Inter’s Friday night 4-2 win over Empoli wasn’t quite as wild as the 19/20 version of this fixture which saw the Nerazzurri clinch UCL football on Matchday 38, but it sure came close. This one lacked the complete and utter insanity of the original, instead featuring a 2-0 lead for Empoli with Inter’s Scudetto hope flashing before its eyes before Lautaro Martinez inspired a memorable comeback to keep the good guys alive in the title race for at least one more week.
Simone Inzaghi was still without Alessandro Bastoni so Federico Dimarco got the start at center back. Joaquin Correa was picked over Edin Dzeko to lead the frontline with Lautaro Martinez, while Inter-loanee Andrea Pinamonti started at the top of Empoli’s 4-3-1-2 shape.
It almost went from bad to worse in the 10th minute, as Simon Zurkowski had a goal ruled out for offside on Pinamonti. The Nerazzurri thought it had a chance to level the scoring from the spot in the 22nd minute when the referee called a penalty when Fabiano Parisi took down Barella in the box but only after snatching the ball away, as the VAR replay showed. To add insult to injury, Empoli doubled its advantage minutes later with the first professional goal of Kristjan Asllani’s career.
Inter Milan’s Scudetto hopes are slipping.— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) May 6, 2022
Kristjan Asllani's first senior goal shocks the San Siro! pic.twitter.com/URD9R2cvGc
Inter understandably looked shell-shocked after going down 2-0 but one moment of luck kicked it back into life when Simone Romagnoli turned a Dimarco cross into his own net under no pressure in the 40th minute.
Simone Romagnoli, a former Milan youth team player, scores an own goal to give Inter Milan a lifeline! pic.twitter.com/E08vsnI2sS— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) May 6, 2022
It didn’t take long for Inter to find the net once more, this time via the boot of Lautaro Martinez from a pin-point Calhanoglu ball.
LAUTARO MARTÍNEZ EXTINGUISHES EMPOLI'S LEAD!— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) May 6, 2022
2 GOALS IN 5 MINUTES! pic.twitter.com/74cLrChPMp
Halftime came at just about the worst time possible for Inter, as it was only just beginning to put Empoli into the grinder and likely would have taken the lead given another five minutes. Nonetheless, with 64% possession and 13 shots compared to Empoli’s 3, Inter’s dominance seemed likely to last through the interval.
Inter continued on the front foot in the second half, forcing Vicario into a number of stops in the opening minutes. The Italian tipped away a low Perisic was tipped away with his fingertips, punched away a Dumfries header before a wild pinball sequence in the box, and finally made an impressive kick save on Lautaro on the counter. But at long last Inter found a crack in Empoli’s determined defense in the 63rd minute, with Lautaro once again doing the honors with a clinical finish.
LAUTARO MARTÍNEZ! INTER MILAN'S TOP SCORER! IT HAD TO BE HIM! pic.twitter.com/lPmuBgsW5I— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) May 6, 2022
Both teams made a number of changes after the goal; Inzaghi brought on Vidal, Dzeko, and D’Ambrosio to close out the win and rest his regular starters. Correa came close to sealing the win in the 79th minute but Vicario managed to keep his tame close-range effort out. Dzeko and Sanchez both had chances of their own in the final few minutes, with the former pinging the post from the top of the box and the latter skying a Perisic cross. Sanchez would eventually get his goal in the 94th minute. A Dzeko cross found its way to the Chilean at the far post thanks to a tap on from Vidal, and Sanchez made no mistake from close range to give Inter a deserved fourth on the night. With 37 shots (10 on target) and an expected goals tally of 5.56 to Empoli’s 0.68xg, a blowout win would have been more fitting but three points are three points no matter how much harder Pazza Inter makes it than necessary.
Handanovic - 6: Couldn’t do much on either goal and those were the only shots on target he faced all night.
Dimarco - 7.5: A constant attacking threat down the flank, getting the “assist” on Romagnoli’s own goal, playing 3 key passes and 11 crosses (5 accurate).
de Vrij - 4.5: Have to wonder how much longer he’s in the starting XI once Bastoni is back. Was too slow to clear Zurkowski’s cross on the first goal and then horribly misjudged a long ball on the second.
Skriniar - 5.5: Got beaten far too easily by Pinamonti on his goal but made amends with 2 key passes, 3 clearances, and 4 duels won over the course of ninety minutes.
Perisic - 7.5: Another elite performance from the Croatian. Played a through ball in to Dimarco to create the opening goal, made 7 key passes, 11 crosses, and won 3 duels.
Calhanoglu - 8: Added another assist (his 11th of the campaign), had a 91% passing rate, made 7 key passes, 5 accurate crosses, 5 long balls, and won 5 duels in a superb showing.
Brozovic - 7.5: Kept things running smoothly in the center of the park, with a 95% passing rate, 3 key passes, 2/2 accurate crosses, and 8/8 successful long balls.
Barella - 7 Came close to moments of magic on several occasions but it never quite clicked for Barella. None of his four shots found the target, though all caused Vicario to sweat a bit. Barella also led Inter in touches (98) and made 3 key passes, but he was far from his best - although he did try a new and rather amusing technique to draw a foul.
Nicolò Barella did a full frontal somersault. pic.twitter.com/44w8Zm9Hp3— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) May 6, 2022
Dumfries - 6.5: With a bit of luck and an improved end product Dumfries could easily have had a goal and assist each but in the end, two key passes and 5 duels won were the highlights of his stats sheet.
Lautaro - 9 (Man of the Match): Two world-class finishes and the type of performance that shows Lautaro at his best. He hasn’t been perfect this season but games like today make you remember Inter has a superb striker on its hands.
Correa - 6: Didn’t have much of an impact but when chances did fall his way the Argentine wasn’t able to take advantage, with a late one-v-one opportunity his most glaring blunder. To give him some credit, though, Correa had some nice moments on the ball linking up in the final third, in turn creating space for teammates.
Inzaghi - 8: Went with what’s worked in the lineup and rightly so. Did very well to keep Inter focused after going down 2-0 and nailed the timing of his subs - not too soon, not too late.
Inter temporarily moves into first on 78 points, one clear of Milan on 77. The Rossoneri have a game in hand, however, and visit Hellas Verona Sunday. Next up for Inter is a trip to the Stadio Olimpico Wednesday in the Coppa Italia final against Juventus before a visit to relegation-threatened Cagliari Sunday in the penultimate match of the season.