MILAN - In matches, just like in battles, you have to choose your tactics, your men and your moments. You have to know when and how to attack, how to defend, and even to drop deep and suffer when necessary. There are moments that determine whether the key to defeating an opponent is a matter of cunning or strength, and there is also the awareness that suffering is necessary, perhaps essential, to win those inches, that ground. To claim victory. Milan Skriniar is a defensive general with a licence to get forward and he sealed our victory against Atalanta: the only goal of the game even came from a sort of battle - well, scramble - inside the box. All three Inter defenders had a role to play: de Vrij, Bastoni and finally Skriniar. A lethal finish. And then it fell to them to repel the Gasperini’s battalions’ attempts at scoring. Atalanta won little ground: Conte’s Inter side were too compact for that. Until the final minute. And even beyond. They now have seven victories in a row and 62 points in the league. This team doesn’t back down. Ever.
Inter vs. Atalanta was not a game of chess, it was much more than that. An end-to-end clash, two footballing philosophies that might seem similar – at a glance – but that differ in their ideas and principles. Atalanta were man-marking, always and everywhere, whereas Inter let their guests have possession, kept their own half well defended and waited for the right moment to strike and unleash Lukaku on the counter. Gasperini told Maehle to press Bastoni, making it difficult for the Nerazzurri to move the ball up-field. It was a complicated game, as expected. And although the two best attacks in the league were facing off against each other, the first half ended at 0-0 for the second time in an Inter vs Atalanta fixture.
It wasn’t one of those games where you need an abacus to keep track of how many great goalscoring opportunities there have been. But the clash was on a very high tactical level: the intensity, the plays and the one-on-ones were all to the max. Atalanta tried to unleash Gosens with Zapata, who switched a lot to the left flank, taking on Skriniar. Inter were solid and conceded little, and in attack relying on Lukaku, who often had his back to the net and was far from the area. In the 25th minute, the Belgian was whiskers away from scoring but was caught at the last moment by Djimsiti. Atalanta’s two big chances both came in the 40th minute, with two consecutive corners: on the first, Handanovic was spectacular in saving Zapata’s shot, and on the second Brozovic denied Djimsiti’s header on the line.
Ilicic came on in place of Malinovskyi to start the second half and, a short while later, Eriksen replaced Vidal. These changes altered the balance of the game to a certain extent. The Slovenian became a focal point for all of Atalanta’s offensive actions; Eriksen, meanwhile, took the corner from which the only goal of the game came. Perisic headed down, Bastoni knocked it back and Skriniar poked home his third goal of the season. 1-0 to Inter.
Inter almost doubled their lead right away; Lukaku, as it was in the first half, was through on goal but, this time, was denied by Romero’s sliding challenge. That was, in the 57th minute, Inter’s last real chance of the game. From that moment on, the Nerazzurri withstood a period of prolonged pressure from Atalanta. Inter dug deep and weathered the storm brought on by Gasperini’s men, who brought on fresh legs in Muriel, Miranchuk and Pasalic. The away side pushed hard for the equaliser, both through the middle and from out wide, pushing plenty of players up the pitch. However, the Bergamo outfit only managed to create three chances: Zapata fired wide, Handanovic denied Muriel and Pasalic’s effort on the turn was off-target
Experience, determination, the strength of the unit and a willingness to duffer; this is Conte’s Inter, an Inter side that fights and wins!
INTER (3-5-2): 1 Handanovic; 37 Skriniar, 6 de Vrij, 95 Bastoni; 2 Hakimi (33 D'Ambrosio 85'), 23 Barella, 77 Brozovic (5 Gagliardini 77'), 22 Vidal (24 Eriksen 53'), 14 Perisic (36 Darmian 85'); 9 Lukaku, 10 Lautaro (7 Sanchez 77').
Substitutions: 97 Radu, 8 Vecino, 11 Kolarov, 12 Sensi, 13 Ranocchia, 15 Young, 99 Pinamonti.
Coach: Antonio Conte.
ATALANTA (3-4-2-1): 57 Sportiello; 2 Toloi, 17 Romero, 19 Djimsiti (6 Palomino 81'); 3 Maehle, 11 Freuler (88 Pasalic 81'), 15 De Roon, 8 Gosens; 32 Pessina (59 Miranchuk 73'), 18 Malinovskyi (72 Ilicic 46'); 91 Zapata (9 Muriel 70').
Substitutions: 31 Rossi, 95 Gollini, 7 Lammers, 13 Caldara, 20 Kovalenko, 40 Ruggeri, 41 Ghislandi.
Coach: Gian Piero Gasperini.
Goalscorer: 54' Skriniar (I)
Bookings: Romero (A)
Notes: Antonio Conte booked (I)
Added time: 1' - 4'
Linesmen: Bindoni, Imperiale.
Fourth Official: Sacchi.
Assistant VAR: Ranghetti.