A rotated Inter side earned a hard fought victory over SPAL at the San Siro on Sunday afternoon.
The Nerazzuri failed to get into an attacking rhythm for much of the game against a side looking to avoid relegation to Serie B. Inter manager Luciano Spalletti made six changes to the side that drew in the Europa League in mid-week, probably with the upcoming Milan derby at the back of his mind.
Inter were uninspiring in the first half, but looked to have gotten the lead when Lautaro Martinez broke into the SPAL box following good work from Joao Mario and buried the ball in the away sides goal. But the goal was disallowed after a lengthy VAR review and this seemed to frustrate the Inter players which played into the hands of SPAL.
The deadlock was finally broken in the 67th minute when Matteo Politano struck the ball on the half volley and buried the ball into the net. There was still time for VAR to review the goal for a potential offside, but to the relief of the Inter faithful, the goal still stood. Roberto Gagliardini wrapped up the three points in the 77th minute with a good volleyed finish into the bottom right corner, this time without a VAR review.
SPAL failed to really trouble the Inter defence, despite some good work by Mattia Valoti, and will start looking nervously over their shoulder, especially after Bologna's win earlier in the day.
Here's 90min's breakdown of the game.
Key Talking Point
Inter striker Lautaro Martinez scored a great goal in the 32nd minute, cushioning a Joao Mario chipped pass off his chest before twisting the SPAL defender and burying the ball past the wrong-footed Emiliano Viviano.
The goal seemed to settle the Nerazzurri and sent their fans into celebration at a time when they were beginning to get restless at the inability of their team to find the net. However, VAR had spotted something that match referee Gianpaolo Calvarese had missed, in controlling the ball with his chest, Martinez used his arm to bring the ball down before scoring.
It was such a quick attacking move that it was hard to spot in real time, but this is why VAR has been introduced. Martinez used his arm to control the ball to get an advantage, and the goal was rightly chalked off, having only just been chalked on.
Starting XI: Handanovic (6); Soares (6), De Vrij (7), Miranda (6), Dalbert (6); Gagliardini (7), Brozovic (6), Politano (7), Joao Mario (7), Asamoah (7); Martinez (8)*
Substitutions: Candreva (6), Ranocchia (7), Valero (6)
Lautaro Martinez has big shoes to fill. In the absence of first choice striker Mauro Icardi, the young Argentinian got his chance to show Luciano Spalletti what he can bring to the side.
In a game where Inter seemed to be a little off the pace and lacking creativity, Martinez made the right runs and got in some good goal-scoring positions. It's just a shame that his teammates were unable to find him with that crucial pass. He controlled the ball brilliantly with his feet and he was unfortunate to see his goal in the first half disallowed, as the control he showed was sublime.
His performance against SPAL raised the question of why the 21-year-old doesn't start more often. A striking partnership of the Nerazurri's two Argentinian forwards would surely make Inter a dangerous prospect to face, and is something Spalletti is potentially looking at for the future.
Key Talking Point
SPAL will have felt that Politano was marginally offside as he scored the opening goal. Up until that point, the Biancazzurri managed to frustrate Inter and limit them to a handful of chances.
They'll argue that VAR should have disallowed the goal, and that they were deserving of at least a point. SPAL would have been hopeful of coming away from the San Siro with a positive result as they look to avoid relegation from Serie A this season.
Starting XI: Viviano (5); , Bonifazi (5), Vicari (6), Felipe (7); Fares (6), Schiattarella (6), Missiroli (6), Kurtic (5), Valoti (); Floccari (6), Petagna (5)
Substitutions: Dickmann (6), Paloschi (5), Antenucci (5)
SPAL wing-back Mattia Valoti caused the Inter defence a number of problems down the right hand side of the pitch. He delivered some good balls into the box, but they lacked recipients as his teammates either weren't expecting the ball or were focused on defending rather than attacking.
If SPAL can utilise Valoti and his attacking forays, then they can potentially get the results to take them away from the foot of the table. Although their forwards lack the mobility to run from deep, they have the experience to position themselves in the box to make the most of Valoti's crosses.
Inter have city rivals Milan in their next game, and Spalletti will hope his side can do the double over Gennaro Gattuso's team and close the gap between the two sides to just one point. The Nerazzurri will be looking to gain automatic Champions League qualification and a crucial step towards that goal is a win over the Rossoneri.
SPAL welcome Roma to the Stadio Paolo Mazza in their next league game. Boss Leonardo Semplici will be looking for his team to pick up points wherever they can, and will target home games such as these. Roma have recently changed manager so Semplici may see this as an opportunity to come away with at least a point and boost their chances of survival.