Inter headed top of the Serie A table this Tuesday evening - for 24 hours at least - by grinding out a 2-1 victory over Brescia at the Stadio Mario Rigamonti.
Inter took a 22nd minute lead in fortuitous circumstances, as Lautaro Martinez's hopeful long-range shot took a huge deflection and looped over Brescia goalkeeper Enrico Alfonso. Credited as Martinez's goal, it meant the Argentine had his sixth in as many Nerazzurri games.
The home side's sole ambition seemed to be containing Inter up to that point but they began to press much higher almost immediately after going behind. A pinch more quality in the final third and they might have created opportunities, although the same could be said for Antonio Conte's side as the first half petered out with feisty challenges more common than clear chances.
Brescia were a side transformed as the second half began and played with the shackles off to drive Inter back towards their own goal. As attractive as it was, it left plenty of space and Romelu Lukaku put it to good use. Picking the ball up on the right flank, the Belgian drove inside and curled around both defender and goalkeeper to make it 2-0.
Mario Balotelli had a chance to pull one back against his former employers, drawing a fine save from Samir Handanovic on his line and blazing the rebound over the bar. Brescia's positivity finally reaped reward in the 76th minute as Dimitri Bisoli-induced pinball in the box resulted in the ball bouncing off Milan Skriniar for an own goal.
Inter were forced to put in a defensive shift to protect their lead in the closing stages, but with the top of the table in touching distance they held on for a well-earned three points.
Starting XI: Alfonso (6); Sabelli (7), Cistana (5), Gastaldello (6), Mateju (5); Mangraviti (6); Bisoli (7), Tonali (8*), Romulo (6); Donnarumma (6), Balotelli (7)
Substitutes: Martella (5), Ndoj (5), Matri (5)
Key Talking Point
It's a testament to how quickly Antonio Conte has transformed Inter into genuine title challengers that teams so frequently tweak their game plans in attempts to contain them. But if they are to go all the way to lifting the Scudetto, the Italian will need his midfield to be more coherent than they were here.
Brescia were the latest to spring a surprise from kick-off, Massimiliano Mangraviti's in-game position was more third centre half than the expected midfield body. This meant that Inter's high press caused plenty of congestion on the edge of the home side's penalty area and left a monumental chasm between Marcelo Brozovic and Inter's six 'non-defensive' players.
As a result, the Nerazzurri's first-half build up play suffered - to the tune of over 65% first-half possession translating to a solitary shot on target.
Inter well on top so far. They’ve dominated possession and the early chances, and they’re compressing their opponents with a high line. They’ve scored more and conceded more than you’d expect a Conte side to, and they’ve been a great watch this term! (0-0)#BresciaInter #SerieA— Football Chatters (@FootballChat555) October 29, 2019
A big problem was a lack of movement, in either direction. It would be too harsh to say that Gagliardini and Nicolo Barella played poorly, but either of them needed to drop deeper and provide a passing option or attempt to get beyond the front two to unlock Brescia's resilience. At least more frequently than they did.
The pair played too close to each other at times, made runs at the wrong moments and highlighted why they'll need to develop a better understanding if they are to compensate for the loss of Stefano Sensi.
To truly hammer the point home, those two Inter goals came from their strikers dropping deeper and driving forward with the ball - their midfield were hardly in shot as they unleashed their finishes from outside of the box.
Starting XI: Handanovic (7); Skriniar (7), Godin (7), de Vrij (7); Candreva (6), Gagliardini (6), Brozovic (8*), Barella (6), Asamoah (6); Lukaku (7), Martinez (8)
Substitutes: Biraghi (5), Esposito (5)
Headline writers would have been hoping for a Balotelli upset and those Super Mario titles writing themselves, but it was simply a case of Super Marcelo as Brozovic single-handedly won the midfield battle for Inter.
That void between the defence and attack was truly monumental in the first half, but the Croatian tirelessly collected the ball from the back three and tried to get Inter moving - despite the lack of options in front of him.
When space was created for Inter's attacking players in the first half, it was often a result of Brozovic drawing players towards him by carrying the ball even further up the pitch.
Tonali's making Brozovic work— Jake (@ThatMilanFan) October 29, 2019
There was also the small matter of shackling Sandro Tonali's growing brilliance as Brescia's influence on the game grew in the second 45 minutes. The highly-rated Italian midfielder started to run riot at points in the second half but there was Brozovic, hurrying, hassling and protecting both Inter's defence and lead.
He was made to put in a shift and sacrifice much of his attacking instinct, but did so with aplomb as Antonio Conte's side showed their defensive mettle once again.
Brescia face Verona away this Sunday before Torino's visit to Stadio Mario Rigamonti.
Inter face back-to-back away fixtures, heading to Bologna in Serie A action ahead of a mouthwatering Champions League tie with Borussia Dortmund at Signal Iduna Park.