With 16 matches still to be played by every team in the league this season, Inter Milan appear to have lost their last hope of catching up with Napoli in the race for the Serie A title, after failing to beat relegation-threatened Sampdoria at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris in Genoa on Monday.
With Romelu Lukaku back from injury and finally fit enough to start, it was interesting to see the big Belgian team up with Lautaro Martinez upfront again – the duo that played a huge part in Inter’s 2020/21 Scudetto triumph with a total of 41 goals and 20 assists combined. And with the visitors expected to dominate the game against Sampdoria, it was only natural to assume the outcome would very much depend on their ability to turn that domination into goals.
And it certainly proved that way, though not in the way they would’ve hoped it would. With 66% of possession, Inter took a total of 25 shots, 19 from open play, but only five on target and obviously none that hit the back of the net.
The first chance fell for Lukaku in the second minute of the game, as Nicolo Barella set him up for a one-on-one with Jeison Murillo. The Inter striker did well to fend the Samdpdoria defender off, turn and fire, but goalkeeper Emil Audero stood his ground and saved the shot. Hakan Calhanoglu came close with a 20-yard effort that trickled wide of the post 10 minutes later. In the 19th, a nicely worked move between Lukaku, Calhanoglu and Matteo Darmian set Martinez up for a shot from around 10 yard but the Argentine mishit it, and eventually Darmian just missed the top corner from the same distance in the same attack.
It seemed at that point that it would only be a matter of time before Inter broke the deadlock, but chance after chance went begging with the scoreboard still reading 0-0, and nerves appeared to be creeping in on Simone Inzaghi’s men. As the final whistle loomed closer, they increased the pressure again, but Calhanoglu fired straight at Audero in the 77th, and then Edin Dzeko, who had earlier replaced Lukaku, set the Turk up for another ill-fated effort in the 83rd. Defender Francesco Acerbi let one fly from range in the 92nd, and that was about as close as the Nerazzurri came to scoring all game as Audero diverted it onto the crossbar. In the dying seconds, Federico Dimarco squared the ball to Martinez inside the box, but Martinez messed the reception up and failed to get a shot off before committing a foul.
To sum up, a little more composure would’ve easily won the game for the visitors, but they simply didn’t have any and it ended up costing them two points in what will now become a fight to remain in the top four, rather than the title race.
What about Sampdoria?
As for the home side, there really isn’t too much to be said about their performance. They held out to the final whistle, “held out” being the operative expression here. With the vast difference in quality between the two teams clearly on show, Dejan Stankovic’s team never really tried to keep hold of the ball and move forward in numbers against his old club. They were content with sitting deep as Tommaso Aguello and Alessandro Zanoli, the two wing-backs, spent most of the time in line with the back three to turn it into a back five.
Midfielders Michael Cuisance and Harry Winks, along with Filip Djuricic, were mostly pushed back towards their own box, and even though Sam Lammers and Manolo Gabbiadini went occasionally in search of a chance at the other end, those were difficult to come by except for a short while early in the second half.
Five minutes after the break, the two forwards combined as Lammers sent a low cross into the box for Gabbiadini, but having beaten Acerbi to the ball, Gabbiadini failed to hit the target from close range. Eight minutes later, the 31-year-old got on the end of a cross with a glancing header from six yards and missed again, and that was about it when it came to Sampdoria trying to cause Inter problems.
The only winners of this match were obviously Napoli, whose lead at the top of the table now stretches 15 points wide, and the Scudetto, last won for them in 1989/90 by the man whose name their stadium bears now, Diego Armando Maradona, moves ever closer to returning to the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius.
Inter remain second with 44 points, followed by Atalanta, Roma and AC Milan all on 41, and Lazio on 39. Two of these teams will miss out on Champions League football next season, and at the moment, that race appears the least certain one in the Italian top flight.
At the other end, Sampdoria have won what is undoubtedly a huge point against Inter, but it’s still only one point and they need to start getting results against the rest as soon as possible. The gap they need to close to survive, the one to Spezia in 17th place, is eight points wide, with Hellas Verona jammed in between. The home match against Bologna, coming up next, is probably a good place to start.
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