As the confetti was cleaned up after Inter’s Coppa Italia final triumph, the Nerazzurri turned their sights back to attempting to defend their Serie A title on Sunday. With only two matchdays to go, any slip from Inter would hand Milan the Scudetto. Simone Inzaghi’s men avoided this outcome with a 3-1 win away to a nearly relegated Cagliari side. Inter are still on the outside looking in, but have taken the possibility of winning a second consecutive Scudetto to the final matchday of the season.
After firing manager Walter Mazzarri earlier this month, Cagliari have employed a 3-5-2 set up by new manager Alessandro Agostini. Inter castaway Dalbert, now a mezzala, started in the midfield. Up top, a striker partnership of Leonardo Pavoletti and Joao Pedro carried enough memories to scare Interisti looking at the opposing lineup.
Simone Inzaghi only made one alteration to the team that won the Coppa Italia final against Juventus. Alessandro Bastoni, finally fully fit, started on the left of defense. For the first time in weeks, Inter’s first choice backline started together. Matteo Darmian earned another start on the right over Denzel Dumfries.
CAGLIARI (3-5-2): Cragno; Ceppitelli, Altare, Lykogiannis; Bellanova, Rog, Grassi, Marin, Dalbert; Joao Pedro, Pavoletti.
INTER (3-5-2): Handanovic; Skriniar, de Vrij, Bastoni; Darmian, Barella, Brozovic, Calhanoglu, Perisic; Dzeko, Lautaro.
Despite asserting their game on Cagliari in the first eight minutes, Inter nearly conceded from a swerving shot along the ground from Charalampos Lykogiannis that Samir Handanovic did well to get a hand on and send out for a corner.
Following the Cagliari chance, Inter thought they had scored through Milan Skriniar on a set piece, but a VAR check ruled the goal out as the big defender’s headed chance hit the post and his arm as he and the ball slid into the net.
Inter were not kept off the scoresheet for too long, with a cross from wingback to wingback finding the head of Matteo Darmian, who hung in the air to nod the ball past Alessio Cragno for a goal that could not be taken off by VAR. The assist from Ivan Perisic just continued to Croatian’s torrid pace on the season.
Ivan Perišić Matteo Darmian— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) May 15, 2022
Inter's wingbacks connect to give them the lead over Cagliari pic.twitter.com/4xuNHpiTkG
The visitors nearly added a second on multiple chances in the final 20 minutes of the half through Bastoni and Lautaro Martinez, who hit the post with a great chance created by himself. With the ball not going in for Inter and not getting to the other end of the pitch for Cagliari, the teams went into the half separated by just the one goal.
The final 45 minutes began much like the first 45. Inter got onto the front foot and it was not long before Lautaro got in behind the Cagliari defense thanks to a Nicolo Barella long ball over the top for the Argentine to get the goal that alluded him towards the end of the first half.
Lautaro Martinez scores his 20th goal of the season. pic.twitter.com/6jnhTXubbA— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) May 15, 2022
With Cagliari offering little through 50-something minutes, it seemed that 2-0 may be a the final score. The hosts changed that when Lykogiannis unleashed a thunderous shot out of nothing from range that took a deflection off of Skriniar. No one had a chance of stopping it with the movement and power behind it. As the cliché goes, a two goal lead is the most dangerous, and the goal at 2-0 surely did put Inter on edge.
QUÉ GOLAZO!— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) May 15, 2022
Charalampos Lykogiannis pulls one back for Cagliari pic.twitter.com/CpJBaVkPlE
With Cagliari briefly sensing hope in their battle to stave off relegation, they threw on Nahitan Nandez and former Inter player Keita Balde to chase a result. Inzaghi countered with Roberto Gagliardini and Denzel Dumfries to relieve Matteo Darmian and Nicolo Barella, who played some long minutes mid-week.
After a couple of frantic minutes, Inter took hold of the match again. With less than 10 minutes left in the match, a quick play to get the ball forward played Gagliardini in behind Cagliari’s defense along with Lautaro. All the substitute did was make the easy pass to his striker for Inter to put the game safely away at 3-1.
LAUTARO MARTINEZ BRACE pic.twitter.com/0lLSirBlSW— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) May 15, 2022
One goal was all Cagliari could muster, even with their Serie A status on the line, leaving Inter to cruise. The two teams played out the final minutes without much action. As the final whistle blew, Inter had successfully made matchday 38 the title decider.
Handanovic - 6: Kept out Lykogiannis once but could not keep out the second. Not his fault. Started the play that led to the third goal. Right off the training ground.
Bastoni - 6: A bit rusty from all that time off, but still a decent return. Nothing to complain about.
de Vrij - 6.5: Looked locked in again after a great Coppa final performance. Not pushed too hard by Cagliari, but swiftly stopped what came at him.
Skriniar - 6.5: Kept Joao Pedro out of the match nearly entirely. Unlucky to not have a goal as well.
Perisic - 7: Another game, another goal contribution. There is absolutely no stopping this guy right now. He’s going to get a good deal wherever he ends up after the season ends.
Calhanoglu - 6.5: The most dangerous player on the pitch early on with his set pieces. Should have had at least one assist. Another solid match from him.
Brozovic - 6: Not the most crisp in his passing for parts of the match, but did split the Cagliari defense on the final goal. Not his best, but still good.
Barella - 6: Looked a bit tired after the Coppa, like a few of the other players. However, he and the rest did manage to soldier through. Got a nice assist as well.
Darmian - 6.5: Hung in the air forever on his goal. Just a generally smart performance without doing anything extra to complicate things. Tidy as always but brought off when Inter wanted some speed.
Dzeko - 5: The season has taken a toll on him and he just looks like a husk of a striker out there. Had 25 touches but it is hard to recall a single one of them.
Lautaro - 7.5 (MOTM): This is the Lautaro Inter needed all season. Cool and composed, creating chances out of the slimmest of spaces. Moves up to 30 goals in all competitions for the season, though. It was not always pretty, or easy, but he’s gotten his goals.
Gagliardini - 6.5: Helped shut the door on Cagliari during their small push after their goal. Able to get an assist, too. Not bad, especially for him.
Dumfries - 6: Used his speed against tiring Cagliari legs. Almost got on the scoresheet but it was not to be. Good to see him performing even if it is off the bench.
D’Ambrosio - 6: Relieved Bastoni as he is still getting sharp again. Slotted in and did what was asked of him. Nothing more, nothing less.
Correa - 6: Did not do much when he came on but did force Cagliari to track him, which helped free up Gagliardini and Lautaro for the third goal.
Inzaghi - 6.5: Able to manage the fitness of the squad after a tough 120 minutes just days before. Got everything right from wire to wire.
What a season it has been. Season number two for me here at Serpents. It has been great to spend it with everyone following the club and reading these articles. We will all say goodbye to this season on next Sunday as Inter host Sampdoria. The Scudetto is still on the line, and we could very well be here celebrating next week. Let’s see what happens!