Terzo Tempo – Handanovic and Icardi Save Inter at the San Siro
Tonight Inter took on high-flying, third-placed Sampdoria in a midweek clash with a variety of intersecting story lines. Former Inter player/assistant manager Mihajlovic returned to face his former team, to which he has been consistently linked this season as a replacement for Mazzarri. Similarly, Icardi started against his former team again after a very heated return last season. Campagnaro was ruled out of the match late due to a muscle strain; therefore, Vidic returned to the defence. Kovacic retained his spot in the starting lineup despite some concerns and Joel Obi started after a disappointing showing against Cesena.
Inter started this game positively, moving the ball forward with a bit of pace and making good runs off the ball. This movement almost paid off and the Nerazzurri were very unlucky not to go up 1-0 in the first 5 minutes as Kovacic sent Palacio through; however, Palacio decided to make a pass to Icardi rather than have a shot and that pass was poor. Palacio then had another great opportunity after being sent into the box from Hernanes but Romero got down well to save the shot. Inter were getting their chances but were just missing the final ball. The build up play was constructed with some urgency but the team was not moving forward together as effectively as they should.
Notably, Hernanes and Kovacic were both moving reasonably well together. Hernanes was making some good runs, reminiscent of his time at Lazio. His midfield partner Kovacic was slaloming through players with changes of pace as we know he can and made some quality individual moves as well. In defence Juan was playing with his usual grinta and Medel was both winning challenges and effectively moving the ball. Unfortunately, after the half-hour mark Inter’s attack began to stagnate and they were unable to break down Sampdoria’s defence. Consistently, Inter’s best chances came when they were running at Sampdoria and moving the ball with pace; however, this was rare and a majority of Inter’s possession was in the form of sideways passes in front of Sampdoria. Inter were lucky not to go into the break down 1-0 as on-loan player Duncan hit rocket off the crossbar after some confused defending in the Inter box.
Inter’s return from half time started flat and Samp began to gain more possession in the Nerazzurri half. Palacio had a great chance against the run of play but again put the shot wide of the net. Unfortunately for Inter, Hernanes was forced to come off and is likely going to add his name to the long injury list currently plaguing the Nerazzurri. Kuzmanovic came on for Hernanes and had a great chance to put Inter up 1-0 but completely missed the ball. Both Palacio and Kovacic also had chances to put Inter up before the 70th minute with Palacio being forced off the ball and Kovacic hitting his volley wide of the net.
The game began to get scrappy and you could feel the tension beginning to rise on the pitch. Both teams were going into tackles heavily and countering one another’s attacks with one of their own. Palacio continued to have a poor showing and missed a series of chances that he should have buried. This game was begging for Inter to take advantage of their goal scoring opportunities. Oddly, given the game seemed to be missing a striker’s touch, Mazzarri decided to substitute Obi for Mbaye, with both Bonazzoli and Puscas, who have both been scoring at will for the primavera remaining on the bench. Sure, they are young and unproven at this level but they have pace and are in form. Luckily the last minute fury of events saw Handanovic (Batmanovic) make an incredible save at one end and then Mauro Icardi converted a last minute penalty at the other end to give Inter the three points.
Inter won again tonight but once again it was not pretty for stretches of the game and it did not come without suffering, which is a little easier to take against third place Samp than bottom of the table Cesena. I think it is important to mention that a core of players performed admirably tonight. Hernanes moved well before he was taken off and Handanovic, Kovacic, Juan and Medel all worked very hard and put in excellent performances. Icardi deserves a special mention as well for hitting home another penalty after he was starved of service for most of the night. On to the next one.