The absence of AWOL Inter star Mauro Icardi didn’t hurt the side at Rapid Vienna on Thursday night as his understudy Lautaro Martinez stepped up to fire the side to a 1-0 win in Europa League action.
After a back and forth ensued between the Argentine’s agent and wife Wanda Nara and members of the club, the former Sampdoria man was stripped of the club captaincy and opted not to travel for Inter’s trip to Austria.
However, he wasn’t missed too much as his compatriot grabbed his second goal in as many games (this time from the penalty spot), following a weekend winner off the bench at Parma, to put the Beneamata in the driving seat.
Inter had firm control of the contest for much of proceedings against a resilient yet very limited Rapid side, whose organisation restricted Inter to no clear cut openings until the 38th minute.
However, it was worth the wait as Inter were awarded a penalty kick in quite amusing and bizarre circumstances when Ivan Perisic attempted to burst his way into the box and lost his footing, but caught his marker with an accidental headbutt to the knee on the way down.
That resulted in the ball breaking for Manuel Thurnwald in the box and he paid the price for being slack with his clearance as Lautaro burst onto the scene to win a foul from the Rapid man’s outstretched leg.
It proved to be an eventful end to the first half for the Argentine as he tucked the spot kick down the middle and then lashed a volley at Richard Strebinger before finding the side-netting with the rebound.
The second half continued the lack of quality that had blighted the opening 45 minutes and chances were hard to come by once more until the midway point when newly-appointed Inter captain Samir Handanovic made his first real intervention by getting his hands up to keep out a close range effort.
Radja Nainggolan missed the target in the closing stages from a Perisic cut back but with little threat at the other end, Inter shut the game down comfortably and take a lead back to Milan that should be safe.
Well, not quite. Admittedly his form has been patchy at best of late and that isn’t something that will be helped by willingly removing yourself from important European games but a win without him isn’t a strategy the Nerazzurri can bank on for long, particularly against better opposition. The situation is ugly but it is one that must be resolved, even with a short-term solution, very quickly.
THE LONE BULL
While Lautaro would be better served with someone alongside him, he nonetheless put in a good showing with the lone striker role in Icardi’s absence. His hold up and linking others into play can be better but he is a willing runner, tireless at working back and always alert to the slightest danger – as he showed by winning the penalty. His future is certainly bright.