MILAN - Inter blew the chance to go top of the league after drawing 2-2 with Atalanta in what was a topsy-turvy encounter at San Siro.
Lautaro Martinez's delightful volley saw Simone Inzaghi's men take an early lead before Atalanta turned the game on its head in the space of eight minutes and went into the half-time break leading 2-1.
Inter found their way back into the game through Edin Dzeko's strike with 20 minutes to play and would have won the game had Federico Dimarco managed to score from the spot. Late VAR drama had Inter fans' hearts in their mouths as the game eventually ended all square.
Fans were treated to a true blockbuster of a match, with intriguing plot twists, surprises and cliff hangers aplenty. Only football can provide you with the rollercoaster of emotions that Lautaro’s opener, Atalanta's comeback double, and Dzeko's equaliser offered. As if that wasn’t thrilling enough, Inter had the chance to win the match through Dimarco, who saw his penalty rebound off the crossbar, before Atalanta themselves thought that they were coming away from San Siro with three points two minutes later through Roberto Piccoli. VAR then ruled out his strike and the game ended all square after 96 pulsating minutes. A draw full of lovely football, top-class goals, and cards aplenty, with both teams leaving the field having expended every last drop of energy.
On the back of a promising start to the season, Inter hit the ground running in a sold out and fervent San Siro. Inzaghi named the same 11 who took to the field in Florence and Inter wasted no time causing Atalanta problems. Just like on Tuesday at Franchi, the right flank was fertile breeding ground for Inter chances. Matteo Darmian and Nicolo Barella combined to tear into Gasperini's system which has the downside of leaving his men exposed to one-on-one situations, often allowing Inter players space to cause damage.
Inter soon took the lead and sent San Siro into a frenzy. Barella whipped in an inviting ball from the right flank for Lautaro, who wasted no time in spectacularly diverting the inch-perfect cross home. It was the 24-year-olds fifth assist so far this campaign, capping a marvellous start to proceedings and spurring the watching Inter faithful on, who were expecting Inzaghi’s men to further lay waste to Atalanta.
Yet the visitors showed their resilience in withstanding the Nerazzurri onslaught. Ruslan Malinovskyi played a key role, causing Inter’s left flank grief and proving to be one of the first half’s most influential figures. Gasperini’s men grew into the game, with Marten de Roon coming close to scoring with a shot from outside the box, while Marcelo Brozovic worked wonders to stop Matteo Pessina from finding the net.
The game had soon become a real end-to-end affair with both Atalanta and Inter creating chances, yet it was the away side who took the lead in the 30th minute thanks to the menacing Malinovskyi, who arrowed a shot past Handanovic from outside of the box. Just eight minutes later, having seen De Vrij spurn a chance Inter then fell behind as Atalanta doubled their advantage. Malinovskyi was involved again, seeing another powerful drive parried by Handanovic who could only divert it into the path of Toloi, who was on hand to sweep it in with his left foot. Inter headed into the half time break needing a reaction.
The second half didn’t let up for pace and intensity. Inter, driven on by an insatiable San Siro, waged war on Juan Musso's goal. Yet despite the home side’s best efforts they were running the risk of letting the game get away from them, with Atalanta causing Inzaghi's team more than a few moments of concern. Malinovksy once again conjured some magic with his wand of a left foot, supplying Jose Palomino from a corner who nodded wide. The Ukrainian then hit the woodwork from a set piece, with Alessandro Bastoni saving the day by clearing the ball before Duvan Zapata had the chance to finish.
Inzaghi sought to turn the tide by introducing some substitutes, and Matias Vecino was soon testing Musso with a bullet header. The Argentine goalkeeper showed great reactions to keep out Barella’s bewildering cross shot, and fortune smiled upon him when Lautaro failed to tuck in the rebound. Gasperini in turn responded to Inter’s change in approach by moving to a five at the back system, which not only had to withstand Inter’s eleven men on the pitch but the force of the increasingly intense supporters in the stands.
Eventually the pressure told, and it was through a neat team move involving the ever-threatening Barella. The midfield wizard found Dimarco’s clever run into the box, whose drive was initially kept out by Musso but Dzeko was on hand to tap in, making it 2-2. At this stage all bets were off, with both sides gunning for victory, and when VAR awarded Inter a penalty for Merih Demiral’s handball with only four minutes left it seemed that Atalanta’s hopes were over. Dimarco stepped up to take the spot kick but his strike crashed off the bar, leaving Inter fans deflated. Disappointment nearly turned to despair when Piccolini went down the other end to score, but Atalanta’s joy was short lived as VAR ruled the ball to have already gone out of play in the lead-up.
Inter nearly had the last laugh, providing the fans with the final heart-stopping moment of the match when Dzeko headed narrowly wide in the 96th minute. The Nerazzurri leave San Siro with a 2-2 draw and dust themselves down ahead of their Champions League away day in Kiev.
Inter 2-2 Atalanta (HT 1-2)
Scorers: Lautaro 5 (I), Malinovskiy 30 (A), Toloi 38 (A), Dzeko 71 (I).
INTER (3-5-2): 1 Handanovic; 37 Skriniar, 6 de Vrij, 95 Bastoni (32 Dimarco, 57); 36 Darmian (2 Dumfries, 57), 23 Barella (48 Satriano, 90), 77 Brozovic, 20 Calhanoglu (8 Vecino, 57), 14 Perisic; 9 Dzeko, 10 Lautaro (7 Sanchez, 81).
Subs not used: 21 Cordaz, 97 Radu, 5 Gagliardini, 11 Kolarov, 13 Ranocchia, 33 D'Ambrosio, 38 Sangalli.
Coach: Simone Inzaghi.
ATALANTA (3-4-1-2): 1 Musso; 2 Toloi, 28 Demiral, 6 Palomino (3 Maehle 70'); 77 Zappacosta (88 Pasalic, 77), 11 Freuler, 15 De Roon, 8 Gosens; 32 Pessina (19 Djimsiti, 63); 91 Zapata (99 Piccoli, 63), 18 Malinovskyi (72 Ilicic, 63).
Subs not used: 31 Rossi, 57 Sportiello, 7 Koopmeiners, 13 Pezzella, 59 Miranchuk, 66 Lovato.
Coach: Gian Piero Gasperini.
Note: In the 86th minute Dimarco (I) missed a penalty, his shot hitting the bar
Booked: Malinovskyi (A), Bastoni (I), Palomino (A), Zapata (A), Calhanoglu (I), Zappacosta (A), Barella (I), Toloi (A)
Added time: 0+6 minutes
Assistants: Colarossi, Prenna.
Fourth official: Abisso.
Assistant VAR: Ranghetti