Inter collapsed to a 2-1 defeat in Cagliari, despite Nicolò Barella missing a stoppage-time penalty, as Leonardo Pavoletti’s volley proved decisive.
The pressure was on Luciano Spalletti, who was still without Mauro Icardi – officially due to a knee injury, but it was the fifth game missed since he was stripped of the captaincy. Both teams were furious after controversial penalty awards cost them last week, the Nerazzurri held 3-3 by Fiorentina, which allowed Milan and Roma to move within two and three points respectively. Alessandro Deiola was suspended with Valter Birsa, Lucas Castro, Alberto Cerri, Ragnar Klavan and Filippo Romagna injured.
Inter had been unbeaten in Sardinia since a 2-0 result in April 2013, followed by three victories and a draw.
It was a very aggressive start from the hosts with Artur Ionita’s diving header wide, while Ivan Perisic hit his half-volley too well and it was straight at Alessio Cragno.
Luca Cigarini ran a huge risk, as he should’ve received a second yellow card for his trip on Radja Nainggolan only 12 minutes in, but the referee was lenient as it was so early in the game.
All Serie A games this weekend will halt at the 13th minute to remember Davide Astori, who died a year ago on Monday. DA13 spent much of his career at Cagliari, so it was a particularly moving occasion here with his name chanted by the crowd.
Samir Handanovic did well to beat away a Leonardo Pavoletti strike and Joao Pedro fouled Milan Skriniar as he tried to get on the rebound from six yards.
Sardinian penalty appeals were waved away, as the ball bounced off Pavoletti’s arm first on to Kwadwo Asamoah’s arm on a corner.
Cagliari did eventually break through with centre-back Luca Ceppitelli’s towering header meeting the Cigarini free kick to slot into the far bottom corner, but it was awarded as a Perisic own goal due to the final deflection.
Moments later, it was almost 2-0 for the hosts, but Handanovic got down for a fantastic one-handed save on Joao Pedro’s strike, then Paolo Faragò ballooned the follow-up over the bar.
However, Inter got back on level terms with a well-worked move. Radja Nainggolan whipped in a cross from the right and Lautaro Martinez got in front of his marker for a glancing header at the near post, which squirmed through Cragno’s legs.
Faragò wasted another golden opportunity, this time shinning wide unmarked at the back post, then Cragno stuck out a leg to prevent an own goal with panicked defending on Perisic’s low cross.
Cagliari did restore their lead with a spectacular Pavoletti low volley amid a crowd of defenders, meeting the Darijo Srna cross from the right.
After the break, Cragno needed a double save on Politano from close range, then as the move continued used his body to parry Perisic’s flick at the near post.
Inter kept more possession, but with a relative lack of urgency, as Nainggolan’s effort from distance was charged down and another Lautaro Martinez header skimmed the upright, then Borja Valero dribbled into the area only to fire just over the bar.
Cragno was decisive on 85 minutes, as Lautaro Martinez turned brilliantly to shoot from the tightest of angles, but the goalkeeper managed to palm it on to the near post from point-blank range.
Cagliari went on the counter in the final minute and Kiril Despodov turned in the box, tripped by Milan Skriniar for an inevitable penalty. However, Barella stepped up and ballooned it horribly over the bar.
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Missed penalty: Barella 92 (C)