Simone Inzaghi tactically out-foxed Inter boss Luciano Spalletti and took Lazio to a thoroughly-deserved victory at San Siro.
Inter started the match in positive fashion, the intensity was high and Lazio were being forced into quick turnovers of possession, allowing Luciano Spalletti’s team to apply early pressure on Thomas Strakosha’s goal. But Inzaghi had come prepared and once the early storm had been weathered, his well thought out plan came to the fore.
The Lazio boss intelligently allowed Inter to control the ball, as he knew spells of Nerazzurri possession would see them adopt a high position. This would mean open spaces for Lazio on the counter and in that scenario, the away side were always going to be dangerous. Inzaghi’s team are built to exploit these openings, with his XI containing players that were quick to cover the ground, with and without the ball.
In order for Lazio to create those opportunities in transition their defensive set-up simply had to be water-tight, and it was.
Retreating into a relatively deep 5-3-2, they were aware of Inter’s eagerness to find their dangerous, pacey wide players in Ivan Perisic and Matteo Politano. With space centrally at a premium, Inter were happy to oblige in moving the ball wide, but Lazio were ready and they suffocated the play as soon as it was shifted to the wings. The wingback on the ball side would apply pressure to the ball, with nearest wide central midfield player closely supporting and an outside centre-back covering, the capital outfit simply overloaded Inter, frustrating them and stealing possession before launching a counter.
This was highlighted by Lazio’s goal and on a number of other occasions that they failed to take advantage of. As Romulo sprang down the right flank, his cross found Luis Alberto, who then expertly picked out Sergej Milinkovic-Savic to head home at the back post.
That particular counter saw Lazio end up with five players in the opposition box, and it was this commitment, bravery and desire that Inter struggled to cope with all night. Luis Alberto played a key role, defensive diligence, his ability to dribble away from pressure and set-up counter attacks was priceless to his team.
As for Inter, with them unable to isolate their wingers against defenders, the hosts’ play became limited to crosses and shots from distance. Spalletti’s full-backs seemed hesitant to be brave in adopting much higher positions, on the occasions they did it stretched Lazio’s defensive shape, but it needed to happen with more regularity. Matias Vecino looked to break in behind with midfield runs, but they were cleverly marshalled by Lazio’s three-man defence. The pair that sat behind him offered little, Borja Valero and Marcelo Brozovic performed a similar role and it made no sense for Spalletti to have both on the pitch.
The absence of Radja Nainggolan from the starting line-up did hurt the Milan giants, his driving runs with the ball forces defenders to commit, drawing space around them. Roberto Gagliardini is a powerful runner and one of the few in Inter’s team that could have matched Lazio’s physicality, so the call to leave him out was certainly questionable.
Stand-in forward Keita Balde searched for a way into the game, but was forced to drop deep to find the ball, adding to Inter’s lack of incision and penetration centrally.
As play wore on it was Lazio that looked the more likely, but Inter were kept in the game by captain Samir Handanovic, who was undoubtedly his side’s best player and the reason the score-line remained close. Inter probed away with little to show, attacks became desperate as they searched for an equaliser and despite committing numbers forward, you never really felt a goal was coming. With the now fit again Mauro Icardi watching on, it seems an ignorant and stubborn decision from Spalletti not to have included him in squad, especially with Lautaro Martinez missing.
For the neutral Serie A fan, this result adds further intrigue in the chase for a spot in Europe’s elite football competition. There is a six-point gap from Inter in third to Roma in seventh, with Milan, Lazio and Atalanta all placed in-between. This win moves Lazio up to fifth, three-points behind Milan with a game in hand.
This is a significant week in the season, with a mid-week round of games there are big points available over the next seven days, so expect the picture of the top six to change again.