There was one moment at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on Wednesday that neatly summed up Inter’s clash with Sassuolo.
With the hosts leading 2-1 and in control, Andrea Consigli parried a Romelu Lukaku effort straight into the path of Roberto Gagliardini.
The midfielder was unmarked in the centre of the six-yard box, with the entire goal open in front of him. He just needed to tap in, but instead inexplicably ballooned a shot off the bar.
It was a miss that beggared belief. At least it would’ve been, if this wasn’t Inter v Sassuolo.
Gagliardini with the miss of the season pic.twitter.com/NNq1pP0mpx
— Empty Serie A Stadiums (@EmptySerieA) June 24, 2020
This fixture is one of calcio’s great anomalies. The Nerazzurri simply cannot shake off the curse that has afflicted them since the Neroverdi first cheerfully bounced into Serie A in 2013.
In that time, Sassuolo have won seven of their 14 meetings with the Nerazzurri – only Juventus have a better record against them in that period.
Even when they’re avoiding defeat, like in both meetings this season, Inter have used the occasion as an opportunity to remind everyone that despite his best efforts, Antonio Conte is unlikely to ever root the ‘Pazza’ out of ‘Pazza Inter’ (Crazy Inter).
This was the first time Inter have conceded three goals in a Serie A game since – you guessed it – their last meeting with Sassuolo, a 4-3 win in September.
In that game, Conte’s side cruised into a 4-1 lead, only to concede twice and be forced to nervously hold out for the final nine minutes.
Inter under Suning are desperate to move on from this reputation, to finally rid themselves of the tag of unpredictable wildcards.
But last weekend’s win over Sampdoria, where Inter should’ve won far more comfortably than 2-1, was just the appetiser for a full three-course serving of Pazza Inter in midweek, a showing that only strengthened that reputation.
They started by conceding a goal inside four minutes. A goal that, while well-executed, was laughably easy for Sassuolo to convert.
After pulling back in front before half time, Gagliardini’s miss arrived. It was the kind of once-in-a-lifetime error that would only occur in this fixture.
Ashley Young’s substitute cameo was a disaster, as he was very lucky not to concede a penalty for handball immediately after his introduction, only to go and trip an opponent just minutes later to make sure he did indeed hand the visitors the perfect chance to equalise.
Inter showed great spirit with their reaction, nudging in front again with a Borja Valero tap-in late on.
But with four minutes left on the clock, Conte needed his team to show some maturity, some leadership, some savvy, and see out the game. Instead, he could only look on in despair as Giangiacomo Magnani scored a late leveller.
There was no logical reason for Inter’s difficulties. They showed some swashbuckling football at times against Napoli in the Coppa Italia and Samp, but it was in short supply here.
Yes, Conte made five changes to his starting line-up. But Roberto De Zerbi swapped out his entire defence and midfield – seven players – after being hammered 4-1 by Atalanta in their first game back.
You would think that the bigger, better-equipped squad, making fewer changes, would have the advantage.
But logic goes out the window when these two teams meet. This was the first time Inter have conceded three in a Serie A home game since April 2018 against Juventus.
Inter have the third-best defensive record in the league, but Ciccio Caputo’s goal, clocked at 3:22, was the fastest they have conceded since Stefan De Vrij found his own net after 16 seconds against Fiorentina in February 2019.
No logic. We may well see Inter revert back to more measured displays after this, the latest reminder that nobody brings out the Pazza in Inter quite like Sassuolo.
But if Conte and Suning want to get rid of this maddening trait once and for all, the best they can hope for is that one of these years Sassuolo get relegated.
For the sake of Serie A, let’s hope that doesn’t happen any time soon. These games are too box office to lose.