Today Inter travelled to France to take on Saint-Etienne who is currently sitting in 5th place in Ligue 1 but are coming off a loss to 14th place Toulouse. Inter on the other hand are sitting 9th in the Serie A and are coming off a disastrous loss against second-last place Parma. However, Inter’s luck in the Europa League has been much better this season as they went into the game unbeaten and on top of “Group F” with 7 pts.
Some interesting changes were made to today’s lineup with the young Federico Bonazzoli stepping in for Icardi to partner Palacio. Moreover, Mbaye took over the right wing position from Obi, the left-footed central midfielder whom Mazzarri has deployed on the right wing numerous times. Enough said. Osvaldo was only fit enough to return to the bench and Andreolli took Ranocchia’s spot in defense. Carizzo was handed the gloves instead of Handanovic. The curva showed up in full force as 21 busses of inter supporters travelled from Milano, ready to defend the Nerazzurri colours.
Inter began this game very brightly, getting to the ball first on most occasions and attacking Saint-Etienne with speed and purpose. The Nerazzurri were also hitting balls on net, which was a breath of fresh air after only managing one shot on goal against Parma. Individually, Bonazzoli was not looking out of his depth and had some great movement and passing for a 17- year old. Bonazzoli also showed intention and desire chasing balls down and at one point set up Kuzmanovic for a good chance after beating a Saint-Etienne defender at the byline. Kuzmanovic was also looking inspired and was trying his best to break the deadlock with a series of shots, while he linked up with his midfield partners with above average Kuz-effectiveness. Inter were unlucky not to get a penalty early on as a free kick for a back-pass in the Saint-Etienne box met the arm of a Saint-Etienne defender but no penalty was given.
Positively, Inter were still loading the pressure on the home team at the 30th minute, with Saint-Etienne restricted to a few chances from set pieces. The pressure did finally pay off too as Mbaye placed a good cross into the box, which produced an equally good save from the Saint-Etienne keeper. However the rebound went right to Dodo who made no mistake putting the follow-up volley off the post and in. Special mention should also go out to Palacio in the first half, as he consistently was a pest to the Saint-Etienne back line despite still not being able to find the final ball. The Nerazzurri ended the first half in complete control and up 1-0 but could have been up by a few.
A different Saint-Etienne came out in the second half and they looked like they had something to prove. They were aggressive going into tackles and counter-attacking with speed. Unfortunately, another Inter also showed up and a failed clearing attempt in the Inter box turned into a corner kick, which then lead to a Saint-Etienne goal and the game was level 1-1. Inter spent a majority of the second half trying to contain Saint Etienne’s speedy counter-attacks. Medel was doing a lot of work to keep the home team off the score sheet but the French team came to play in the second half. Inter reacted to the 1-1 score line poorly and looked nervous on the ball and did not have any success moving forward after this.
Mazzarri tried to make changes that would regain control of the game, taking off Bonazzoli for Joel Obi, as the Nerazzurri were being overrun in the midfield. However, this did not stem the flow of pressure coming from Saint-Etienne as they continued to attack and came close on a few occasions. Next, Mazzarri substituted Osvaldo in the place of Kovacic and youngster Palazzi took the place of Kuzmanovic, who looked to be in some discomfort when coming off. These subs also did little to effect the flow of the game.
Inter were bailed out at the back in the final minutes with a big save from Carizzo after Vidic fell down and Mbaye deserves a mention for a sound defensive performance. As always, when Inter run and move the ball at pace, they are hard to contain but this type of performance over 90 minutes has been rare. The result is not as disappointing as the complete drop off in performance in the second half. Some positives tonight were that seven Inter players on the pitch tonight were under 23 years of age and this says something about Inter’s youth, despite Mazzarri’s seemingly perpetual lack of confidence in them. Furthermore, Juan Jesus wore the captain’s armband and did so admirably, playing with a ton of grinta and pride.