PRAGUE - 80 minutes and twelve seconds on the clock: Valentino Lazaro plays it forward. Frydrych, one Slavia’s centre-backs, slips. Lukaku pushes the ball forward with his left, as the clock ticks on to 80 minutes and 16 seconds. He dribbles past the goalkeeper. For almost five seconds he is left to run towards the goal unchallenged. Nobody in front of him, nobody chasing him from behind. He slams the ball into the back of the net with the time at 80 minutes and 21 seconds. His celebrations showed that same joy a child feels when they first get a taste for football. But in this case, that kick of a ball, a kick of ferocity and liberation in equal amounts, was worth three massive points.
Three points which Inter will take back to San Siro after their trip to Prague, three points that pushed the team to their limits. Three points that were desperately needed. The Nerazzurri came up against a strong team, who pressed their visitors high up the pitch. They had attackers capable of psoing a threat going forward and they worked hard to prevent Inter from passing the ball around with ease. But Inter were good, they were very good. Two of the standout players were Lautaro Martinez and Romelu Lukaku. They not only scored the Nerazzurri’s goals, but were shining examples of how the Nerazzurri’s collective performance raised the level of the entire team.
It was a complicated and challenging fixture for the Nerazzurri, but they were motivated by their irrepressible desire to progress further in the Champions League and their excellent ability to prepare for matches, even against the toughest of opposition. Analysis of the team’s performance shows that before we laud our attacking duo, due praise needs to be given to every part of the team.
Just think about Handanovic’s two fantastic saves to deny Masopust, Borja Valero’s skillful and cerebral performance, Brozovic and Candreva’s excellent showings. And then we come to Diego Godin, who bossed not only the Nerazzurri but the entire match as well. The numbers illustrate his dominance: he won 90.5% of his 21 duels, as well as winning all eight of his aerial duels. He made eight tackles, three clearances and won the ball back nine times. He completed 61 passes, which was more than either Brozovic or Borja Valero managed. It was a fearless performance from Diego who undertook all of his responsibilities as part of the game plan with great diligence. He often provided an out-ball on the right-hand side of the defence as Inter sought to beat the Slavia press.
The performance at the Eden Arena was symbolic in illustrating the effort this team always puts in. But now we need to discuss Lautaro and Lukaku. The Argentine’s numbers speak for themselves (check out which records he equalled here). Goal number eleven of the season (same as Lukaku), nine of which have come during the first 30 minutes of matches: a sign of his freshness and his ability to quickly work out and target opponents’ defensive vulnerabilities. Lautaro had seven shots, scored two great goals and was a thorn in Slavia’s side all night long.
Alongside him was his strike partner Romelu Lukaku, who scored his first Champions League goal for Inter. One goal scored, two more chalked off, a shot that hit the crossbar and two assists: what more could you ask from a striker? The Belgian not only knew how to find the back of the net; he also knew how to create chances for his teammates by using his strength and skill. He provided Lautaro with two great assists from out on the wing, he made five goal-scoring opportunities in total and he scored the all-important goal that gave Inter the lead again.
These individual displays contributed to a team performance where the Nerazzurri managed 13 shots, were dominant in the duels (70 duels won to Slavia’s 49), and even though the hosts had more of the ball, Inter were a constant threat going forward as every ball they played in behind the Slavia midfield resulted in a dangerous attack for Inter.
Up next are two important games in the league before it’s back to the Champions League for the final group stage match against Barcelona. #ForzaInter!