With a few wins strung together and a trophy brought home in the process, things seemed to be moving in the right direction for Inter Milan. However, as things seem to go with this club, the crash back to reality was swift and painful. An early red card to Milan Skriniar doomed an already rudderless performance in another match against Empoli where Inter try their best to sink to the level of Gli Azzurri.
Simone Inzaghi made some slight changes to the side that has been his go-to in the league in the post-World Cup phase of the season. Both Stefan de Vrij and Joaquin Correa were handed rare starts. Romelu Lukaku continued his disappointing availability record by starting on the bench while Marcelo Brozovic still has a ways to go for recovery.
On a decent run of form, Paolo Zanetti’s Empoli side entered the match missing Mattia Destro, Ardian Ismajli, and Alberto Grassi. This seemingly posed no issue, as Empoli dominated all over the pitch.
INTER (3-5-2): Onana; Skriniar, de Vrij, Bastoni; Darmian, Barella, Calhanoglu, Mkhitaryan, Dimarco; Correa, Lautaro.
EMPOLI (4-3-2-1): Vicario; Ebuehi, De Winter, Luperto, Parisi; Akpa Akpro, Henderson, Bandinelli; Cambiaghi, Bajrami; Caputo.
The match started a bit timid for Inter, allowing Empoli to hit out on the break. The visitors had a very clear plan to exploit the lack of speed in this Inter side. Andre Onana was forced into multiple saves early on but did well to stop the chances from being conceded by the Inter defense.
Federico Dimarco manager to answer, though. His drive at the 20-minute mark could have gone anywhere but was unlucky to catch the foot of Guglielmo Vicario in the Empoli goal. Keeping the Italian wingback off the scoresheet, but just.
Inter seemed to be growing into the match, as if they had collectively arrived 30 minutes late to the stadium. But this momentum was completely dismantled when Skriniar earned his second yellow card in just 15 minutes to send things in the stadium from tenuous to disastrous. Not even mentioning his agent’s quotes that emerged just as the Slovak’s boot was whacking Francesco Caputo’s already bandaged head.
After the sending off, Inter went into damage control, limping to the halftime whistle in a dazed state.
The halftime sub of Raoul Bellanova in place of Correa left Inter with just one striker, though it looked like they had been playing with a lone striker the entire match. This forced Inter deeper, trying to prevent Empoli from cashing in on their man advantage.
Empoli’s attacks became increasingly more incisive until Serie A flavor of the month Tommaso Baldanzi came on as a substitute, scoring within two minutes of his introduction to the match.
A goal up, all the visitors had to do was hold off a largely impotent Inter, which they did well. Only Stefan de Vrij could give Inter a flash of hope, as his headed effort hit the crossbar with 14 minutes left on the clock.
The final minutes resulted in naught. Leaving Inter with their first home Serie A loss of the season and cutting them further afloat in the Scudetto race. Perhaps also in the top four race, which is crucial for a club with an owner that is unwilling and unable to invest in the club he claims to care about so much.
Onana - 5.5: Left on an island the entire match. Could have done better on the goal, but when the shots are coming so regularly, the law of averages kicks in eventually.
Skriniar - 2.5: A number to match his supposed PSG signing bonus, he never looked like he was in the match, and cost his team dearly. So much for that armband we talk about him carrying so well.
de Vrij - 5: Slow, constantly caught out, but nearly saved a point.
Bastoni - 5: Lost the ball before the goal. Overall poor. None of the Inter backline had any answers for Empoli, which is shameful.
Darmian - 6: Tried to pick up the slack of his teammates, but they seemed long gone.
Barella - 4: Back to the arm flapping and screaming at referees. Poor attitude. Rubbed off on the rest of the team. Needs to step up mentally more consistently if he is to be a leader.
Calhanoglu - 6: Another of the few players that made the flight back from Saudi Arabia. Hope this result doesn’t squander the confidence he needs to play with to be successful.
Mhkitaryan - 4: Dead tired and it showed. He is clearly too old to be put through the mileage Inzaghi is riding him for. However, there is little option for change.
Dimarco - 5: One good effort, the rest seemed just a step off in all phases of play.
Correa - 3: There is nothing left to be said about his poor quality.
Lautaro - 5.5: On an island the entire match. Did scuff a chance early, but receded back to the shadows after.
Bellanova - 4.5: Offered nothing on the right. Clearly out of his depth at Inter and should probably be looking for opportunities elsewhere after this season.
Dzeko - 6: Was the first striker to offer anything in the entire match, too bad it was from minute 71 on.
Asllani - 6: Another decent cameo, perhaps should have started over Mhkitaryan.
Lukaku - N/A
Inzaghi - 4: Did little to account for the fatigue of this squad that is not getting any younger while still playing in every competition available to them. This is a worrying sign down the stretch as the Serie A schedule is still suffocatingly jumbled on top of Coppa Italia and the Champions League still to be played.
Inter can get back on the right side of things this weekend when they visit bottom feeders Cremonese. Then there is still no rest from the weary as the Nerazzurri host Atalanta in the Coppa Italia a few days after. In a rollercoaster of a season, hopefully, this is the start of another ascension before the next drop.