Wild Wednesdays are becoming quite the occasion for Inter in the early weeks of 2022. After a 2-1 thriller with a goal at the death to win the Supercoppa Italiana last Wednesday, Stefano Sensi of all players popped up with an extra time winner to complete Inter’s comeback over Empoli and propel Inter into the quarterfinals of the Coppa Italia.
Inter rolled out the complete cup competition rotation, with only Danilo D’Ambrosio and Matteo Darmian retaining starting spots. Andrei Radu got his first start of the season, Matias Vecino made a rare appearance from the opening whistle, and Joaquin Correa partnered Lautaro Martinez up top.
After going through Vicenza and Verona in the first two rounds of the Coppa Italia, Empoli opted for rotation as well. However, they did start their first choice strike partnership of Inter loanee Andrea Pinamonti and Milan product Patrick Cutrone. To add to the Milanese flavor, Simone Romagnoli, brother of Milan captain Alessio, started the match in defense.
INTER (3-5-2): Radu; D’Ambrosio, Ranocchia, Dimarco; Dumfries, Vidal, Vecino, Gagliardini, Darmian; Lautaro, Correa.
EMPOLI (4-3-1-2): Furlan; Fiamozzi, Viti, Romagnoli, Marchizza; Zurkowski, Stulac, Bandinelli; Asllani; Pinamonti, Cutrone.
The match started very disappointingly with Joaquin Correa, finally fit for the first time in months, being forced off within five minutes of the opening whistle. A foul from Romagnoli, who climbed the Argentine forward’s back to the point he was being entirely held up by the Inter striker, forced the injury riddled hitman off in tears. A tough sight for the home side for a player that has 31 million Euros invested by the club.
His replacement, Alexis Sanchez, made Empoli pay less than 10 minutes later. Arturo Vidal and Denzel Dumfries played a quick one-two which freed up the Dutchman to put in a pinpoint cross that was headed home, giving Inter the early lead.
Alexis Sanchez scores his first Coppa Italia goal since April 2010. ⚫ pic.twitter.com/L8E2Cld9D0— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) January 19, 2022
Alexis continued to cause Empoli problems, winning the ball high up the pitch for Denzel Dumfries, but his touch gave Empoli goalkeeper Jacopo Furlan enough time to close the angle and make a save. Gagliardini did the same shortly after, winning the ball for Lautaro, but Furlan made two saves to deny Inter’s number 10 from close range. Despite some decent chances, Inter could not find the second goal that would go a long way to killing off the match.
Empoli manager Aurelio Andreazzoli made some changes at the half, not liking what he was seeing from his side. Midfielders Liam Henderson, Samuele Ricci, and Nedim Bajrami all entered the pitch to start the half.
All three played well, causing Inter problems on the break. Andreazzoli was vindicated in his changes 15 minutes into the half when Bajrami brought down a cross from Kristjan Asllani and put a shot past Radu to give Empoli a shock lifeline.
Inter had a few half chances before the goal, but did not look like scoring before Empoli equalized. To remedy this, Simone Inzaghi brought on Hakan Calhanoglu, Nicolo Barella, and Ivan Perisic in an attempt to snatch back momentum.
The new look Inter side forced a few big saves out of Furlan through Alexis, D’Ambrosio, and Dumfries, but could not get past the backup keeper. Things almost turned dire 18 minutes from full time when referee Juan Luca Sacchi called for a nonsensical penalty as a shot into the box hit Dumfries on the shoulder, but in a natural position next to his body. The penalty was overturned by VAR.
Cutrone would cause more problems, as it was his header that hit the crossbar then the calf of Radu for an own goal. With 15 minutes left to play in the match, Inter looked on the brink of being dumped out of the Coppa Italia.
Just as the clock hit 90 and the five extra minutes were announced, Andrea Ranocchia of all players got Inter out of jail with a ridiculous overhead volley that absolutely no one knew he had in his arsenal to send the match to extra time.
For the second consecutive week, Inter headed to extra time at home. The much maligned and destined for the door Stefano Sensi entered the match in place of Lautaro. From the onset, he looked bright, playing some tidy passes and had a pretty dangerous shot. He looked up for it in a way he had not in a long time for Inter.
In the vein of unlikely goal scorers started by Ranocchia, Sensi scored his first goal since 2019 to give Inter the lead halfway through the first extra time period. Much like Christian Eriksen’s free kick goal in the same competition against Milan last January, it felt like a moment that could spark a turnaround for the midfielder.
STEFANO SENSI GIVES INTER THE LEAD IN EXTRA TIME pic.twitter.com/vY3HRKo9Mv— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) January 19, 2022
By the time extra time rolled around, Empoli had exhausted their resources. The go ahead goal for Inter sealed the fate of the visitors, dumping them out of the competition and seeing the hosts through to the quarterfinals, where they will face either Roma or Lecce.
Radu - 4.5: If this were any type of audition for the backup keeper, he did not pass. Not convincing with his saves at all. Samir Handanovic’s place in the team is safe.
Dimarco - 6: Quiet but solid match at center back. Played some dangerous crosses and dead balls as we know he can.
Ranocchia - 5: Scoring a match-saving overhead volley and managing only a 5 rating is quite the feat, but he was beaten every time Empoli ran at him with pace. Good thing we will all only remember the goal.
D’Ambrosio - 6: Similar to Dimarco, he did what was asked of him for the most part. Had a few half chances fall to him that could have been converted for a goal.
Darmian - 5: Pretty lukewarm performance outside of his usual spot on the right. Maybe the left is not for him.
Gagliardini - 4.5: Nonexistent performance. The match did not go through him whatsoever. Had the least amount of touches of any midfielder and only really made his presence known when he won the ball for Lautaro’s chance early in the first half.
Vecino - 4: Regista is already not his position, but putting him there when he is already out the door at the club was only going to end one way. Poor performance. Did less than Gagliardini.
Vidal - 6: Dealt a pretty bad hand with the midfield partners he was lined up with. Worked hard but could not do it all in the middle of the park.
Dumfries - 6.5: Great assist on the Alexis goal. Did not give up anything defensively on his flank. Grinded for 120 minutes. Very respectable outing for Inter’s starting right wingback.
Correa - N/A: Injured early on the foul by Romagnoli that could have easily been a yellow. Got away with it because it was early in the match. Hope he can recover soon because Inter need his availability up front.
Lautaro - 6.5: The usual pattern for him this season, play great throughout the match but can’t find the net. Can’t take away from everything else he did today though. Furlan did make a couple of really good saves.
Alexis - 7: Called into action when he was not expecting, but got the opening goal and played really well. A goal and an assist for the self-described “caged lion”.
Barella - 6.5: Really made an impact in the midfield after replacing Vidal, who did not do too bad. Helped turn the match back into Inter’s favor.
Calhanoglu - 6.5: What a difference it makes having some first choice midfielders in a match. What he does for this team is so hard to replace, especially in attack and transition.
Perisic - 6.5: Immediately took hold of the left when he came on. Another reason Inter were able to turn the match around. Professional performance off the bench.
Dzeko - 6.5: Was able to come on and win a lot of knockdowns and bring teammates into play. His potency in front of goal has dropped sharply, though.
Sensi - 7.5 (MOTM): Put in the performance of a man that does not want to leave the San Siro. Showed a side of his game that we have not seen in over two years. Could be crucial down the stretch, especially if Correa is out long term.
Inzaghi - 6.5: Perhaps he got a little too rotation-happy, but that is understandable after the week Inter just got through. Luckily he made the subs to fix the problem. The attacking mentality he has given this team has made a world of difference all season, but especially these past two Wednesdays.
Though the match ran long, a good number of starters were able to rest. This will be important with a Serie A visit from a revitalized Venezia on the cards this weekend, given that the Serie B promotion winners are not hindered by a COVID outbreak that has popped up in their camp. After that, another international break lurks. Hopefully Inter can get their points and everyone will emerge from the next couple of weeks unscathed.