It wasn’t quite as easy as it could have been, but even amidst major squad rotation, Inter got the job done against frequent boogey-team Sassuolo and moved one step closer to securing a top-four spot. Romelu Lukaku was the star of the show with two stellar goals to bookend the evening, to go along with a pair of major deflections off Ruan Tressoldi for goals 2 and 3. Of course, this wouldn’t be Inter vs Sassuolo without some form of chaos either, and this round featured the good guys *almost* blowing a 3-0 lead, but luckily Lukaku was there to seal the deal with a fourth before Sassuolo could complete its comeback. Three points, rest for a number of key players, and yet more of the Romelu Lukaku that set the San Siro on fire for two years. Sounds like a job well done to me.
Simone Inzaghi continued the pattern of major rotation from one game to another, making nine changes from the UCl derby. Francesco Acerbi and Federico Dimarco were the only survivors from that one, with rotation pieces like Danilo D’Ambrosio, Raoul Bellanova, Roberto Gagliardini, and Joaquin Correa making rare starts. Sassuolo, meanwhile, lined up in their usual 4-3-3 under Alessio Dionisi, headlined by Domenico Berardi and Armand Lauriente on the wings.
Inter started off shakily and Sassuolo thought it had opened the scoring 11 minutes in after Berardi buried a tap-in with Inter’s defense nowhere to be found. The Nerazzurri were bailed out by VAR, however, which spotted an offside in the build-up and ruled out the goal. The same fate befell Joaquin Correa in the 15th minute after he beat Andrea Consigli at the near post only for Federico Dimarco to have strayed offside. Despite that early warning sign from Berardi’s chance, Inter remained a step off the pace as the half wore on. Sassuolo had another golden opportunity to score in the 19th minute but a wide-open Matheus Henrique put a header wide from the center of the box. Inter’s first real chances came after the hour mark, the first of which was a Correa header that drifted wide and the second a Lukaku effort on the counter that whizzed just wide of the bottom post. The Belgian decided to take matters into his own hands a few minutes later, receiving an innocuous ball from D’Ambrosio outside of the box, turning his defender, and ripping the ball into the top corner past a helpless Consigli.
ROMELU LUKAKU, THAT WAS A ROCKET! pic.twitter.com/NDYv9YmITy— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) May 13, 2023
Though Inter had the lead on the scoreboard, the first half was a largely level affair with possession at 53-47 and shots 6-4 (one on target each) in Inter’s favor. One moment of brilliance from Lukaku proved enough, however.
Inzaghi brought on Lautaro to start the second half, and the results were immediate. The Argentine found space in behind Sassuolo’s backline, though his final product found the stands, and Dimarco had a close-range volley blocked. Those were only signs of what was to come. The Nerazzurri found its second at last in the 55th minute, albeit with significant help from Ruan Tressoldi. A Bellanova cross was redirected by the Brazilian’s outstretched leg and left Consigli frozen.
It was 3-0 just a few minutes later, with Tressoldi again defecting an Inter attempt into the back of his own net, this time from Lautaro.
ANOTHER unlucky deflection from Ruan Tressoldi makes it 3-0 for Inter. pic.twitter.com/iEnJTF5Xz9— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) May 13, 2023
Sassuolo wasn’t done yet, however, and pulled one back in the 63rd minute through a Berardi cross headed home by Henrique. Davide Frattesi made things really interesting in the 77th minute, bringing the scoreline to 3-2 off yet another header.
Could the comeback be on?— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) May 13, 2023
Sassuolo's Davide Frattesi makes it 3-2. pic.twitter.com/cDDKUIyqNz
The next 12 minutes were rather stressful, but ultimately Inter made sure of the win before Sassuolo could truly threaten Handanovic’s goal again through Lukaku on the counter in the 89th minute.
It's a birthday brace for Romelu Lukaku! pic.twitter.com/tLgMx11YvR— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) May 13, 2023
The four minutes of stoppage time weren’t enough for Sassuolo to stage yet another comeback, and action ended 4-2 in the good guys’ favor. It was far from Inter’s best performance, however, with Sassuolo winning the expected goals battle 2.38 to 1.32 and outshooting Inter 16 (5 on target) to 11 (3), but three points are three points.
Handanovic - 5: Did not cover himself in glory on any of Sassuolo’s goals, and you can’t help but wonder if Onana could have saved at least one of them.
Acerbi - 6: Played out of his usual position in the center of the back three and had a few shaky moments, although he was still quite solid, making 1 key pass, 1 clearance, 1 blocked shot, and 2 interceptions.
de Vrij - 6: Put in a similar shift to Acerbi, winning 5 duels, making 2 clearances, 1 interception, and 3 accurate long balls.
D’Ambrosio - 6: His age has shown this season and that continued against Sassuolo. Caught out on Berardi’s would-have-been opener if not for VAR and was a step off defensively all night. Fared better on the ball, where he tallied 1 assist, a 92% passing rate, and 6 accurate long balls.
Dimarco - 7: Another very strong showing from the Italian on the ball. Notched 4 key passes, 3 accurate crosses, and 3 successful long balls.
Mkhitaryan - 6: Not his best outing, registering just 39 touches and having little impact on the ball, although he did have a few moments of quality with 1 key pass and 1 accurate long ball.
Brozovic - 7: Continued his good form despite not starting the UCL derby. Assisted Lukaku’s second, led Inter in touches (90) and accurate passes (70), had a 95% passing rate, and won 5 duels.
Gagliardini - 5: Par for the course for Gagliardini. Managed the 4th-fewest touches of any started, had an 82% passing rate, 0 key passes, 0 accurate long balls, 8 giveaways, 3 clearances, and 2 blocked shots. Just a few more months until his contract expires…
Bellanova - 6.5: A promising showing from the 22-year-old. Created the 2nd goal with a dangerous cross, completed 5 long balls, won 4 duels, and made 2 tackles.
Correa - 5: Another subpar showing from Tucu. Got the yank at halftime after a more active than usual first 45, but still largely wasteful and ineffective.
Lukaku - 8.5 (Man of the Match): Simply superb. Up to 12 goals on the season in all comps and 55 total Serie A goals, and today was also his 30th birthday. Happy birthday, Big Rom!
Lautaro - 7.5: Up to 20 league goals for the second year and immediately changed the game when he came on.
Inzaghi - 7: Made a big gamble with so much rotation but it paid off (except for the confounding decision of starting Gagliardini over Asllani). Bringing on Lautaro was much needed as well to give Inter another gear up top.
Inter has until Tuesday for leg 2 of the Champions League semi-finals but for now, it can enjoy 3rd place thanks to Lazio and Milan’s struggles (2-2 vs Lecce and 0-2 vs Spezia, respectively). Inter now has a four-point cushion on 5th before its next Serie A outing away at Napoli on Sunday.