Just two matches into the Champions League group stage, but Inter already risk another year of elimination before the knockout rounds. A carbon copy result of last season’s 0-0 draw in Ukraine, Inter looked lost and completely out of the match at times. This performance was undoubtedly the worst of the season so far. Bad luck, stage fright, and another goalless draw against a team Inter could not figure out if their lives depended on it.
Shakhtar manager Roberto De Zerbi changed his team wholesale from the side that lost away to current group leaders Sheriff Tiraspol, moving from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-1-4-1. Three changes came in attack and midfield, dropping Fernando, Tete, and Marcos Antônio with Manor Solomon, Alan Patrick, and Taras Stepanenko being the replacements. This strengthening of the midfield allowed Shakhtar to pressure Inter’s midfielders and strikers as they got on the ball, something that forced Inter into suffering for periods of the match.
Inter’s lineup saw little change from either the last Champions League match against Real Madrid or their most recent Serie A match against Atalanta. Matias Vecino, Federico Dimarco, and Denzel Dumfries all got their first Champions League starts of the season. Inter have had a fairly settled side so far this season and have scored quite often in Serie A. However, Champions League form still has yet to come for Simone Inzaghi’s team.
SHAKHTAR (4-1-4-1): Pyatov; Dodo, Marlon, Matviyenko, Ismaily; Stepanenko; Solomon, Alan Patrick, Maycon, Pedrinho; Traore.
INTER (3-5-2): Handanovic; Skriniar, de Vrij, Bastoni; Dumfries, Vecino, Brozovic, Barella, Dimarco; Dzeko, Lautaro.
Shakhtar set out on the front foot from the opening whistle. Able to get in between the lines with room just in front of the penalty box, Solomon fired a warning shot just wide of Samir Handanovic’s goal just four minutes in. Shakhtar striker Lassina Traore suffered a serious-looking knee injury a few minutes later after getting his right leg rolled up under a diving Dumfries in a freak accident, forcing De Zerbi into a change.
On 14 minutes, Inter had one of their biggest chances of the match. Nicolo Barella found himself in space on the break and fired a shot that rattled the woodwork, sending Interisti worldwide into an episode of deja vu from former striker Romelu Lukaku’s thunderous effort in Ukraine last season.
The match then turned into one-way traffic, as Inter were forced to repel shot after shot from the Shakhtar attack. Inter also struggled to hold onto the ball when they got possession as Shakhtar were first to every bad touch and loose ball. Historically, it is hard to score away against Shakhtar, and even harder without possession.
Towards the end of the half, a chance from a corner fell to Edin Dzeko in the six yard box, but the big Bosnian slashed his chance over the crossbar. A similar chance fell to Dumfries from open play, but before he could get the ball at his feet, a Shakhtar defender managed to just get it away, These near miss half chances encompass the performance in attack quite well. Close, but close only counts in horseshoes.
In the second half, Shakhtar looked more likely to pull out the win than Inter. Milan Skriniar made a massive clearance off the goal line to save what would have been a definite goal for Shakhtar just three minutes into the half.
Just before the hour mark, Inzaghi attempted to shake things up by bringing on Hakan Calhanoglu and Joaquin Correa for Matias Vecino and Edin Dzeko. Calhanoglu’s inclusion did not do as much as it could have, but Correa’s inclusion did give Inter a different threat to run at the Shakhtar defense.
Calhanoglu did cut out a pass from Shakhtar keeper Andriy Pyatov which landed at the feet of Lautaro Martinez in a one on one situation, but his shot was rushed and missed by a mile. This is an issue that Lautaro seems to have at times in high pressure situations. Not much else happened for Inter’s number 10, who went off a bit later for the inclusion of Alexis Sanchez.
Substitutions and fouls broke the flow of the match up into a slog by this point, around 70-85 minutes. But Inter had one last flourish just before the end of the match out of desperation for a single goal against Shakhtar in this competition. Correa found himself in space just outside of the box and fired a beautiful curling shot that was tipped away by Pyatov at full stretch. From the ensuing corner, Stefan de Vrij latched onto a header that was again heroically saved by Pyatov. Giving Interisti another bout of deja vu from Anatolii Trubin’s performances in goal against Inter last season.
After that, there was virtually nothing left in the match and both sides walked away with a point, leaving them on the outside looking in for qualification to the next round.
Handanovic - 6: There was little to do for the Slovenian. One save on a ball straight at him. However, he did not seem to give much to this team leadership-wise in this one. Perhaps the team could have used a kick in the rear from their captain.
Bastoni- 6.5: A first clean sheet sine the opening match against Bologna for the defense. They did their part. Bastoni is always crucial to that.
de Vrij - 7: Always holds the back three together as a unit. He is also finally beginning to get plaudits for it as well. Almost had the winner late as well.
Skriniar - 8 (MOTM): As usual, Skriniar showed up on the big stage. His goal line clearance in the second half was as big as a goal, and he celebrated it as such. Always the first guy back ready to stop whatever is coming at his goal.
Dimarco - 5.5: He earned his start in previous performances, but did not pay it back well. Had trouble with his control and passing. Just not his match at all.
Vecino - 5: Pretty quiet all match. Many have clamored for the Uruguayan to start over Calhanoglu, but at least the latter is a threat from set pieces. Very similarly quiet match to the Turk’s recent performances. The Eriksen hole looms large.
Brozovic - 6: Could not get things ticking in attack, but defended well and worked hard when needed. He really needs to learn to cope with pressing from opposition midfielders that he has been subjected to many times so far this season.
Barella - 6.5: Along with Skriniar, he was the only player that seemed to have made the trip from Milan. Was dangerous all match and tried to drive the team forward. If he scores that big chance early, we are probably looking back at an entirely different match.
Dumfries - 6: Had good spells on both sides of the ball, but could not get both to click. He gets forward so well, but still needs a bit more end product.
Dzeko - 5: Totally out of gas right now and showed it. Terrible first touches, giveaways, and missed his big chance. If he is neither linking play nor poaching well, why is he still starting? Needs a long rest.
Lautaro - 5.5: Did his usual work off the ball well, but faltered in front of goal. He needs to take that big step, but is not showing that he can. Finishing could very well be the end of this team’s hopes if Toro and others don’t find their shooting boots.
Calhanoglu- 5.5: Outside of his set piece threat, he did not change much of the match when he came on. Not fully comfortable in that deeper role yet.
Correa - 6.5: He posed the most threat for Inter all match. He did not show it until late, but is direct running got him into some dangerous positions. He almost saved Inter’s bacon like he did in Verona, but late goalkeeping heroics kept him off the scoresheet. Needs to knock the rust off after his injury absence.
Alexis - 5.5: Ran a lot but did precious little. Sadly his race may be run at this level.
Perisic/Gagliardini - N/A
Inzaghi - 6: Put out what looked to be Inter’s strongest lineup at the moment, but had issues reacting once the match began to change. However, he still did enough to get players into dangerous positions at times, but what they did with those chances was another story. Has to realize he can’t start Dzeko every match as well.
Going to Ukraine and coming home with a point is a decent result when looking at the history of Shakhtar in this competition. However, Inter really needed a win to solidify their position a group contender. The bad taste in the mouths of many will linger until Saturday, when Inter travel to Sassuolo. Hopefully, the “bogey team” label really is no more.