It wasn’t the prettiest of matches, but Inter did enough to pick up a vital three points against Udinese and stay in front of the chasing pack in the melee for the top four, all while resting a few key players. The Nerazzurri edged the Friulani by 3 goals to 1, including Romelu Lukaku’s first strike of 2023 on a retaken penalty and a golazo of a game-winner from Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Simone Inzaghi sprung a few surprises in the starting eleven, none more so than giving Samir Handanovic his first start of the season. Andre Onana was fit enough for the bench, so it seems to have been mere rotation. Marcelo Brozovic also started after his injury woes, while Edin Dzeko partnered Romelu Lukaku up top. Andrea Sottil’s (father of Fiorentina’s Ricardo Sottil in case you were wondering) Udinese lined up in their unchanging 3-5-2, headlined by a strike pair of Beto and Florian Thauvin, with the latter making his first start since a January move from Mexican side Tigres.
Inter began on the front foot, creating a few half chances throughout the opening phrases. The first real moment of action came in the 15th minute when Dumfries was victim to a wild tackle from Udinese midfielder Walace in the battle for a loose ball in the box. The referee originally let play continue but a glance at the VAR monitor was enough to change his mind and away a spot kick to Inter. Lukaku’s initial timid effort was saved by Silvestri but the Udinese player that cleared the rebound encroached on the kick and so the Belgian was given a second chance. He didn’t make the same mistake twice, blasting the ball low and with pace into the back of the net in the 20th minute.
Romelu Lukaku tucks away the penalty and Inter are ahead at the San Siro. pic.twitter.com/QkpdLp0LSS— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) February 18, 2023
Inter continued to control proceedings in terms of possession but the game took on a scrappy and sloppy nature as the half wore on. Udinese were the ones to benefit, striking out of the blue to equalize via a counterattack on the stroke of halftime. Ricardo Pereyra sent a pinpoint cross to an unmarked Sandi Lovric at the back post and the Slovenian sent a rocket past the frozen Handanovic.
Udinese capitalizes off of Inter's mistake and Sandi Lovric is on hand to level things. pic.twitter.com/g7UrTwqC7d— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) February 18, 2023
Despite Inter’s 60% possession, it managed just 5 shots (2 on target) versus Udinese’s 2 attempts. Let’s just say the first half was no viewing spectacle.
Inzaghi brought on Danilo D’Ambrosio to try and freshen things up, not quite the change most Interisti had in mind. The main theme from the first half continued past the interval and a staleness penetrated Inter’s play. The Nerazzurri eventually broke through Udinese’s lines in the 71st minute, but Edin Dzeko could only direct his one-on-one effort with Siilvestri directly at the keeper.
Isaac Success almost made Inter pay for its wastefulness when he found himself in acres of space in the box with the goal at his mercy, but he too lacked a finishing touch and Dumfries managed to block the Nigerian’s attempt. That proved to be a pivotal moment as only seconds later Inter came roaring down the pitch on the counter and concocted a sublime go-ahead goal with a mix of slick passing and a superb finish from Mkhitaryan in the 72nd minute.
From one end to the other!— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) February 18, 2023
Inter hit Udinese on the counter and Henrikh Mkhitaryan restores the lead. pic.twitter.com/FaJp850icr
Lautaro had a golden opportunity to put the game to bed in the 88th minute but he tried to be fancy and chip Silvestri, only to send the ball up into the stands. Just like Lukaku in the first half, however, El Toro would get a chance at redemption almost immediately with another one-on-one. This time he made no mistake, curling a shot into the far post netting and leaving Silvestri helpless.
In form Lautaro Martinez wraps up the points for Inter.— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) February 18, 2023
His 6th Serie A goal in 2023 for Inter. pic.twitter.com/34rGfiwKgs
The 3-1 scoreline flattered Inter a bit - the Nerazzurri never hit top form, but to be fair, Udinese never threatened outside of the goal and Success’ chance. Inter on the other hand held 60% possession and tallied 19 shots (7 on target), compared to the visitors’ nine, only one of which found the target.
Handanovic - 5: Only faced one shot all night and didn’t cover himself in glory. Far from it actually, looking as immobile as ever on Udinese’s goal that you can’t help but think Andre Onana would have saved. Hopefully, that’s the first and last time Inzaghi decides to rotate the keeper spot.
Bastoni - 7.5: A very well-rounded showing from the Italian, who managed 9 accurate long balls, 5 crosses, 3 clearances, and 3 duels won.
Acerbi - 6.5: The veteran notched 6 duels won and 3 clearances in a no-frills, defense-first performance.
Darmian - 6: Yanked at halftime for D’Ambrosio after picking up a yellow card, but looked alright otherwise, with 4 accurate long balls and 2 interceptions to his name.
Dimarco - 7: Assisted Mkhitaryan’s game-winner with a delightful cross, to go along with 5 duels won, 4 key passes, 9 crosses, and a 94% passing rate.
Mkhitaryan - 8: Scored the all-important go-ahead goal with a superb finish, but that was far from all. He also tallied 7 duels won, 2 key passes, 5 tackles, and 2 accurate long balls, though the Armenian did leave early with an injury. Hopefully nothing serious.
Brozovic - 6: Far from his best and struggling to dictate the rhythm in the way we’re used to. Inter improved the moment Calhanoglu came in for Brozovic, which isn’t a good sign for the latter’s chances of regaining his starting spot.
Barella - 7.5: Constant energy up and down the middle. Managed 3 key passes, 4 accurate long balls, and a whopping 12 duels won.
Dumfries - 7: Perhaps the player most important to the final result. Won the penalty that got it all started and made a crucial block on Success that would have been a sure goal otherwise seconds before Inter scored the game-winner. Everything in between wasn’t much to write home about, but Dumfries showed up when it mattered most.
Lukaku - 6.5: Got a long-awaited goal but is clearly a shell of the Lukaku we hoped for this season - he even missed a pk for the first time in his Inter career before being bailed out by the correct, if lucky, call to retake the kick. Didn’t do much the rest of the evening, tallying just 1 shot (the goal) before Lautaro replaced him.
Dzeko - 6: Looked his age after logging so many minutes this season. Missed the one big chance that fell his way and struggled to incorporate himself in the build-up.
Inzaghi - 6: Was fortunate that his Handanovic gamble didn’t backfire any worse than losing the clean sheet, but the rest of his rotation was a clear sign Inter will be prioritizing the UCL Round of 16 clash with Porto Wednesday - rightly so, but the Nerazzurri are by no means locks for the top four at this point either.
Inter stays second, 15 points behind Napoli and 6 clear of 5th place Roma. The good guys visit Bologna next Sunday in domestic action but first comes Porto Wednesday at the San Siro in the Champions League Round of 16 first leg.