Inter (3): 4′ Sanchez 14′ OG Chiriches 60′ Gagliardini
Inter came back from Sassuolo with the 3 points after beating the local team 3-0. The team bounced back from the mid-week defeat against Real Madrid in the UCL. A clean sheet and 3 goals gave Inter the full mark in this game.
Inter hit quickly through Alexis Sanchez in the 4th minute, who was assisted by Lautaro Martinez. Lautaro had to challenge the Sassuolo defense to put the ball under control before passing it for a tap in by Alexis.
The second goal was an own goal by Chiriches in the 14th minute. He deflected a follow-up cross by Vidal after the defense failed to deal with a corner kick. The third and final goal was a beauty by Gagliardini when he controlled Darmain’s low pass followed by a shot on the half volley into the bottom right corner.
Inter improved a lot offensively by being clinical when they had the chance. They took their chances at the beginning of the game to have the upper hand. As for the defense, the team raised their defensive alertness allowing very minimum to reach the goalkeeper Handanovic.
Conte’s team climbed to second place, only two points behind AC Milan awaiting the other results from this round of games.
Shots/on Target: (Inter 11/4) (Sassuolo 13/3)
Possession: (Inter 35%) Sassuolo 65%
Total Passes/Success: (Inter 368/82%) Sassuolo 707/92%
Starting Lineup and Formation
Inter started the game with a 3-5-2 formation. This structure proved to be more balanced than the other ones which Conte chose in some of the previous games. Handanovic kept his position as expected in the goal. Conte started his first choice center backs, de Vrij in the center with Skriniar and Bastoni to his right and left respectively.
Matteo Darmian started in the right wing-back position to give some rest to the youngster Hakimi. Perisic reclaimed his starting position as the left wing-back for a more attacking side on the left. The midfield saw Barella starting in the middle with both Gagliardini and Vidal around him. The three midfielders were playing on the same line most of the game. However, Barella was dropping a couple of yards deeper sometimes to provide some defensive coverage.
Up front, the young Argentinian forward Lautaro Martinez partnered with Alexis Sanchez to form the attacking force. Lukaku was given a rest considering the number of minutes he played in the last couple of weeks.
Antonio Conte made very late substitutions after the game was already decided. Lukaku and Ashley Young came in the 80th minute to replace Martinez and Sanchez. Perisic operated as a forward for only 5 minutes before being replaced by Eriksen in the 85th minute. Barella came off for Stefano Sensi at the same time. While Hakimi came on at the 91st minute in place of Matteo Darmian.
Scoring at the beginning of the game defined the tactical shape of Inter. Nevertheless, Inter came to Sassuolo with an attacking plan and tried to execute it whenever was possible.
The first thing that was noticed is that Nicolo Barella was the deepest midfielder that dictated the tempo of Inter’s playing from the back. The Italian international dropped between the defenders to receive and distribute the ball to start most of the attacks. Arturo Vidal and Gagliardini were trying to help the two strikers by filling the gaps between the midfield and the offensive line. The result of this plan was the third goal. It started with Barella in front of Inter’s area while ending with Gagliardini scoring on the other side of the pitch.
On the other hand, Inter went back for the long switch to the wide wing-backs. This switch was a trademark of Conte’s team last season. Every time the midfielders were able to intercept the ball, they looked for Darmian and Perisic on the wings. These long balls shift the Sassuolo defenders while creating spaces for the two attackers.
Inter redeemed themselves defensively. Leaving the stadium with the clean sheet against one of the strongest attacks in Italy this season proves that some tweaks were needed to stop the leaking of goals.
After scoring early, Conte’s team chose to drop back leaving the ball possession to Sassuolo. However, the difference this game from the ones before was that the defensive line was close to the midfielders and not very deep like before. This change of tactics reduced the gaps in the middle while allowing better recovery for the players in case they got beat with a dribble.
The other and the most important change was having three midfielders on the same line and narrow when defending. Most of the danger against Inter during the previous games used to come from the middle. It was always two midfielders getting dragged to one of the sides while the third one is on the other side of the pitch leaving a huge gap in front of the defense. In this game, there was always coverage from the opposite midfielder in front of the defense when the ball was on the sides, which closed that hole that was leaking chances for any opposition.
This game gave Conte a lifeline after he was under pressure from the fans and the press after the latest poor results. He clearly adjusted some of the positioning and instructions for the players.
The team was more comfortable after grabbing the lead early. The players learned from the previous games and were more clinical in front of the goal.
Can the squad carry this momentum to the next couple of weeks? The team has to win the next two games in the UCL and wait for the other results to serve them.
Was this Inter back on track, or this was just a fluke. Only time will tell!