#NerazzurriClassics – Brilliant Balotelli Behind Inter Away Win Against Udinese
Heading into their round twenty-six match at Stadio Friuli to take on a relegation fighting Udinese side, Inter were coming off a brilliant mid-week win in the second leg of the round of sixteen Champions League match against Chelsea in London.
On the flip side, Udinese were on a two-game losing streak and had only managed to win once in their previous eight matches. As the season headed towards the last stretch and relegation battle was heating up, the Zebrette were desperate to gain any points possible to continue their fifteen-year run in Italy’s top flight.
After putting out his best eleven against Chelsea midweek, Mourinho rotated the squad and had a make-shift defensive backline with a pairing of Zanetti, Maicon, Lucio, Thiago Motta with Julio Cesar in goal. Macdonald Mariga, Dejan Stankovic in a double pivot and with Sneijder, Pandev, Milito, Balotelli as the attacking quadrant in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
To counter the visitors, Pasquale Marino lined up his side in a traditional 4-4-2 formation with Friuli legend Antonio Di Natale, Alexis Sanchez as striking duo and a midfield of Simone Pepe, Gokhan Inler, Paolo Sammarco and Giovanni Pasquale. Samir Handanovic in goal with a defensive line of Juan Cuadrado, Cristian Zapata, Andrea Coda and Aleksandar Lukovic.
The start of the match could not have gone any better for the Zebrette as Simone Pepe gave the home side an early lead inside first two minutes of the match. Juan Cuadrado’s pace and pacey run from the right-back position stretched the defense while his 1-2 passing combination through the middle with Di Natale brought out the make-shift center-back pairing of Lucio and Thiago Motta, allowing easy lane for Pepe to cut inside from the left to convert an easy one-on-one chance against Julio Cesar.
With an exhausting midweek trip still on the minds of majority of the players, conceding a goal this early usually means a long day ahead for most of the teams. However, for four-time reigning Scudetto Champions, it was just another day at the office and the deficit didn’t last long.
Maicon was his usual self, making marauding runs from the right-back position to join the attack, was causing all sorts of problems for the young Udinese full-backs. On one such instance, as he brought the ball out the back on the right flank, he dribbled past few defenders, cutting inside and pulling away defenders from Balotelli at the edge of the box. He saw an opening passed the ball to Super Mario who received the ball on the volley and bounced it with his right foot and smashed home a missile past Handanovic to bring both teams on level terms.
Balotelli’s powerful strike was his seventh goal in six games and it was a goal which brought the entire crowd on it’s feet, except the Special One who seemed unimpressed on the Nerazzurri sidelines, as if to say “yeah I’ve seen this before.”
The visitors didn’t stop there, both Sneijder and Balotelli took long range free-kicks coming close to adding a second for the Nerazzurri however each time they missed the goal by a millimeter. Almost halfway through the first half, Maicon intercepted Pepe’s pass to the leftwing for Pasquale and immediately jumped to counter-attack. Milito seeing the run, stretched the defense out wide with his movement, allowing ample space in the middle for Maicon to run into. The Brazilian moved the ball to the right wing for Milito who played a powerful cross to the edge of the box for Pandev. With an perfectly placed first-time lobbed pass to a wide open Maicon, Pandev set up Inter’s second goal as the Brazilian right-back smashed home the volley past Handanovic, leaving no chance for a save.
This was the lightening quick counter-attack Mourinho’s sides are built on, clinical execution and thorough understanding of your teammates’ movement to create space. World-class counter-attack executed to perfection. Keeping the foot on the accelerator, Inter added a third right before halftime as Balotelli cut inside on the left wing on his favored right foot and played a perfect cross to an unmarked Diego Milito who headed the ball comfortably past Handanovic to give Inter a 3-1 lead heading into the break.
As the game resumed in second half, Udinese were given an extra life when a Balotelli handball awarded Zebrette a penalty which Di Natale converted comfortably, bringing the home side within one goal of tying the game. With a goal advantage and confidence in their defense, Mourinho’s men were sticking to the game plan, defend well, pounce on the counter-attack opportunities.
After the converting the penalty, Udinese offense came to life, creating a number of opportunities on the right side with Cuadrado and Sanchez both creating a lot of chances for their side, however Friuli side failed to score another goal and Inter came out on top after an exciting round twenty-six win at a stadium where team has often faced difficulties in securing a result.