Inter Milan’s resurgence under Antonio Conte continued as they put themselves back in the frame to quality for the Champions League knockouts with a deserved 2-0 win at home against Borussia Dortmund.
Stefan de Vrij strode confidently out of defence and his lofted pass was beamed brilliantly into the path of Lautaro Martinez who calmly controlled before steering through Roman Burki’s legs to open the scoring.
The early goal allowed Antonio Conte’s men to hold Dortmund at arm’s length for the majority of the match, although two stunning Samir Handanovic saves – first from Jadon Sancho and then Julian Brandt – kept their lead intact.
Martinez was thwarted by Burki from the penalty spot after Mats Hummels had erred by bringing down teenage substitute Sebastiano Esposito, but the hosts bookended an impressive display when Antonio Candreva finished off a counter-attack, as well as Dortmund, late on.
THEY’RE INTER SOMETHING GOOD
Considering the malaise that has engulfed the iconic Italian teams not named Juventus, Inter Milan are providing a breath of fresh air in 2019/20.
Conte has come in and finally installed much-needed stability and discipline, while also freshening up an attack that has stagnated in recent years.
The defensive solidity has always been there. De Vrij and Milan Skriniar showcased their prowess with commanding performances in front of their own fans, while the addition of Diego Godin feels like the slotting in of a vital, final jigsaw piece.
But is in attack where the Nerazzurri have desperately needed revitalising.
Martinez is a massive talent, who is proving that he could well be the real deal in his second season in Europe. He boasts a tremendous mix of raw athleticism, brutish physicality and goalmouth presence – all of which was on display here.
His control to bring down De Vrij’s visionary pass was expert, his finish through Burki’s legs unerringly accurate.
Manchester United misfits Romelu Lukaku and – now injured – Alexis Sanchez certainly have their faults, but have also found the more sedate pace of Serie A to their liking and added impetus and goals to Inter’s attacks.
A genuine title race in Italy is afoot and, after this result, Inter will feel they’re in the hunt on the continent too.
Lucien Favre’s side are a pleasure to watch in attack… usually. They controlled proceedings early on and showed intent, but that counted for little as Inter’s precision opened them up.
And from that point on, a diligent game-plan, underpinned by defensive ferocity and focus, easily quelled the away side’s threat.
Brandt – occupying the false nine position – was shackled, but even when he was in possession Inter didn’t need to worry as he was extremely wasteful. Of his 41 passes just 70.7 per cent reached their intended target.
To supply an indication of how bad that was, no other team-mate in yellow was under 80 per cent and the next worse was 81 per cent – that figure belonging to goalkeeper Burki.
He did almost draw Dortmund level early in the second half when his venomous snapshot was deflected and saved superbly by Handanovic, but the Yellow Wall support in the away end were frustrated as the blue and black wall held firm, and rarely looked like being breached.
Thorgan Hazard was similarly kept quiet too, with Sancho the one player whose trickery and incision looked like it might threaten a response.
Dortmund can be deadly, but the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Without the unwell Marco Reus and prolific Paco Alcacer, they looked anaemic.
They will need to steel themselves for a far more stellar performance in front of their home fans for the return fixture next month.
HE STILL DOESN’T LUK ELITE
We mentioned earlier how Lukaku has found a new lease of life in Milan since swapping red for blue – he has found the back of the net five times in nine outings for new employers.
But he is yet to discover definitive redemption and a lot of his misgivings still remain. As good as he has been thus far for Inter, he put in arguably one of the most anonymous performances of his entire career on Wednesday.
During his 61 minutes on the field he contributed a total of eight touches, made five passes, and unleashed no shots on goal. He was caught offside twice and dispossessed once before being hauled off for Esposito – who buzzed around with intent, controlled a dropping ball from the heavens masterfully and won Inter’s penalty.
Even on his worst days for United Lukaku would often provide a handful for opposition defenders, but here he was marshaled expertly by Hummels.
Lukaku and Inter already seem a match made in heaven in the early throes of 2019/20, and one bad game should of course not derail the progress he has made. But just because he has settled away from Manchester, does not mean the Red Devils were wrong to rid themselves of the bulky Belgian.
He can be brilliant, but when he is not he is often a bystander.
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