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How Internazionale were handed their first defeat of the season

FC Internazionale v Udinese Calcio - Serie A

The game against Udinese began in festive spirit with a rendition of Inter’s new song ‘Inter Bells’, by a joyous San Siro. Inter were coming off a somewhat lucky result against Pordenone in the Coppa Italia, while Udinese were riding on back-to-back away wins.

Luciano Spalletti named an unchanged side from the one that drew against Juventus. The game began in similar vein to some of Inter’s recent home games with the Nerazzurri dominating possession and creating chances. Headers from Vecino on a Brozovic cross, and Candreva from a Perisic pass in the first ten minutes demonstrated Inter’s positive intent. Even the midfielder and defense through Borja Valero and Danilo D’Ambrosio were showing tremendous work-rate by intercepting Udinese attacks at the half-way line that would have reached the heart of Inter’s defense last season.

Even though Udinese were clearly being bossed all over the park, they were not going to let a gift from Inter go unclaimed. In the process of thwarting an Udinese attack in his own penalty area, Davide Santon had done well initially to win back the ball. However, he lost possession almost instantly while trying to dribble out of trouble, giving the ball away to Silvan Widmer, whose cross left Kevin Lasagna with the simplest of tap-ins. Against the run of play, Udinese were a goal up. A rare lapse in concentration from Milan Skriniar, who lost his man Lasagna, led to the goal.

The caliber of a team is often best judged by how it responds in the face of adversity and not when they are on top. Inter’s response to going a goal down was instant and emphatic. Udinese’s lead would have barely lasted a minute when Mauro Icardi, who found himself on the end of a cross from Candreva, scored a cracking volley. The San Siro was absolutely rocking from Inter’s brilliant reaction.

Having found parity, Inter went even more on the offensive. A speculative effort from Santon showed that he had not lost confidence from his mistake earlier. Candreva was next up to try his luck, as his powerful shot went inches wide of the top corner. Wave after wave of Inter attacks had left the home side with over 70% possession. Udinese were virtually non-existent as an attacking force. Inter’s counter-attacking football was very pleasing on the eye, going from deep in their own half to knocking on the opposition’s goal in a matter of seconds.

Even though Inter had nine corners in the first half as well as numerous free kicks, a multitude of these efforts were of poor quality. Not being able to clear the first man or trying to be too cute when a simple, curling corner was needed is completely unacceptable. The biggest downside to the first half performance was Inter’s wastefulness in front of goal. Spalletti’s men had plenty of chances and over two-thirds possession but all they had to show for that was a 1-1 scoreline.

The second half began with Udinese almost going ahead in the 46th minute. Skriniar once again let his man get away and Lasagna’ shot on goal was saved by Handanovic. Massimo Oddo’s half-time talk appeared to have transformed Udinese in the second half. Inter on the other hand looked sloppy. Gone were the crisp, accurate passes and in their place were rushed attempts and confusion in defense. Nearly every Udinese attack was starting to look threatening and Spalletti responded by bringing on Gagliardini for Brozovic in order to shore up the midfield.

Inter did have chances of their own in the second half as Icardi missed a free header in the 54th from a rare accurate Candreva corner. The profligacy in front of goal that had plagued Inter’s first half performance seemed to be present in the second as well. However, things were to go from bad to worse for the home side as Santon, who it seemed was determined to remind fans of his inglorious past, committed a silly handball inside his own penalty area. However, it seemed like Inter would have a lucky reprieve as the referee seemed to indicate that the ball had gone out of play before it struck Santon’s hand.

What followed was several minutes of waiting around until the referee could view the high-definition footage. This is one aspect of VAR that must be sped up going forward. His decision after VAR review was a penalty for Udinese, and based on their second half display, it was just reward. Santon was lucky to escape without a yellow card for his complete lapse of concentration. Handanovic, who during his spell with Udinese, claimed the Serie A record for penalties saved in a single season, was unable to save the penalty from Rodrigo De Paul on this occasion. Inter were lucky not to go two goals behind in the 67th minute as Seko Fofana missed a gilt-edged chance from De Paul’s cross.

At this time Spalletti made a tactical switch by bringing on Karamoh for Santon and Inter would play the rest of the game with three (D’Ambrosio, Miranda, and Skriniar) at the back. The home side looked to build on their manager’s attacking switch as the next few minutes saw Inter’s most concerted effort on goal in the second half. Skriniar hit crossbar with his header from a Candreva cross and one began to wonder if a goal would ever arrive. The ensuing corner would see Vecino’s header go narrowly wide of the target. Next up for the Udinese defense was Roberto Gagliardini’s fierce header which was pushed wide by their goalkeeper Bizzarri.

It appeared as though Udinese had withstood whatever Inter could throw at them and they responded with a brilliant sucker punch. Inter, in search of a goal were pushing men forward and found themselves completely ripped apart at the back as Jakub Jankto’s assist allowed Antonin Barak to score a from a glancing effort – a simple goal but the buildup play was praiseworthy. Udinese’s third goal seemed to knock the wind out of Inter’s sails completely as the home side’s players lacked energy and fight in the closing minutes.

The final ten minutes saw Inter attempt cross after cross but nearly every one of them was either too close to the Udinese keeper or way too deep to have any effect. The 87th minute seemed to sum up the second half perfectly when Candreva’s cross was behind Icardi who had an open goal in front of him. If only the cross was a little more accurate! Perisic was completely absent for much of the second half and his wild efforts on goal and crosses into the upper tier were chalk and cheese when compared to his season thus far.

All this was too much for the Inter faithful inside the San Siro who had begun the day in such positive mood. The second half performance led to many fans making their way towards the exits even though a large part of the five added minutes remained to be played. There was no last hurrah as Inter (Inter Milan) gave up their unbeaten status rather timidly. As many have been saying, the true test for Spalletti begins now and it would be interesting to see how the team responds to this disappointment.