Heading into the 28th round of league fixtures, Inter hit the road to face a hostile Hellas Verona home side intent on keeping a secured spot in Serie A for next season's competition. While Verona seemed intent on ensuring their fate in the top tier, the Nerazzurri were keen on future European competition.
Many Interisti were rejoicing the fact that Rodrigo Palacio had extended his contract to 2016. The Argentine striker leads Inter with a season total of 13 goals scored thus far and has been a reliable option, even playing out of position as both Milito and Icardi struggled with fitness problems early on in the season. Palacio would surely love to top off a wonderful week with a celebratory goal.
The rumor mill was at full strength during the week leading up to the match as Verona striker, Juan Iturbe was linked with the Milanese based club. Reports of interest from the visitors splashed across all of the newspaper headlines and could not be quieted as the young Argentine forward reportedly stated that he wanted to remain in Italy. Would this be an opportunity to show his potential future employers that he was worthy of the Inter kit?
Massive questions circled the Nerazzurri hoping to stretch their unbeaten streak to six. Could the men clad in black and blue play the heroes and keep a loss at bay or would they befall a fate similar to that of Verona based tragic love story, Romeo and Juliet? Only time would tell and that time was now.
Official Lineups from the Inter site:
Inter starting XI (3-5-2): Handanovic, Campagnaro, Ranocchia, Rolando, Jonathan, Guarin (Kovacic 74), Cambiasso, Hernanes (Kuzmanovic 90+2), D'Ambrosio (Zanetti 70), Palacio, Icardi.
Unused substitutes: Carrizo, Castellazzi, Andreolli, Botta, Taider, Milito, Samuel.
Coach: Walter Mazzarri.
[Note: Nagatomo was a last minute scratch as he sustained an injury. D'Ambrosio was inserted on the left as his direct defensive replacement.]
Hellas Verona starting XI (4-3-3): Rafael, Cacciatore (Martinho 75), Moras, Maietta, Albertazzi, Sala, Donati (Cirigliano 86), Marquinho (Cacia 86), Romulo, Toni, Iturbe.
Unused substitutes: Nicolas , Pillud, Jankovic, Donsan, Rabusic, Gonzalez, Marques, Donadel.
Coach: Andrea Mandorlini.
(In case you missed it, please click here for the SB Nation Inter Offside Live Match Thread).
The Inter starting XI remained the same as the previous week aside from Nagatomo (injury) and his direct substitute on the left side was D'Ambrosio. Handanovic was in goal bolstered with a back line of Campagnaro, Ranocchia, and Rolando; a five man midfield of Jonathan, Guarin, Cambiasso, Hernanes, and D'Ambrosio connected the defense with the strike force of Palacio and Icardi.
Inter began the game with a road win on their mind. In the 5th minute of play, with help from a Guarin cross, Icardi's header was deflected off the post as the Nerazzurri were aggressively taking their offensive chances early on.
While D'Ambrosio normally would play on the right flank, he started the match well on the left playing a bit more defensively as this was not his normal position.
Jonathan attacked the right side of the pitch with a renewed purpose and finally in the 14th minute his cross found an unmarked Palacio who easily found the back of the net. Inter led the home side by a one goal margin as the score line reflected, 0-1 in favor of the visitors.
After the early Nerazzurri goal, the away side seemed to lose a bit of intensity and allowed the home side more possession and attacking opportunities.
In the 28th minute, Verona striker Toni went down easily and replays showed that he was barely touched, if touched at all, and the referee was not inclined to award an unwarranted penalty. (Note: Inter going into the 28th round of play have yet to be awarded a penalty in league competition).
Guarin had shots towards goal (on and off target) in the 33rd and 43rd minutes as the away side had its chances but other than dominating ball possession the half drew to a close with the score sheet of Verona 0-1 Inter.
The second half began similarly to the end of the first half, with Verona looking a bit more offensive and Inter content with the counter attack. Nerazzurri intensity was waning a bit and aside from a free kick in from Hernanes to Palacio in the 3rd minute of the second half, and the Brasilian's own shot on target in the 7th minute, Verona were looking more dangerous offensively.
Despite losing the favor of some outspoken Interisti, Ranocchia seemed to have found renewed form the past two matches and demonstrated a solid defensive performance as he extinguished threats on goal in the 7th and 26th minutes.
Inter began taking more chances to put the game away and finally in the 18th minute, Hernanes found Jonathan who followed up a shot on target and in a moment of "divine intervention" converted it to goal to bring the Nerazzurri lead to a 2-0 margin.
D'Ambrosio exited in the 25th minute to make way for the legendary Zanetti and in the 29th minute Guarin made way for Kovacic. The combination of Cambiasso, Kovacic, and Hernanes seemed to implement Mazzarri's plan for more midfield control and creativity. Inter dominated the ball with midfield possession and in the 40th minute of play, Kovacic showed some wizardry at his feet with some phenomenal footwork. The young Croatian was showing why he should be afforded more playing time as his talent and creativity seemed to enhance Hernanes' play in the midfield.
Handanovic was forced to make a couple of saves to keep a clean sheet in the 46th minute.
In the 47th minute of the second half, Hernanes was substituted for precautionary reasons and Kuzmanovic came on as the Brasilian seemed to be limping off the pitch.
Although the intensity level dropped, the Nerazzurri managed to shut out the home side from scoring and walked away with three valuable points and kept the unbeaten streak to six.
Mazzarri's men seem to be more comfortable with carrying out his envisioned tactics on the pitch and it is no coincidence that Hernanes' presence in midfield has had an impact on the recent Nerazzurri success. Additionally, the Inter boss now has more players to choose from as players have come back from injury. Lastly, the combination of January reinforcements and players coming back from injury can only bolster the current squad and hopefully continue the unbeaten streak but most importantly increase the likelihood for competing in Europe next season. With a game in hand, the three valuable points and victory today saw Inter jump past Fiorentina and are in 4th place in league standings, two points ahead of the Tuscan side. It will be important to keep this form as Inter look to host Atalanta next week.
Man of the Match: The one and only "Il Divino," Inter's own, Jonathan.
Hellas Verona 0-2 Inter
First half: Palcio 14'
Second half: Jonathan 18'