Simone Inzaghi’s tenure at Inter has had its fair share of ups and downs, but if nothing else he has firmly vanquished Inter’s habit of falling at the final hurdle in the Champions League group stage. The Nerazzurri had gone three straight seasons without moving on into the knockout stages in a variety of painful ways, but since his arrival on the scene, Inzaghi has done the improbable and guided Inter into its second straight Round of 16 appearance, and in no less than the Group of Death.
The wild series against Barcelona will be the one that gets the plaudits, but it’s a dominant drama-free victory over Plzen that punches Inter’s ticket into the next round. Henrikh Mkhitaryan put the good guys into the lead late in the first half and Inter never looked back, going on to add three more past the Czech side.
Simone Inzaghi was serving a touchline suspension after his red card against Barca, so Massimiliano Farris took the reins, making three changes to the lineup from Fiorentina with Alessandro Bastoni, Federico Dimarco, and Edin Dzeko slotting into the lineup. Romelu Lukaku was first enough for the bench after a month and a half out.
Inter dominated from the opening whistle, coming out of the locker room with clear intentions of finishing off Plzen early. The Nerazzurri had a number of missed chances throughout the opening stages, however, and proceedings seemed to be following an unfortunately familiar theme. Dimarco and Lautaro had back to back shots saved in the 25th minute before the former sent the rebound narrowly wide. El Toro then had one of his trademark volleys foiled from nestling into the back of the net by the flailing boot of Lukas Hejda. But Plzen’s resistance only managed to last a few minutes longer. The hosts found their goal in the 35th minute off the head of a suddenly red-hot Mkhitaryan.
Strong header from Mkhitaryan to power Inter in to the lead pic.twitter.com/GK2JnCwsmt— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) October 26, 2022
Plzen’s opposition waned after the opener and Inter was able to add a second via Edin Dzeko in the 42nd minute.
Inter put one foot in the round of 16 with a well worked goal finished by Edin Džeko pic.twitter.com/ryMc1icDA6— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) October 26, 2022
Inter deserved every bit of its two goal lead; the Nerazzurri held 64% of possession and outshot the visitors 13 (4 on target) to 3 (1). Poor finishing threatened to haunt Inter again but the veteran duo of Mkhitaryan and Dzeko showed up in the big moment (thanks, Roma).
The second half began in a similar fashion as the first. Mkhitaryan almost tallied a second in the 55th minute but a curling effort from the Armenian dinged off the outside of the post. Inter would get it's third a mere ten minutes later, however, with Dzeko bagging yet another goal against Plzen (that’s now 12 goals in all competitions vs the Czechs).
Edin Džeko loves scoring against Viktoria Plzeň ⚡— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) October 26, 2022
He get's his 12th goal in 10 games against them! pic.twitter.com/4YfZh42kCE
Inzaghi’s changes once again helped Inter put the game to bed, bringing on the likes of Asllani, Correa, Gosens, and a certain Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian marked his return with a bang and buried the fourth of the night in the 87th minute after some neat link-up play with Correa to put the icing on Inter’s cake.
ROMELU LUKAKU IS BACK WITH A BANG!— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) October 26, 2022
And his mom is so happy ❤️ pic.twitter.com/XqRFr1rK6O
Onana - 7: Another shutout for the Cameroonian, who had the luxury of being more of a spectator than anything - Plzen managed a grand total of one shot on his goal all night.
Bastoni - 8: A stellar showing from Bastoni. Assisted the opener with a delightful delivery to Mkhitaryan, completed 5 long balls and 3 crosses, made 3 clearances, and won 4 duels.
Acerbi - 7: A solid showing from Acerbi, although he was never pressed into much action with 99% passing accuracy, 2 interceptions, and 2 duels won.
Skriniar - 7: Fared similarly to Acerbi and won 6 duels, had a 93% passing rate, and notched 2 key passes.
Dimarco - 7.5: Proved Inzaghi’s choice to start him over Gosens right with an excellent outing down the left flank. Dimarco’s crosses caused constant problems to Plzen’s backline, and he managed one assist, 5 key passes, and 4 accurate long balls.
Mkhitaryan - 8: Continues to show his quality after a rocky start to the season, adding 2 key passes and 3 crosses to go with his sharply taken goal.
Calhanoglu - 7.5: Another great showing in place of Brozovic with a 96% passing rate, 4 crosses, and 5 accurate long balls.
Barella - 7.5: Though Barella’s scoring run came to an end, his super form of late continued with another complete showing in midfield, headlined by 2 key passes, 5 accurate long balls, and 5 duels won.
Dumfries - 6: Had a couple of half-chances but lacked the end product and precision to make any count, although he did manage to win 5 duels and make 2 clearances.
Lautaro - 6: Never quite put it all together against Plzen. Did a fair amount of off the ball work with 3 duels and one interception but only managed 32 touches, lost possession 12 times, and hit a 73% passing rate.
Dzeko - 8 (Man of the Match): He might be a little old but no one loves these European nights more than Dzeko. After a handful of crucial goals last season, he opened his 22/23 account in fashion with a brace that secures Inter’s qualification this time around. The return of Lukaku should only boost his effectiveness and lessen the wear on the Bosnian’s legs.
Inzaghi - 8: Avoided any sort of embarrassing slip-ups as we’ve seen in the past at crucial Champions League moments and leads Inter deservedly into the next phase, especially after the series against Barcelona. Also aced the starting lineup, with special mention to Dimarco on the flank.
Despite a healthy tally of 10 points through five rounds, Inter can’t move any higher than second in Group C thanks to Bayern’s 3-0 win at Barca, which means next week’s trip to Germany is essentially a dead rubber - Bayern stay first no matter what, Inter stay second. The Nerazzurri will instead turn its attention to Saturday’s visit from relegation-battling Sampdoria and a Derby d’Italia on November 6th.