It took a brace by Romelu Lukaku to put Inter back on track after three draws in a row and keep them on Juventus’ back. The Nerazzurri won 2-0 in Udine among much difficulty as the Bianconeri managed to keep Antonio Conte’s side at bay for more than one hour, relying on their physical superiority.
Conte managed to change the match momentum when he replaced Sebastiano Esposito and new signing Christian Eriksen with Alexis Sanchez and Marcelo Brozovic – a double move that enabled his side to switch into a higher gear and ultimately break the white-and-black wall. Lukaku’s brace – his fifth in the Serie A – leaves the Milanese side three points behind top-ranking Juventus.
The game at the Dacia Area saw quite a few debuts on the Nerazzurri’s part. On top of Christian Eriksen, Victor Moses also find a spot among the starting eleven. The most unexpected starter, however, took his place between the sticks, as substitute goalkeeper Daniele Padelli replaced injured captain Samir Handanovic. 17-year-old Sebastiano Esposito was chosen by Conte as the attacking partner of Romelu Lukaku, with Alexis Sanchez once again sitting on the bench and Lautaro Martinez serving a two-match ban.
Christian Eriksen’s first shot in the Italian top-flight came in the 7th minute but was too central and easy prey for Udinese’s keeper Juan Musso. On the other side, Daniele Padelli was called to action twice, first by Rodrigo De Paul and then by Seko Fofana. In the 38th minute, Inter’s goalie had to stretch his hand and deflect a dangerous cross from the left by Stefano Okaka, before Ashley Young could stop Jens Stryger Larsen’s shot with a providential clearance. That’s all that happened in the first half which offered little emotions to Dacia Arena’s spectators.
Inter tried to take command of the operations early after the break: Sebastiano Esposito had a good chance to tap-in from a clearance by Juan Musso on a cross by Ashley Young. The Nerazzurri sensation, however, missed an easy target. Defender Alessandro Bastoni was booked as he committed a foul to stop a Udinese counterattack. That’s some bad news for Antonio Conte, as the yellow will turn into a one-match ban for the Azzurri defender and force him to miss the upcoming Derby della Madonnina. In the 59th minute, Conte pulled out Eriksen, together with Esposito. The former Tottenham midfielder showed that he needs some time to adjust to his new club’s dynamics.
Inter’s coach’s changes seemed to have the expected effects, if only because they prompted Romelu Lukaku to steal the spotlight. After Alexis Sanchez failed to make the best out of one of his suggestions, the Belgian hitman found the right spot into Juan Musso’s goal, well-served by Nicoló Barella.
Just three minutes later, he had the chance to score again but saw his shot from point-blank range miraculously deflected by Musso. The hard-earned lead, however, seemed to have transformed the Nerazzurri: In the 70th minute, Alexis Sanchez progressed into the box and forced Udinese goalkeeper to push him down. From the penalty spot, Lukaku wrapped his daily brace.
Kevin Lasagna had the chance to reopen the game in the 82nd minute, but his left-foot shot missed the target by a few inches. Inter held onto their double lead and caught the last train to the Scudetto. If Antonio Conte wants to continue dreaming of a title, however, he will need to understand fast whatever happened to the Inter seen during the first half of the season.
February 2, 2020 – Serie A 2019-2020 Round 22
SCORERS: 64′ Lukaku, 71′ Lukaku (pen.)
|UDINESE (3-5-2): Musso; Becao, De Maio, Nuytinck (73′ Jajalo); Stryger Larsen, Fofana (83′ Teodorczyk), Mandragora, De Paul, Sema (72′ Zeegelaar); Okaka, Lasagna (Perisan, Nicolas, Troost-Ekong, Walace, Ter Avest, Nestorovski) Coach: Gotti|
|INTER (3-5-2): Padelli; Skriniar, De Vrij, Bastoni; Moses (83′ D’Ambrosio), Vecino, Barella, Eriksen (59′ Brozovic), Young; Lukaku, Esposito (59′ Sanchez) (Handanovic, Stankovic, Godin, Ranocchia, Asamoah, Agoumè, Biraghi, Candreva) Coach: Conte|
REFEREE: Mr. Lo Bello from Brindisi
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Stryger Larsen, Lasagna (U), Barella, Bastoni (I); Extra Time: 1st Half 1′, 2nd Half 3′