from technique to placement. His impact waned as the game progressed, however, and he ended the day with 32 touches, 15 giveaways, a 47% passing rate, and zero key passes.
Dzeko - 7: Dzeko was the more active half of Inter’s strike partnership. He had the second-most touches on Inter (50), entered 17 duels, made 2 clearances, and drew three fouls. He wasn’t stellar in the final third, blowing one chance to make it 2-0 ten minutes in with a poor touch and missing the target on a pair of headers. Still, Dzeko continued to show his quality and pulled Atalanta defenders towards him with his strength and physicality.
Inzaghi - 6.5: A bit of a letdown to see Dimarco and Dumfries on the bench again but Inzaghi made up for that with his adjustments off the bench. The previously mentioned duo and Vecino made immediate impacts and were key to Inter’s second-half surge.
Despite the wildly unpredictable nature of the latest Nerazzurri derby, there are lessons to take from Inter’s second 2-2 draw in as many weeks. Like Fiorentina, Atalanta was able to throw Inter off balance with a dedicated high press. The hosts’ struggled to retain the ball in midfield and its defense was exposed all too often. We knew Inzaghi’s Inter would be much less stable in the back than under Conte, but the Nerazzurri have to get a handle on the constant leaking of high-quality chances (especially with Handanovic in goal). When it was able to play on the front foot, Inter’s attack showed its talent and could only be stopped by a superb performance from Juan Musso. All in all, a draw is a fair result. Both teams could have lost just as easily as they could have picked up all three points. Inter has dropped to third ahead of Sunday’s matches, two points short of Milan and one behind Napoli (who take on Cagliari Sunday evening). The Nerazzurri remain unbeaten, however, and are two clear of Atalanta. The focus now moves onto Tuesday’s trip to Ukraine and the familiar opponent of Shakhtar Donetsk, led by Serie A’s own Roberto De Zerbi.