Frank De Boer was feeling the heat after an abject performance in the Europa League, but Massimiliano Allegri had failed to dazzle his critics with a disappointing result against Sevilla FC in the Champions League. Nevertheless, there was no time to cry over past failures: it was time for one of the biggest games in Italy!
Likewise, there was no time to get comfortable and eased into things as we almost witnessed a goal straight away. Paolo Dybala intelligently dragged Jeison Murillo out of position by dropping deep, thus opening up space for Sami Khedira to run into all the way from the halfway line. Kwadwo Asamoah chipped the ball over the top for the German to run onto, but he took a heavy touch on his knee which enabled Samir Handanovic to deny the German a strike on goal. It mattered little anyway as Khedira was (incorrectly) flagged offside. While the number of fouls suffered was a massive impediment to our play in the opening stages of the Sevilla game, the number of fouls committed by Juventus was extremely detrimental to our momentum here. The physical play continued as Eder flashed a low shot a few yards wide of Buffon’s goal and Mehdi Benatia limped off the pitch with what seemed like a groin injury to be replaced by Andrea Barzagli. The veteran made a forgettable start to the game as he joined Asamoah and Lichtsteiner in the yellow card book as he came in late on Eder after the forward flicked the ball ahead of him.
Although Inter continued to look extremely dangerous on the break, Khedira was guilty of wasting the biggest chance for the Bianconeri in the first half. Alex Sandro whipped in a dangerous cross right onto the head of the German, but he made poor contact with the ball as the header bounced harmlessly into the hands of Samir Handanovic. It was end-to-end play, though, as the lively Mauro Icardi chased a long a long ball forward from Gary Medel, shrugged off the unbalanced Giorgio Chiellini, and curled an exquisite right-footed shot narrowly wide of the far post with Buffon beaten.
However, Miralem Pjanic, playing in the regista role for the first time, looked to have beaten Handanovic with a low drive after Dybala had caused Inter problems from the inside-right channel and teed up the Bosnian, but he couldn’t quite get it on target. Nevertheless, Inter still shaded the 1st half despite failing to convert their advantage into goals. The first half ended at a delicate 0-0 scoreline.
The second half started in the same way as the first had ended — with Inter in the ascendancy. As the Juventus midfield struggled to gain a foothold on the game, the roaming Éver Banega and disciplined Joao Mario continued to interchange positions to give Pjanic much to worry about. The first big threat in the second half came courtesy of Icardi as he went down in the box after a shirt-scuffle with Barzagli but referee Tagliavento was not interested. This penalty shout was quickly followed by more danger from the Nerazzurri; Antonio Candreva fired a brilliant volley narrowly wide of the far post after Icardi had found him with a lofted pass. However, suddenly, and against the run of play, we had the breakthrough courtesy of Stephan Lichtsteiner. The brilliant Alex Sandro twisted and turned past Danilo D’Ambrosio and fired in a perfect cross for the Swiss defender to tap into the back of the net.
There was literally no time to celebrate the goal though as Inter equalized almost instantaneously. Banega floated in an inch-perfect cross from the corner for his compatriot Mauro Icardi to convincingly head past Buffon. Icardi was truly making a nuisance of himself as he now protested for another penalty, this time courtesy of a tussle with Giorgio Chiellini in the box. Again, Tagliavento was not interested but Inter certainly had rediscovered a dangerous momentum after the equalizer.
This momentum finally paid off as substitute Ivan Perisic headed in Inter’s second goal of the game. The extremely poor Asamoah was guilty of a woeful backpass that Icardi quickly intercepted. The Argentine skipped past Buffon, but couldn’t quite get the shot away from the tight angle and thus teed up the Croatian with a deft cross for the headed goal to the far post.
Within 10 minutes, the game had turned entirely upside-down.
Allegri went for broke as he chucked on Marko Pjaca for Giorgio Chiellini and changed to what seemed like a 4-3-3. Once again, the excellent Sandro whipped in a fantastic cross which substitute Gonzalo Higuaín headed a meter or so wide. Despite a late Banega red card for a second bookable offence and a bizarre Khedira penalty shout, it was all too little, too late, as the Bianconeri suffered a demoralizing loss after an uninspired and confused performance.
BUFFON 5.5 – Did well not to give away a penalty when Icardi skipped past him for the second goal, but it was in vain as Perisic scored anyway. Not many shots on target to deal with.
BARZAGLI 5 – Certainly haven’t seen Barzagli this flustered or confused in a long time.
BONUCCI 5 – Was really given torrid time by Icardi. He’s struggled in the last few games, maybe he needs a rest?
CHIELLINI 5 – Like with Bonucci, Icardi’s movement gave him a headache as well. I think Kaushik mentioned it in the comments, but all this shirt-groping in the box is a penalty waiting to happen against Giorgio of the Jungle.
LICHTSTEINER 5.5 – Took the goal very well, but his (totally unnecessary) yellow card put him on ice the entire game. Eder seemed to have a lot of freedom on the counter as well.
KHEDIRA 6.5 – The best of the central midfielders today. Just like against Sevilla, I’m a bit confused whether I should assess him based on his offensive or defensive output, because he seems to be very offensively-involved this season.
PJANIC 5.5 – The Great Experiment certainly didn’t pay off. Like Fefu said, this was probably the wrong time to employ the regista experiment. Banega’s and Joao Mario’s movement seemed to stifle him significantly.
ASAMOAH 4.5 – Reasonable in the first half, but bewilderingly poor in the second. It’s becoming difficult to defend him now as he just isn’t offering enough to fulfill his role in midfield. His mistake for the second goal was the nail in the coffin.
SANDRO 7 – Undoubtedly the best of the bunch today. Gave D’Ambrosio all kinds of problems and generally had a good grip on Candreva, who didn’t really feel like tracking back to defend him.
DYBALA 6 – Decent in the first half, but gradually faded away in the second. Was his performance a result of the state of the poor/unbalanced midfield, or does he have to claim some responsibility for his own disappointing outing?
MANDZUKIC 5.5 – Mostly drifted to the inside-right channel to escape Miranda’s attentions, but that wasn’t enough to threaten Inter’s defense. It’s difficult for players like him to have any type of impact in games like these.
PJACA N/A – Honestly, I feel bad giving him ratings because he only gets like 10-15 minutes per game to do anything.
HIGUAÍN 6 - Glanced a dangerous header wide but was subdued for the rest.
(Note: Didn’t rate Benatia due to his early injury.)
ALLEGRI 5,5 – The midfield was unbalanced — Khedira is basically carrying the midfield offensively, which he shouldn’t be doing — as the cries for the death of the 3-5-2 grow louder. Didn’t figure out how to counter Banega’s and Joao Mario’s movement in midfield either.
Tactics: Seeing Sounds
As mentioned earlier, Joao Mario and Banega frequently interchanged positions, roaming all over the place to make life extremely difficult for Pjanic. Since he’s not a dedicated defensive specialist, he seemed very uncomfortable throughout the game. The aforementioned duo shared defensive marking duties of the Bosnian quite efficiently as well.
This screenshot is a nice example. We see Pjanic moving forward to pressure Melo, seemingly anticipating a pass into the Brazilian. However, Banega, who has again drifted away from the Bosnian’s attention, is looking to stealthily occupy the space in behind the Bosnian. The Inter midfield certainly had a greater grip on things than the Bianconeri midfield did.
Who are you?
This was undoubtedly a worryingly bad performance. The first half was, to me, narrowly acceptable, but the second half was appalling. The offensive-defensive balance in midfield seems all out of synch as Khedira is somehow shouldering the offensive burden from midfield. Allegri has to take blame for this peculiar turn of events because even though the results so far this season have, on the face of things, been fine (3W 1D 1L), the performances have been unconvincing.
Where last year the results at this stage were so poor that the Sassuolo loss was the final straw that forced the team into a soul-searching exercise, results now have been good enough where the players/coach probably won’t feel the shock as strongly as last year. Therefore, they will try to instigate change calmly. I always prefer a General Iroh-esque tranquility in the face of adversity, but will that be the remedy to our current ailment? These are testing times, ragazzi...