The toughest match yet of Inter’s season has come against the only team in Europe with 0 points and 0 goals to its name. Despite its record, Empoli put up quite the fight against the Nerazzurri, although the latter’s own poor finishing and sloppiness didn’t make things any easier. Nonetheless, a Pavard in the World Cup-esque volley from Dimarco eventually broke the deadlock in the 51st minute and Inter managed to hold on to its narrow lead until the referee finally blew a long-awaited triple whistle. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked.
Simone Inzaghi made five changes from the 1-1 draw at Real Sociedad, bringing back all but two of the team that beat Milan a week prior. Benjamin Pavard and Davide Frattesi were the two exceptions, notching their debut starts in Serie A in Inter colors. Empoli, on the other hand, lined up in a 4-3-2-1 in the first outing of Aurelio Andreazzoli’s third spell in charge.
Inter came out of the gates on the front foot hunting for an opener, only for the final pass or clinical shot to be lacking in crucial moments. That theme continued throughout the half, as Inter struggled to turn its control into real moments of danger. Empoli needed a handful of saves from its keeper Etrit Berisha and a goal-line stop by Ardian Ismajli off a Darmian header to keep the visitors from finding the back of the net. By the time halftime arrived, Inter managed 65% of possession and 13 shots, 4 on target, while Empoli barely ventured into the final third with just three attempts, all off target.
The story would change in the second half thanks to a moment of brilliance from Federico Dimarco in the 51st minute. The Italian struck a volley from outside the box as sweetly as possible and found the top corner, leaving Berisha helpless.
PICK THAT ONE OUT!— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) September 24, 2023
Inter's Federico Dimarco with an unstoppable first-time volley. pic.twitter.com/jkb0MxmRNW
Grandissimo gol di Dimarco ⚽️ pic.twitter.com/HNGhIAh6G8— Alessandro (@90ordnasselA) September 24, 2023
It seemed as though breaking the deadlock could have opened the floodgates, but that was not to be. Instead, the second half chugged along as the first had done, with Inter controlling possession but a lack of clear chances on either end. While that isn’t much of a problem when Inter is in the lead, it made for a nervy final fifteen minutes as Empoli began to push forward and the Nerazzurri’s priority became protecting its lead. The hosts’ lack of final third quality made its presence felt again, however, with Yann Sommer never seriously tested, and the 1-0 scoreline preserved to the final whistle. It was certainly deserved, as Inter’s final stat line read 61% possession, 23 shots (6 on target) to Empoli’s 7 (1) and 1.65 expected goals to 0.28xg. Another goal or two would have been nice and a good deal less stressful, but even not at its best Inter managed to pick up another three points in a potential trap game and is now at five wins from five.
Sommer - 7: Made just one save but was a commanding presence in his box and took care of anything that came his way en route to a fourth shutout of the season.
Bastoni - 7: A busy outing from Bastoni, with 2 interceptions, 2 key passes, 4 crosses, 5 accurate long balls, and a 93% passing rate to his name.
Acerbi - 7: Did the dirty work with 4 duels won, 2 clearances, 1 blocked shot, and 1 interception.
Pavard - 7: An excellent Serie A debut, making 2 clearances, 1 blocked shot, 2 interceptions, 4 duels won, and 4 accurate long balls.
Dimarco - 7.5: Struggled a bit in the first half only to come out of the break and score one of the goals of the season, along with 3 key passes, 2 duels won, and a 93% passing accuracy for good measure.
Mkhitaryan - 6.5: The minutes keep adding up on his legs with three starts this week but Mkhitaryan keeps performing, this time winning 7 duels, and making 2 key passes and 3 long balls. Could definitely use a rest though.
Calhanoglu - 8 (Man of the Match): A stellar showing in his return to the XI, featuring team highs in touches (131), accurate passes (100), long balls (12), key passes (5), crosses (3), and duels won (9). Just about a perfectly well-rounded performance.
Frattesi - 6: Laid a solid foundation in his first start, with 3 duels won and 3 crosses, but struggled to make an impact consistently in possession with just 28 touches all afternoon.
Darmian - 6: Moved up to wingback with Denzel Dumfries taking a rest, and did the job with minimal drama, adding on two key passes as well.
Thuram - 6.5: Was quite busy, notching 3 key passes, 5 duels won, and 4 total shots, but couldn't find the end product.
Lautaro - 6.5: Fared similarly to his strike partner, registering 7 duels won, 3 successful dribbles, and 2 key passes but no goals to show for it.
Inzaghi - 7: A bit disappointing to see Kristjan Asllani back on the bench - yes, he was quite poor against Sociedad but if he can’t get the job done against Empoli, when will he? That’s just about the only complaint I have, though, and getting three points in this game straight off a European night (which Inter struggled with last season, winning just 6 of 12 post-UCL games) is easier said than done.
Inter remains first with 15 points, and now has another double-game week to look forward to against Sassuolo on Wednesday and at Salernitana on Saturday. Two tricky but winnable games.