Is this thing on? After a long break for the World Cup and the holidays, Inter Milan have taken the pitch to resume the 2022-23 Serie A season. In line with the bizarreness of this season, the first set of fixtures post-World Cup fell on a cold Wednesday afternoon in the city of Milano. Despite the cold, Edin Dzeko kept his hot Serie A form going as he headed home the only goal of the match, propelling Inter into the top four.
While a number of of Inter players took part in the World Cup, the break also served as a time of rest for many players. This allowed Simone Inzaghi to put out a nearly full strength team, only missing Marcelo Brozovic, who went nearly all the way again with Croatia, picking up a knock in the process as he returned to club duty, and Stefan de Vrij, who did not feature for the Dutch. Most notably, Inter started with two absolute towers up top, as Romelu Lukaku and Edin Dzeko led the line from the start.
Luciano Spaletti had much less to worry about with his personnel during the break. Nearly all of his players stayed home from Qatar. He was also able to pick a starting team with his entire squad at his disposal. This was also the first look Inter have gotten at Georgian breakout star Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and South Korean defender Kim Min-Jae.
INTER (3-5-2): Onana; Skriniar, Acerbi, Bastoni; Dumfries, Barella, Calhanoglu, Mkhitaryan, Dimarco; Dzeko, Lukaku.
NAPOLI (4-3-3): Meret; Di Lorenzo, Rrahmani, Kim, Olivera; Anguissa, Lobotka, Zielinski; Politano, Osimhen, Kvaratskhelia.
Now fully returned from injury, Romelu Lukaku nearly made his mark less than five minutes in by holding up and crossing in a dangerous ball from the right. The ball flashed across goal but the shot from Federico Dimarco was saved by Alex Meret.
After twenty minutes of stalemate, Lukaku created another nearly chance, playing the ball in from the same side to Dzeko, who took a touch to set up Matteo Darmian before the wingback scuffed his chance on a bouncing ball.
Lukaku had a chance himself just before halftime with Nicolo Barella playing a sublime one touch pass to put the Belgian in one on one with Meret, but his shot too sailed tantalizingly over the bar. A half of great chances and control over the match, but also a half of missed chances.
Napoli took the first real chance of the second half, demonstrating that they were still a dangerous team when given half a chance. Victor Osimhen controlled a cross from Giovanni Di Lorenzo and had a clear sight of goal from point blank range until Hakan Calhanoglu stepped in with a decisive challenge, allowing Andre Onana time to collect the ball and diffuse the situation.
Inter struck their hammer blow minutes later, starting with a great pass from deep from the boot of Henrikh Mhkitaryan out to Dimarco on the wing. With space to cross, the Italian whipped in a wonderful cross that Dzeko lasered home past a defenseless Meret. The Bosinain’s seventh goal in Serie A this season, though it feels like he has more than that from the magnitude of most of them.
EDIN DŽEKO!— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) January 4, 2023
The cross from Federico Dimarco, the switch from Henrikh Mkhitaryan, a beautiful goal from Inter. pic.twitter.com/Xf2BDYb2ng
After the goal, Inter tightened their grip on the match. They pressed as a unit, flustering Napoli. When the visitors then tried to go over the top, the second ball was swiftly swept away back to Onana. Inzaghi’s plans to stifle Spaletti were spot on throughout the match.
Outside of one Kvaratskhelia solo chance, Napoli’s biggest surge came in the final moments of regular time. A deflected shot from Hirving Lozano found the feet of Giacomo Raspadori, who unleashed a thunderous shot that Onana had to be equal to, though he may not have known much about it with the speed of the shot and the traffic in front of him.
Nonetheless, Inter were able to withstand Napoli’s final pressure for the four minutes of extra time to ride out their biggest win of the season. A much needed second consecutive win over a top seven side in the league, an end to Napoli’s 19 match unbeaten run, and most importantly a lifeline in the Champions League and Scudetto races.
Onana - 6.5: Showed off his distribution skills with the two big strikers up top. Did not have to make a save until minute 90 of play, but came up huge when it mattered. Hope his Cameroon woes are behind him.
Skriniar - 8.5 (MOTM): For the first time since blasting onto the Serie A scene, a defender has made Kvaratskhelia look ordinary. Who else but Milan Skriniar. Captain, leader, wall.
Acerbi - 7: His knack for sweeping up balls when Inter defend deep has been a huge tool for Inzaghi. It is clear why he wanted to bring the defender in.
Bastoni - 6.5: Played well but did show some signs of rust with a few mistakes. Had plenty of backup behind him though.
Darmain - 6: Only really popped up on the missed chance in the first half. Beyond that, his name was not really called.
Barella - 8: An absolute pleasure to watch in this match. His creativity was elegant and he deserved an assist. The rest period was likely the best thing he could have had after his endless run of fixtures for club and country from 2019 to 2022.
Calhanoglu - 7: A standard regista performance from him at this point. Great control of play and a decisive intervention to keep Osimhen off the scoresheet. Brozovic can take his time in recovering.
Mkhitaryan - 7.5: Showed off his passing vision multiples times on the night, including the switch that led to the lone goal of the match. Inter are blessed with a number of creative midfielders and it is a joy to watch them all work together.
Dimarco - 6.5: A few errant passes and some suspect finishing, but still managed the left side well.
Dzeko - 7: Scored a massive goal with his only chance on target in the match. The run to lose Amir Rrahmani was crafted by years of experience. His partnership with Lukaku could be dangerous. Came off with what must have been cramp with the way he was laughing with teammates and coaches after leaving the pitch. Nothing serious hopefully.
Lukaku - 6.5: Looked the fittest he has all season. Runs were incisive, passes were great, just missing that last bit of sharpness to put it all together. It will come with time, if he can stay healthy.
Lautaro - 6.5: Inter’s world champion had a decent outing off the bench. Looked up to it and was aggressive. Glad to see him back after his rollercoaster of a World Cup.
Gosens - 6.5: Looked good in Inter’s friendlies and continued the solid work in his limited appearance. Playing hard. Gives some hope for his longer term outlook at the club.
Correa - 5: Could not hold onto the ball when he came on. Not exactly the forward you want on the pitch while defending a lead.
Dumfries/Gagliardini - N/A
Inzaghi - 9: With over a month to prepare for this match, Inzaghi got every note right. Personnel, tactics, substitutions, all perfect. His most complete managerial performance since arriving at Inter. Had control of the match from start to finish. More performances like this, please.
If you missed Inter over the break, you should quickly be able to make up for the past month’s void with all the fixtures coming up. Inter will be back on the pitch again on Saturday as they visit Monza before kicking off their Coppa Italia title defense on Tuesday against Serie B side Parma.