MILAN - When certain trains get going, it’s hard to stop them, not even with the emergency break. The components that set it in motion and cause the train to run are many and are all precious, they work in unison, as a team. The Nerazzurri train glided over the pitch at San Siro this evening, driven by Hakimi. The Moroccan was quick like a fierce wind that thaws the cold and snow that is gripping the city of Milan at present. This was the Nerazzurri’s third consecutive victory in the league and three more goals after those scored against Sassuolo and Borussia Mönchengladbach. Inter move to 21 points in Serie A after ten matchdays. Lukaku and Hakimi (brace) stamped the Nerazzurri’s ticket as they are picking up some real momentum in domestic football. It was a result that was never really in doubt, despite Vignato pegging Inter back in the 67th minute; Inter restored their two-goal cushion just three minutes later.
In spite of the freezing rain, it was a memorable night for the Nerazzurri, as they kicked off a tricky Christmas period with a bang. There’s no time to stop and pause to think about Shakhtar on Wednesday evening. No, there’s only time to keep this run going. Conte replicated the 3-5-2 system used in Germany in midweek but made four personnel changes: Hakimi, Perisic, Vidal and Sanchez all returned to the starting XI. Mihajlovic changed the shape of his Bologna side, opting for a back three and playing Soriano in a free rule in behind the striker - kind of a box-to-box midfielder, kind of a number 10, kind of a right winger. He was joined by Barrow down the left and Palacio through the middle.
De Vrij was the first to cause Bologna issues, his header was saved by Lukasz Skorupski. Inter were lively from the off and largely dominant on the pitch. They all read the game well and were patient when looking to carve out opportunities. It was, as usual, Romelu Lukaku, who broke the deadlock. Perisic’s ball in was a good one, and the Belgian used his strength the beat Takehiro Tomiyasu in the air. He got the better of the Japanese defender and turned it home, leaving Skorupski with no chance. It was his eighth league goal of the season - 12 in all competitions - as he continues his red-hot form in front of goal.
Bologna certainly gave it a go. The Rossoblù got the ball on the deck and stretched the play with their widemen; both Barrow and Soriano went close. It was too little for the away side, though, who left themselves open at the back as they pushed for the equaliser.
In the 34th minute, Sanchez found Lukaku on the counter, but the Belgian was denied by Skorupski, Bologna’s best player throughout. It seemed like a matter of time before the Nerazzurri would grab a second, and it duly arrived on the stroke of half-time: Brozovic produced a delightful lofted pass for Hakimi, who latched onto the ball, controlled it and beat Skorupski with a low left-footed shot. 2-0 and a special tribute: Achraf lifted up his shift and dedicated the goal to Mohamed Abarhoun, a former teammate of his with Morocco who recently passed away.
2-0 up at the break, Inter were in complete control of the match and could have extended their lead after the restart. Skorupski continued to excel between the sticks, first keeping out Sanchez’s attempt across goal and then rushing out courageously and effectively to successfully thwart Lukaku. The Nerazzurri had failed to put the game to bed and, out of nowhere, they were punished for it: 20-year-old Vignato, who had just entered the fray, became the youngest goalscorer this Serie A season with Palacio and Dominguez involved in the move to set him up.
However, a comeback wasn’t on the cards: Inter were focused on picking up a win and three points and were able to respond instantly. Vidal found Hakimi on the right flank, before the Moroccan raced forward, cut inside and let fly with another low, precise strike to restore the Nerazzurri’s two-goal advantage. Highly impressive, simply unstoppable.
The goal brought a sense of calm and Conte’s men were content to manage their lead thereafter. With a number of substitutes on the pitch, the Nerazzurri saw the game out to pick up three vital points. The next stop on their journey will once again be San Siro on Wednesday: against Shakhtar, they'll be looking to book their place in the last 16 of the Champions League.
INTER (3-5-2): 1 Handanovic; 37 Skriniar, 6 de Vrij, 95 Bastoni (33 D'Ambrosio 83'); 2 Hakimi (36 Darmian 71'), 22 Vidal (23 Barella 71'), 77 Brozovic, 5 Gagliardini, 14 Perisic; 9 Lukaku (10 Lautaro 71'), 7 Sanchez (24 Eriksen 91').
Substitutes: 27 Padelli, 35 Stankovic, 12 Sensi, 13 Ranocchia, 15 Young.
Coach: Antonio Conte.
BOLOGNA (3-4-1-2): 28 Skorupski; 17 Medel (8 Dominguez 63'), 23 Danilo, 14 Tomiyasu; 29 De Silvestri, 32 Svanberg (55 Vignato 63'), 30 Schouten, 3 Hickey (68 Khailoti 63'); 21 Soriano; 99 Barrow (19 Rabbi 79'), 24 Palacio (63 Vergani 79').
Substitutes: 1 Da Costa, 6 Paz, 10 Sansone, 15 Mbaye, 18 Baldursson, 22 Michael, 33 Calabresi.
Coach: Sinisa Mihajlovic.
Goalscorers: 16' Lukaku (I), 45' Hakimi (I), 67' Vignato (B), 70' Hakimi (I)
Bookings: Hickey (B), Hakimi (I), Danilo (B)
Added time -, 3'.
Assistants: Preti, Bresmes.
Fourth Official: Mariani.
Assistant VAR: Lo Cicero.