The big match of Serie A Round 26 might have been a disappointment for the watchers, but surely not for Inter as the Nerazzurri beat Atalanta 1-0 to re-establish their six-point cushion over the pursuing pack in the table.
The did so thanks to…Milan. Well, not the Rossoneri of course, who were watching the game in the hope that Gian Piero Gasperini boys would somehow manage to stop Antonio Conte’s band’s march. The hero of the night was rather Milan Skriniar, Inter’s Slovakian center back who made the best out of one of the few scoring chances to award the Nerazzurri all the three points on offer at the San Siro on Monday night.
The match-up between the top two offensive teams in the league didn’t live up to its hype, though winning against a side who came into the match on a four-game winning streak was all that mattered to Inter. In that regard, the mission was surely accomplished by the Beneamata.
Those expecting a goal-fest saw their chances frustrated as the first half offered little to report about. Antonio Conte lined up his usual 3-5-2, re-proposing Arturo Vidal in place of Christian Eriksen. Gian Piero Gasperini, on the other hand, surprisingly deployed Ruslan Malinovskyi as a second striker to support Duvan Zapata. Both Josip Ilicic and Luis Muriel were left on the bench.
Both sides struggled to find a path towards the goal but Gasperini’s boys were the more aggressive and displayed their good intentions early in the game with a beautiful combination between Robin Gosens and Matteo Pessina that bore no fruit however.
Inter seemed to be lacking ideas and their only option turned to be releasing Lukaku with some long-range crosses, hoping that the big Belgian would come up with something. The first time it happened, Cristian Romero managed to contain Lukaku’s progression but was forced to risk a hazardous back pass to his goalkeeper, drawing a spectacular header clearance on the part of Marco Sportiello.
On 25 minutes, Lukaku’s second breakaway was brilliantly blocked by Berat Djimsiti, who pushed back twice the Belgian’s shooting attempts. The game was a physical affair but its high intensity didn’t result in any clear scoring chance on either side.
Only just before half time did Atalanta come close to break the balance, and it took a prodigious reflex from Samir Handanovic to deny Duvan Zapata’s header from a Ruslan Malinovskyi corner kick and send the two contenders for a break still on a 0-0 score.
Both coaches were up for some changes. Ruslan Malinovskyi was the first to leave the pitch and was replaced by Josip Ilicic. On 52 minutes, it was time for a disappointing Arturo Vidal to leave room for Christian Eriksen.
It happened right before Inter would put their heads ahead at the end of a chaotic action into Atalanta’s box. It was Milan Skriniar to make it to the scoresheet, finding the right spot into the bottom right corner of Sportiello’s goal with a sharp right-foot shot.
Inter smelled blood and went close to make it two. Disaster struck for Atalanta as Rafael Toloi slipped in his defensive third, leaving Romelu Lukaku free to run towards the goal undisturbed. But Cristian Romero once again came to the rescue, snatching the ball out of his feet with what was the clearance of the night.
Zapata’s last effort was a dangerous shot that gave Handanovic quite a scare as it ended just a few inches far from his right post. Then, the Colombian left his place to fellow countryman Luis Muriel. Gasperini eventually also added Aleksei Miranchuk and Mario Pasalic, but the only additional threat to Inter’s goal came from a Muriel shot that the Slovenian goalkeeper defused with his feet.
The last quarter of the game was a rough affair, with Inter defending their lead by preventing Atalanta to advance past their midfield as Antonio Conte added more fresh forces – like wing-backs Matteo Darmian and Danilo D’Ambrosio. The coach had already replaced Lautaro with Alexis Sanchez and Marcelo Brozovic with Roberto Gagliardini.
Inter defeated one of the most in-form sides of the Serie A to make one step forward towards their first Scudetto since 2010. The road is still long but the games now left are “only” 12.
? This celebration >>> pic.twitter.com/dJJa5SA8pE— Inter (@Inter_en) March 8, 2021
March 8, 2021 – Serie A 2020-2021 Round 26
SCORER: 54′ Skriniar
|INTER (3-5-2): Handanovic; Skriniar, De Vrij, Bastoni (80′ D’Ambrosio); Hakimi, Barella, Brozovic (77′ Gagliardini), Vidal (53′ Eriksen), Perisic (80′ Darmian); Lukaku, Lautaro Martinez (77′ Sanchez) (Radu, Vecino, Kolarov, Sensi, Ranocchia, Young, Pinamonti) Coach: Conte
|ATALANTA (3-4-1-2): Sportiello; Toloi, Romero, Djimsiti (81′ Palomino); Maehle, Freuler (81′ Pasalic), De Roon, Gosens; Pessina (73′ Miranchuk), Malinovskyi (46′ Ilicic), Zapata (70′ Muriel) (Rossi, Gollini, Lammers, Caldara, Kovalenko, Ruggeri, Ghislandi) Coach: Gasperini
REFEREE: Mr. Mariani from Aprilia
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Conte (I), Romero (A); Extra Time: 1st Half 1′, 2nd Half 4′