With Serie A starting two weeks earlier than usual, this match may not have felt like the usual season kickoff for some. However, after an early Romelu Lukaku goal on debut number two and a last-second winner from the midsection of Denzel Dumfries, Inter Milan have announced that ‘pazza’ season is most definitely in session.
Having won Serie B last season on their way to promotion, hosts Lecce have had plenty of turnover since their previous Serie A stint in the 2019/20 season. The newcomers handed a debut at the center forward position to Gambian striker Assan Ceesay, who scored 20 goals in the Swiss Super League for FC Zurich last season. Elsewhere on the pitch, Federico Di Francesco, son of Cagliari manager Eusebio Di Francesco started on the wing while Mert Cetin, who had a solid season at Verona in 2021/22, anchored the defense.
Inter did not show that they had a set starting team in the preseason, and this continued into the first match of the season. Simone Inzaghi opted for Federico Dimarco on the left side of his back three while Matteo Darmian started on the right side of the five man midfield over Denzel Dumfries. Up top, Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez started together for the first time since May of 2021, when they lifted the Scudetto together as the league’s premier attacking partnership.
LECCE (4-3-3): Falcone; Gendrey, Baschirotto, Cetin, Gallo; Bistrovic, Hjulmand, Gonzalez; Strefezza, Ceesay, Di Francesco.
INTER (3-5-2): Handanovic; Skriniar, de Vrij, Dimarco; Darmian, Barella, Brozovic, Calhanoglu, Gosens; Lukaku, Lautaro.
On his return from a year-long sabbatical at Stamford Bridge, Lukaku wasted no time announcing his presence back in the Italian top flight. His first goal of his second Inter stint came less than 90 seconds into the match, as a cross from Federico Dimarco was played back across goal for the number 90 to head into an open net from close range. A very pleasant return.
ROMELU LUKAKU IS BACK WITH A BANG— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) August 13, 2022
HIS FIRST GOAL IN HIS RETURN TO INTER pic.twitter.com/i12SWk3lKr
After the early noise on the goal, Inter dominated possession and forced Lecce to defend with every man back. However, the visitors could not break through with a second goal that would have surely signaled the beginning of the end for Lecce. Hopeful shots from Nicolo Barella and Hakan Calhanoglu did little to challenge goalkeeper Wladimiro Falcone.
Around the 30 minute mark, Inter felt that they had gained an advantage on the pitch as Federico Baschirotto went in with his studs high on the foot of Lautaro Martinez with what could have easily been a red card offense. Young referee Alessandro Prontera decided to keep the red card in his pocket, opting for a yellow instead.
Despite the added fire that was introduced to the match through the Baschirotto tackle, neither team could find the back of the net as the sides headed into the dressing room with Inter ahead 1-0 in front of a packed Stadio Via del Mare.
A sleepy start to the second half saw Inter punished almost instantly. Di Fancesco and Ceesay linked up quickly on the break, giving the Gambian a chance to shoot. The shot rolled past Samir Handanovic and into the net for a memorable debut goal.
ASSAN CEESAY SCORES ON HIS SERIE A DEBUT!— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) August 13, 2022
LECCE SCORE THEIR FIRST GOAL BACK IN SERIE A TO DRAW LEVEL WITH INTER pic.twitter.com/zQn4czZ2Io
Changes began to be made to the Inter setup after conceding the equalizer. Alessandro Bastoni replaced Robin Gosens, allowing Dimarco to push higher up the pitch while Henrikh Mkhitaryan made his Serie A debut for Inter, replacing Marcelo Brozovic.
On the hour mark, Lecce nearly took the lead through a Kristijan Bistrovic free kick that Handanovic had to deal with. Inter survived the scare, but Lecce did not seem to be sitting back for the draw quite yet.
With time starting to dwindle, Inzaghi proceeded to throw the kitchen sink at Lecce. The inclusions of Dumfries and Edin Dzeko put more pressure on the aerial game, which Inter have made a strength under Inzaghi.
With Lautaro, Lukaku, and Dzeko on the pitch, Inter were hunting for the winner. The visitors thought they had found it just before the 80 minute mark through Lukaku, but the goal was disallowed for a foul. Minutes later, Lukaku nearly scored again, but a great save sent the ball over the bar and out for one of Inter’s eight corners.
On corner number eight, with all four minutes of extra time played, the winning goal came. Nicolo Barella’s delivery was flicked on by Lautaro, through the legs of Dzeko, and into the path of Dumfries, who was able to direct it home off of his body while running at full speed, sending the Inter bench into a frenzy that culminated in a pile of celebrating bodies in the corner of the pitch. Just in time for the final whistle.
DENZEL DUMFRIES RESCUES ALL THREE POINTS FOR INTER IN THE LAST MINUTE OF STOPPAGE TIME. pic.twitter.com/XUR62ypNfG— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) August 13, 2022
Handanovic - 6.5: His role in the Lecce goal is debatable, but the save on the Bistrovic free kick kept Inter in the match. Not much else to say there.
Skriniar - 6: He only had one preseason match to prepare and it showed. Clunky performance while he tries to get up to speed on a shorter schedule.
de Vrij - 6.5: Showing some signs of life after a rough 2021/22 season. Hopefully he continues to improve.
Dimarco - 7.5 (MOTM): Easily Inter’s biggest threat on the pitch in this match. His deliveries kept the Lecce defense on alert for the entire 90 minutes. Great start for him.
Gosens - 6: Still not fully meshing with the team after a few appearances last season. Hopefully his quality comes good after a run of matches in the team.
Calhanoglu- 5.5: Pretty quiet all match. Replaced after 67 minutes. Not sure if he influenced anything at all on the pitch.
Brozovic - 6: He was struggling for fitness in the buildup to the match and it showed. Hopefully he is back to his usual levels by next match.
Barella - 6.5: The most noticeable of Inter’s midfield three, but still not extremely effective. Blasted multiple chances from distance well over the goal but helped rescue the match with his final corner.
Darmian - 6.5: Quality on the ball when needed. The header into the ground to set up Lukaku’s goal was class. Bringing in Dumfries offered a different profile late on, but both right wingbacks did their jobs in this one.
Lautaro - 6.5: Worked hard in a less forward position from what we saw last season. Showed his rougher side by dishing out a very hard tackle after Baschirotto was not sent off. Great flick on to assist the winner as well.
Lukaku - 6.5: A storybook return to the club, wasting no time showing his intentions for this season. This team is stronger with him and it shows. Great holdup play as well, something Inter sorely missed last season.
Bastoni - 6.5: Came on to allow Dimarco to threaten more in attack. Did his job well. Helped to sure up the defense after the Lecce goal.
Mhkitaryan - 5.5: Did little to stand out in the preseason as well as in this match. Hope he finds his place soon for Inter’s sake.
Dzeko - 6: Added more height to the Inter attack from set pieces, but was little more than a looming threat for Lecce to worry about.
Dumfries - 7: The matchwinner! Was a direct threat on the right side before his last gasp back post run gave Inter the goal they needed. A great start to what could be a big season for him.
Correa - N/A
Inzaghi - 7: Picked a good team for this match and the adjustments he made while chasing the match were ambitious but spot on. Having Lukaku, Lautaro, Dzeko, and Correa on the pitch together at the end was a gamble, but one that paid off. Hopefully he can rely on his depth throughout the season, which would only be a good thing for the club’s objectives.
Inter will have a week to prepare for next Saturday’s match at home to Spezia. Another week of training together on top of such a thrilling win can only do good things for this Inter squad. It will be exciting to see what kind of show Inter can put up in their first home match of the season in front of a galvanized crowd.