While some in the media played down this final fixture of the group stage, looking at the standings, it was clear that winning Group D would result in a much easier round-of-16 tie for the Nerazzuri. Winning the group would have probably left a pool of teams consisting of Copenhagen, PSV, PSG/Newcastle, RB Leipzig, and Porto/Shatkar Donetsk. Coming in second results in a much tougher pool consisting of Bayern Munich, Arsenal, Real Madrid, Athletico Madrid (most likely), Dortmund (most likely), Manchester City and Barcelona. Ouch!
While there was some squad rotation, Izaghi put a formidable lineup on the pitch. Despite outshooting Real Sociedad ten to five and bringing on Lautaro, Barella, and Arnautovic in the 65th minute, the team didn’t much threaten the Txuri-Urdin, and the game ended scoreless. Of note, this is the first time all season (Serie A and Champions League) where Inter Milan failed to score.
Inzaghi played Carlos Augusto at left back again, deeming Bastoni not fit for 90 minutes. Cuadrado filled in for the injured Dumfries, and Frattesi and Sanchez started in place of Barella and Lautaro.
There was not much action in the first 35 minutes of the first half, as the Real Sociedad high-press seemed to put Inter Milan in some difficulty. While the visitors dominated possession by 67%/33% in the opening 45 (but 80%/20% in the first 35 minutes), they never posed any threat to the Inter goal and, ended the half with an xG of 0.05.
Inter finally started to threaten in the last ten minutes. In the 36th minute, Mhikitaryan’s header sailed high on a nice counter, then in the 38th minute, a very strong individual play by Thuram resulted in another counter where Sanchez’s cross was deflected out (replay showed the ball went out despite the referee allowing play to resume). In the 41st minute, Real Sociedad had a corner, but Carlos Augusto did well to deflect the attacking header out. In the 43rd minute, Acerbi was in the box but did not connect well with the ball. The first shot on goal for either team came in the 45th minute when Dimarco’s shot was saved by Remiro. By the end of the first half, Inter outshot Real Sociedad six to two and had the only shot on goal.
At the start of the second half, Inter started on the front foot but didn’t do too much to create scoring chances. The best chance came in the 56th minute after two headers in the box led to a ball falling in front of Frattesi about 7 yards out. Unfortunately, his shot sailed over the bar (it was not an easy shot to make). This Inter pressure lasted about 15 minutes, and then the team seemed to lose composure, resulting in about 10 minutes of sloppy play. During this time, Inzaghi made his first three subs, bringing on Lautaro (for Sanchez), Barella (for Mhikitaryan), and Arnautovic (for Thuram). The first two subs made sense, but I was puzzled that Thuram was taken off the pitch as he was Inter’s best player this evening.
Inter’s next chance came in the 71st minute, as Lautaro headed the ball but straight at Remiro. The biggest excitement of the second half came in the 75th minute. Kubo dribbled into the Inter box, trying to squeeze between Carlos Augusto and Calhanoglu. As he slaloms, he clearly takes a dive, but the referee immediately blows the whistle for a penalty on Calhanoglu. It only took seconds for VAR to have the referee take a look at the monitor, and he only needed to see the replay once to reverse his decision and award Kubo a yellow card for his dive.
If my memory serves me correctly, Real Sociedad registered their first shot on goal in the 83rd minute. The rest of the game played out with only a Lautaro shot in the 95th minute exciting the fans. But it was from a difficult angle (maybe he should have crossed it?), and the ball sailed wide. When the final whistle blew, the sides finished a pretty even match (xG of 0.72 vs. 0.73, possession of 45% to 55%, but Inter held a two-to-one shot advantage (10 to 5)).
Sommer - 6: A no rating may be more appropriate as he did not have much to do. He did have 50 touches but did not connect on any of his nine long balls.
Carlos Augusto - 6.5: Played very well as part of the back three and was moved to wingback when Bastoni entered. He had 75 touches, won six of ten duels, two blocked shots, two clearances, and connected on four of seven long balls.
Acerbi - 6: Rock solid in the back as Real Sociedad never threatened to score. He had 72 touches and an 85% pass success rate. He only won five of his ten duels.
Darmian - 6: Always dependable, Darmian was solid with an 87% pass success rate, two clearances and one blocked shot. Offensively, he connected on three of eight long balls.
Dimarco - 5.5: A rough night for Federico as his crosses always seemed a bit late. Only had a 69% pass success rate and lost all five of his duels. He had Inter’s first shot on goal.
Mkhitaryan - 6: A rough offensive night with only 34 touches and a 67% pass success rate. Was better defensively, winning six of eight duels, having two interceptions and two clearances.
Calhanoglu - 6: Very accurate with his passing, having an 88% success rate, connecting on two of three crosses and one of two long balls. Defensively, he only won three of ten duels and lost possession 11 times.
Frattesi - 5.5: Not much of a factor in the game, with only 29 touches over 90 minutes. Davide did have an 85% pass success rate but did not attempt any crosses or long balls. He had the chance to score in the 56th minute but was not able to keep the ball low enough.
Cuadrado - 6.5: A pretty good first start with an 85% pass success rate, 100% duel success rate, and one clearance and interception. But, like the rest of the squad, he did not create many scoring chances.
Sanchez - 5: Alexis only had ten touches, attempting seven passes (five were successful) and no shots. Need you say more?
Thuram - 6.5 (Man of the Match): Was a beast fighting for the ball, winning six of seven duels. While he only had 19 touches, he was the main spark through the first 65 minutes to give Inter any chance of scoring. Should not have been taken off the pitch!
Inzaghi - 5: Needing a win, I expected a more aggressive Inter. Instead, they sat back for long periods of the match and had trouble dealing with Real Sociedad’s high pressing in the first half (they are not the first team to do this, so why struggle?). While I had no complaints about the starting lineup, I’ll mention again - WHY TAKE OUT THURAM IN THE 65TH MINUTE? He was Inter’s brightest spark, and having him on the pitch with Lautaro would have given Inter their best chance of scoring.
Next up for Inter is a Serie A trip to Rome to take on Lazio. Inzaghi has struggled against his former team when playing in the capital. As Juventus has an easier game on Friday at Genoa, the team will likely need a win on Sunday if they are to maintain their position as table leaders.
As for the Champions League, the round of 16 drawing will be held on Monday. With no Serie A team winning their group (with the possible exception of Lazio), Inter’s opponent pool will consist of Bayern Munich, Manchester City, Real Madrid, Arsenal, Barcelona, and most likely Athletico Madrid and Borussia Dortmund. Expect a tough tie early next year!