While Inter was not put into the toughest group in this year’s UCL, did any of us expect them to qualify for the knockout stage with two games to spare? Could Inter be less ‘pazza’ this year? After a late score in Spain secured a point for Inter against Real Sociedad in the first game, the Nerazzuri banged out three consecutive wins to earn a ticket to the next round.
This was not an easy game as RB Salzburg knew they needed a win to keep their UCL hopes alive. The young Austrian team played hard and maybe had the better first half. But by the second half, Inter took charge and secured the win with a Lautaro penalty in the 85th minute. Inter had an expected goal (xG) of 2.12 for the match, while RB Salzburg’s was only 0.62. Outside of expected goals, many of the other stats were even as both teams had 50% possession, and were within one pass of each other (427 for Inter; 428 for Salzburg) with identical 83% accuracy.
Gerhard Struber went with a more attack-oriented lineup, knowing that he needed a win to potentially stay in the UCL. So he went with two strikers, adding Konate, the young Ivorian (who scored multiple goals against Inter in a friendly in August) to flank Simic. Compared to the match at the San Siro, he went with Baidoo in defense (instead of Solet) and Capaldo in midfield (instead of Gourna-Douath). Kjærgaard was out injured for this match.
Simone Inzaghi made several rotational changes, including one that came as a surprise. Bisseck made his first start for Inter at right center back, and he fit right in. Other rotational changes included Frattesi for Barella, Augusto for Dimarco, and Sanchez for Lautaro. With 10 matches remaining this calendar year, Inzaghi is utilizing his full squad depth. Arnautovic made it to the bench after his long injury spell but did not make it on the pitch.
The game started slowly as it seemed both teams were feeling each other out. In the 7th minute, Sommer was alert to jump on a ball that went towards goal on a ricochet, and RB Salzburg took their first shot in the 13th minute (went over the bar). In the 29th minute, Sommer punched the ball away from a free kick (one of his two saves in the half) and Inter finally got its first shot in the 33rd minute, coming from Bisseck. Inter came alive in the last 10 minutes of the half and had two scoring chances. The first was in the 35th minute, as Çalhanoğlu took an excellent free kick that found Bastoni alone in the box, but his header went wide of goal. Then in the 42nd minute, there was the best scoring chance of the half for either team. Thuram passed to Sanchez who tapped the ball to Frattesi who shot the ball into the sky. The half ended scoreless with RB Salzburg having an edge in possession (52% to 48%) and total shots (7 to 5).
The first 15 minutes of the second half were similar to the first, as both teams were a bit sloppy and the shooting (Çalhanoğlu, Kanate, and Gloukh) left fans wondering if there would be any goals in the game. Then Inter started to assert itself by controlling possession and becoming more dangerous in the final third (by this time, Lautaro, Barella, and Asllani were brought in). In the 73rd minute, a corner seemed to touch three Inter players, but none were able to get it on target. In the 77th minute, Asllani took a shot from the edge of the box that required a ‘double save’ by Schlager, and in the 82nd minute a great Bastoni cross was headed by Lautaro but Schlager was there again to tip the ball onto the crossbar. Finally, in the 84th minute, Inter caught its break as a Barella shot was deviated from going on goal by the outstretched arm of Bidstrup. A minute later Lautaro converted the penalty to give Inter the win and secure its place in the knockout stage of this year’s UCL.
Sommer – 6.5: There wasn’t much for Sommer to do, but he did have 4 saves and was very calm dealing with Salzburg’s press. He had a 72% pass success rate, including 3 of 10 long balls.
Bastoni – 6.5: Wearing the captain’s armband, Bastoni was very active on the pitch. Offensively, his cross to Lautaro in the 82nd minute was perfect, but in the 35th minute, he missed an open header that would have given Inter the lead. He led the team with 67 touches and did not have much defending to do, as he only had one clearance and two tackles.
Acerbi – 7: Continues to be a rock holding the back line and not giving much to the Salzburg strikers. Connected on 82% of his passes including three of four long balls. Defensively, he had seven clearances (including one in an 89th-minute Salzburg counter), one interception, and one tackle. He won four of six duels.
Bisseck – 6.5: Yann had a good first start but it was cut short due to the yellow he received in the first half. He seemed calm on the ball and had an 89% pass accuracy rate (including one of two long balls). Bisseck also had four clearances, one interception, and one tackle.(46’ de Vrij - 6.5: Played the unfamiliar right side of the defense, had three clearances, two tackles, and won four of his eight duels.)
Augusto – 5.5: Overall a poor outing for Carlos Augusto as he lost possession 11 times, and missed on all his crosses and long balls. He has been very good coming in as a late sub but has struggled when given a starting role. (87’ Dimarco - no rating).
Mkhitaryan – 7: While he made several errors during the match, his passing was on point as he connected on 30 of 33 (including all three of his long balls). Subbed for Barella as he was showing fatigue. (69’ Barella – 6.5: Barella played with energy and helped shore up the midfield. His shot led to the penalty that secured Inter the win.)
Çalhanoğlu – 6.5: Hakan was good, but not as spectacular as he has been recently. He had 85% passing accuracy, connected on all three of his long balls, but only one of four crosses. Defensively, he only won three of six duels and had one interception and one blocked shot. (61’ Asllani – 6.5: He is looking very good - and confident - on the pitch. Inter did not miss a beat when Asllani replaced Hakan. He connected on 22 of 23 passes (96% pass accuracy), including three of four long balls. Asllani looks like an upcoming breakout star.)
Frattesi – 6: It was a tale of two halves for Frattesi. Prior to his missed shot in the 42nd minute, you had to be reminded that Fratessi was on the pitch. He came alive in the second half, especially when Barella entered. Fratessi ended the night with two shots (one on target), four crosses (two accurate), one long ball (also accurate), and an 80% pass accuracy rate.
Darmian – 6: Did not contribute much offensively as he only had one cross, but was active on defense. Darmian won eight of 10 duels and had one interception and three tackles.
Sanchez – 6: After his last start, I was expecting more from Alexis. Instead, he seemed to disappear quite a bit throughout the match. He only had 29 touches and zero shots. (68’ Lautaro – 7: Lautaro is Inter’s difference maker in attack this season. He comes in and Inter takes charge. He had four shots (two on target), hit the woodwork, and scored the penalty. Defensively he won two of three duels. While only on the pitch for 22 minutes, he earned Man of the Match honors.)
Thuram – 6.5: Thuram’s strength and quickness caused lots of problems for RB Salzburg. He had an 89% pass accuracy rate, won 9 of 16 ground duels, and had three tackles. While not his best match, overall he played well.
Inzaghi — 6.5: His rotations this match worked as the team secured qualification to the next round. Starting Bisseck was risky but it paid off. Having Lautaro come off the bench was a boost for the team.
Next up for Inter is a home match against Frosinone, who are surprisingly sitting in 11th place despite their struggles in road games (two points in five matches). I expect more rotation from Inzaghi as Inter tries to maintain their two-point lead over hated rivals Juventus before their showdown the following weekend.