Inter show signs of vulnerability despite fine Lazio victory

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Simone Inzaghi’s message as Inter prepared to enter the second half of the campaign, unbeaten in the league since October, was simple: “I hope the team can continue where we left off before Christmas.”

And in many ways, the reigning champions did just that.

A 2-1 victory at home to Lazio – the only Serie A club to beat Inter before breaking the panettone – on Sunday night, extended Nerazzurri’s winning streak to eight straight league games. Three points moved Inzaghi’s team back over their city rivals Milan at the top of the table, with the cushion of one point and one match.

But in an entertaining race against Italy’s most erratic outfit, the invincible cloak that Inter’s blue end of 2021 had begun to drape over their shoulders showed hints of slipping.

Although the break of two and a half weeks at first seemed to have left the Nerazzurri rested rather than rusty.

Denied by VAR 17 minutes into the game, Lautaro Martinez had to leave the pitch due to a knee injury. In came Stefan de Vrij.

Alessandro Bastoni’s delightfully frugal thrower was embedded in the bottom corner to give the hosts a well-deserved lead in the first half, just like the one Ivan Perisic gave when the clubs met in the October reverse match.

That autumn afternoon, Inter withdrew 5-3-2 and welcomed Lazio – an invitation that Maurizio Sarri’s team late accepted to add the first, and so far only, domestic defeat since Inzaghi swapped the eternal city for Inter in somras.

Ciro Immobile scores his 15th goal of the Serie A season?

It’s his sixth season in a row to reach that milestone? pic.twitter.com/3IUEjreSHb

– Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) January 9, 2022

Instead of a collective relief at the weekend, Milan Skriniar and De Vrij’s short blackout was enough to give Ciro Immobile the stern goal he needed to level Lazio. Despite largely impressive performances from the defensive pair, there were one or two shaky squirts of misunderstanding between Inter’s sparse back line.

For example, none of them reacted when Danilo Cataldi pretended to regain possession from a drop before swinging with his hips to strike up his constantly alert captain.

Inter were burned at a not too different moral crossroads in the reverse match when Biancoceleste played on – and scored – while Federico Dimarco writhed on the floor in pain. Of course, the protesting Inter players overlooked Lautaro’s shot attempts earlier in the same passage – with their teammate still inclined – but the mood was really inflated.

Inzaghi’s team never regained their composure at the Stadio Olimpico, instead they imploded when they let the indispensable 6’4 Sergej Milinkovic-Savic steam in and nod in a third.

Lazio’s trio of strikes took Inter’s figure to 11 conceded from the first eight games of the season.

Immobile’s equalizer on Sunday in the reverse match was only the fifth they have conceded in a dozen matches since then, breaking a series of 586 goalless minutes for Samir Handanovic.

30 ‘: ⚽67’:? ️

Midfielder Alessandro Bastoni has a great match for Inter! ? pic.twitter.com/pSVSrkp8rc

– Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) January 9, 2022

But even when this suite was over, Inter struck the ball with an ignorant slump throughout the match, regardless of the result. Soon enough, their patience was rewarded by Skrinaria’s 67-minute winner, provided by Bastoni, Inter’s 16th different goal scorer in the league this semester (bottom side Salernitana have only scored 13 goals all season).

Lazio may have finished the competition with a misleading result of five shots, but these attempts always came from threatening places.

With Milan and Napoli keeping pace with Inter’s tailcoat, the Nerazzurri can not afford too many slips in a title race that remains alive. As Inzaghi breathlessly reflected on the final signal: “There is no time to stop and think, we just have to keep winning.”

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