Inter vs Atalanta 1-0: Darmian Fires Nerazzurri Into Semi-Finals

Inter eked out a 1-0 win over in-form Atalanta in the Coppa Italia quarter-finals on Tuesday night, courtesy of Matteo Darmian’s second-half strike. The reigning Coppa Italia holders were hardly a better side, though it was a thoroughly uneventful contest despite high expectations. 

Simone Inzaghi brought Romelu Lukaku back to the starting lineup in favor of Edin Dzeko, hoping to shake things up following his side’s indifferent three-game form (W2, L1). However, the Belgian striker looked rusty, while it’s fair to say the Nerazzurri failed to find their feet, especially in the first half. 

Chances were at a premium in the first half, with neither side coming up with anything meaningful in the front third. Despite boasting an almost-perfect competitive record in 2023 (W4, D2) and an impressive scoring average of 3.66 goals per game, Atalanta seemed toothless from the get-go. 

Gian Piero Gasperini’s men failed to put Inter goalkeeper Andre Onana to the test in the opening 45 minutes. But they at least did a solid job keeping Inzaghi’s team at bay. Indeed, the Giuseppe Meazza crowd had to wait until the 41st minute for the first presentable opportunity.

Inter forced a high turnover, with Hakan Calhanoglu picking up the ball high up the pitch and unleashing a thunderous long-effort straight into the left post. It was the only situation worth mentioning in the first half, which perhaps best illustrates the cautious approach deployed by both managers. 

Atalanta came flying out of traps after the break, with Joaking Maehle spurning a glorious opportunity to put his side in front in the 54th minute. The Danish wing-back latched onto a loose ball inside the Inter box, but despite being unmarked, his wayward finish from point-blank ended up in the stands. 

It didn’t take long before Inter punished La Dea for the wasted chance. After breaking the deadlock in a 2-2 draw at Monza earlier in January, Darmian stepped up to the plate to win the match for his team. Inzaghi used the versatile defender as a center-back, which didn’t prevent the ex-Milan man from finding the net.

Darmian received a short pass from Lautaro Martinez, picked his angle right and beat Atalanta shot-stopper Juan Musso to the far post to hand Inter what turned out to be a decisive lead. Gasperini tried to change the dynamics of the game by introducing Ademola Lookman and Rasmus Hojlund around the hour-mark.

However, it failed to pay dividends as Atalanta struggled to orchestrate a single chance for the rest of the encounter. Inter boss Inzaghi was happy to run down the clock, making five substitutions beyond the 70th minute to slow the tempo of the match. His tactical alterations killed off the pace and eventually helped the Nerazzurri hold onto a slender lead. 

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