There are spring afternoons where the sun shines, the sky is blue and there’s a ball to play with. There are also spring afternoons that are cold, that start with the sun shining but finish with darkness taking over. Today’s strange April afternoon began with a goal from Lukaku and, almost two hours later, finished with roars of relief. Because it seemed like Inter had everything under control. Indeed, the Nerazzurri were 2-0 up, only for Traoré to pull one back during a chaotic few seconds (Skriniar was receiving treatment on the touchline). With the wind in their sails, Sassuolo started to push forward, while Inter were wasteful on the counter (Romelu also had a goal ruled out). It was nervy and frenetic, but then Irrati blew his whistle: Inter 2-1 Sassuolo, the Nerazzurri’s tenth consecutive victory and a eleven-point lead at the top.
Inter were without Bastoni and Brozovic: the last time they played with neither of these two in their starting line-up was in May 2019. A strange occurrence, then, with Sassuolo boss De Zerbi also having to make do with several absences. Nevertheless, the Neroverdi took to the pitch in the same manner as they always do, keeping the ball on the floor and showing plenty of attacking intent. The Sassuolo coach chose the same side that started against Roma, while Darmian and Gagliardini came in for the suspended duo. Ready, set, go. Sassuolo started off by keeping the ball in the Nerazzurri half. The Neroverdi pressed high up the pitch, with Marlon and Chiriches keeping a close eye on Lukaku at the back. As for Inter, they were compact, dropping deep to draw Sassuolo in but, at the same time, not allowing them to create any chances. The visitors were thus limited to long-range strikes that didn’t pose a problem for Handanovic.
In attack, the Nerazzurri were constantly making use of the lively Ashley Young, who enjoyed an excellent day down the left flank. The Englishman’s runs were causing all sorts of trouble and led to Inter’s first goal of the afternoon with ten minutes on the clock. Indeed, his pinpoint cross was met by Lukaku, who flicked a lovely header into the back of the net.
It was not a goal to blow the game open. In fact, the pace of the game would not take off until the second half, with the ball seemingly glued to Neroverdi feet: De Zerbi’s team controlled matters for long periods, building play in front of the Nerazzurri but almost never able to get in behind. Their attempts came mainly from distance, and any holes in defence were almost all covered through great levels of concentration: Skriniar blocked down Boga on one occasion, while there were few other opportunities to write home about. Even Inter’s forward line lacked their sting but managed to do enough.
The second half was a little less studious and slightly more open: Barella pressed higher, Sassuolo charged headlong looking for an equaliser but left themselves open to counter attacks. As happened with the lethal blow in the 67th minute. The elusive Lukaku escaped down the right before setting up his partner Lautaro: His perfect control and electric left foot left Consigli no chance. A 2-0 scoreline that provided comfort and highlighted an interesting fact: two shots on target, two goals. Marksmen.
The changes provided a jolt of energy: Inter brought on Sensi and Vecino, in need of fresh legs to get stuck in and counter. Sassuolo went to their bench in search of goals, with a desire to attack despite their two-goal disadvantage. In the 85th minute, there was a turning point. With Inter temporarily reduced to ten men, Traoré came up with an extraordinary goal which curled into the top corner. Sassuolo smelled blood and pushed forward at full speed in search of an equaliser. Inter, meanwhile, used every drop of energy to defend and counter. Two counterattacks faded at their climactic points: Sanchez missed his lob on Consigli, and Hakimi couldn’t produce the final pass on a three against two. Lukaku scored, but he had strayed offside. After dealing with the pressure right through until the 94th minute, the final whistle blew to signal victory, on a day where the afternoon, which turned to evening, had only two colours: black and blue.
INTER (3-5-2): 1 Handanovic; 37 Skriniar, 6 de Vrij, 36 Darmian; 2 Hakimi, 23 Barella, 24 Eriksen (12 Sensi 59'), 5 Gagliardini (8 Vecino 70'), 15 Young; 9 Lukaku, 10 Lautaro (7 Sanchez 77').
Substitutes: 27 Padelli, 97 Radu, 13 Ranocchia, 22 Vidal, 33 D'Ambrosio, 99 Pinamonti.
Coach: Antonio Conte.
SASSUOLO (4-2-3-1): 47 Consigli; 22 Toljan (27 Haraslin 75'), 21 Chiriches (26 Karamoko 90'), 2 Marlon, 6 Rogerio (77 Kyriakopoulos 75'); 14 Obiang, 8 Maxime Lopez; 23 Traoré, 10 Djuricic, 7 Boga (30 Oddei 80'); 18 Raspadori.
Substitutes: 56 Pegolo, 63 Turati, 4 Magnanelli, 13 Peluso, 24 Artioli, 35 Piccinini, 72 Saccani,
Coach: Roberto De Zerbi.
Goalscorers: 10' Lukaku (I), 67' Lautaro (I), 85' Traoré (S)
Bookings: Consigli (S), Barella (I), Traoré (S), Young (I)
Added time: 0' - 4'.
Assistants: Vivenzi, Mondin.
Fourth Official: Abisso.
VAR Assistant: Cecconi.