Inter captured a provisional Serie A leadership tonight, as they won 3-1 in Cagliari thanks to the goals scored by their captain Mauro Icardi (twice) and Marcelo Brozovic. But the game at the loud-cheering Sardegna Arena was all but a piece of cake for Luciano Spalletti’s band, who were dominated for the first quarter of the match.
Still, since football games last 90 minutes, Inter had enough time to turn the matter in their favor, once again relying on their Captain. Only a few balls touched for Maurito tonight, but two of those were converted into a brace. Effectiveness is the mark of a champion. Antonio Candreva did his part too, placing his mark on all three Nerazzurri’s goals.
Diego Lopez’s consolation prize is a generous match in which his lineup was aggressive and determined, led by a five-men midfield line in which the star of Niccolò Barella continues to shine. What a player, this young lad! Barella displayed a full repertoire made of shots, contrasts, balls recovered, and full focus until the very last minute. Inexhaustible!
The Islanders’ start was a lightning-fast one, with three corner kicks conquered in the first five minutes. The Milano side staggered to keep up with such an unexpected offense, and were kept afloat by their goalkeeper until they managed to wrap their head around the game.
At 15’ a cross from the right side by Paolo Faragò was corrected by Leonardi Pavoletti for what looked like an easy tap in. But Samir Handanovic’s miraculous reflex cleared the ball out of the goal. The battle between Handa and Cagliari’s striker continued two minutes later, when another shot by Pavoletti was deflected by the Nerazzurri goalie.
22 minutes into the game, the count of attacking plays showed and embarrassing superiority for the home side, which led 15-3 with three shot attempts versus zero. Yet, Inter managed to break the balance converting their very first chance to score. Antonio Candreva bent a ball into Cagliari’s box, where an attempt to catch it by Ivan Perisic turned into an unexpected assist for Mauro Icardi. The Nerazzurri captain was quick enough to push the ball past Rafael de Andrade.
A few minutes later, Inter caught their opponents by surprise again, pushing from the same side with another cross by Matias Vecino. Cagliari’s goalkeeper missed the ball, but so did Maurito Icardi. Spalletti’s troops put their shaking start behind their back, when a shot by right back Davide Santon narrowly missed the target.
Niccolò Barella psyched his side up right after the break with a long-range shot, which the Nerazzurri defense deflected dangerously close to their own goal. Then Spalletti operated a change that definitively turned the match on his side, sending in Marcelo Brozovic for Matias Vecino.
The Croatian midfielder took only two minutes to perforate Rafael for the second time, when he got delivered another perfect pass by Antonio Candreva and made an uncatchable razor-sharp shot out of it. The Nerazzurri got in full control, as Cagliari starts to leave more spaces open.
But Diego Lopez showed that he considered the match far from being closed, as he pushed in another striker, with Diego Farias replacing midfielder Artur Ionita. The Sardinian coach’s courage bore fruit at 70’, when another combination between Faragò and Pavoletti produced a wonderful goal to halve Inter’s lead.
Paolo Faragò’s cross from the right flank prompted Leonardo Pavoletti to dash past the two Nerazzurri center backs. Cagliari’s number 30 timing was perfect, and this time Handanovic didn’t even get the chance to react.
Indeed, the Sardegna Area supporters’ delusion lasted only ten more minutes, until the Islanders failed to clear away a new pass in the box by Candreva. Ivan Perisic produced a head flank play for Mauro Icardi, who booked his personal double to reach Ciro Immobile at the top spot of the scorers standing with 15 goals. Cagliari protested at an alleged foul by Perisic on goalkeeper Rafael, but referee Luca Pairetto confirmed the goal after checking the VAR.
Icardi also went for the hat trick a few minutes later, when another shot of his calls Rafael to duty again – and that was fair enough, as a 1-4 defeat would have been too much of a punishment for Cagliari. Diego Lopez’s squad indeed played a courageous match, showing the right determination to win the battle for the permanence in Serie A.
Luciano Spalletti’s boys took home the three points as they were expected to do, led by an even more concrete Mauro Icardi, and despite some suffering in the initial stages of the match. They will have sweet dreams of Scudetto tonight, as they wait for Napoli to play Udinese tomorrow.
SCORERS: 29’ Icardi (I), 55’ Brozovic (I), 71’ Pavoletti (C), 82’ Icardi (I)
CAGLIARI (3-5-2): Rafael; Romagna, Ceppitelli, Andreolli; Faragò, Ionita (64′ Farias), Cigarini, Barella, Padoin; Joao Pedro (81′ Cossu), Pavoletti (88′ Giannetti). (Cragno, Crosta, Capuano, Pisacane, Van der Wiel, Miangue, Dessena, Melchiorri). Coach: Lopez
INTER (4-2-3-1): Handanovic; D’Ambrosio, Skriniar, Miranda, Santon; Vecino (53’ Brozovic), Gagliardini; Candreva (86′ Cancelo), Borja Valero, Perisic; Icardi (94′ Eder). (Padelli, Berni, Ranocchia, Nagatomo, Dalbert, Joao Mario, Karamoh, Pinamonti). Coach: Spalletti
REFEREE: Mr. Pairetto from Nichelino
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Miranda, Gagliardini (I), Ceppitelli, Giannetti (C).
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