Inter survived a tricky first half before a Lautaro Martinez’s masterclass helped the hosts to wrap a spectacular 6-2 win over Crotone at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza in the first Serie A game of 2021.
The Argentine had already scored once in the first half, when the breakthrough from Niccolo Zanellato, a Luca Marrone’s own-goal and a penalty netted by Arkadiusz Reka meant the two sides were level after 45 minutes. However, Inter were much more determined in the second stanza, with Lautaro, Romelu Lukaku and Achraf Hakimi all contributing to the Biscione 8th consecutive win in Serie A.
Those two second half goals marked Lautaro’s first ever hat-trick for Inter as they move top of Serie A, temporarily at least, with city rivals AC Milan playing later in the day.
Crotone made their game plan clear from the opening minutes, keeping their lines compact and high as Inter moved the ball, with the away side ready to win possession back and quickly attack the Nerazzurri goal.
The Pitagorici’s top scorer Junior Messias played a pivotal role in such strategy, as he showed when he was able to run past a couple of players before a perfectly timed slide tackle by Alessandro Bastoni blocked his dangerous right-footed attempt.
There was not even time for Inter to recover from that early scare, as the visitors took a quick corner allowing Messias to put in a precise cross that Niccolo Zanellato, a former AC Milan youth, headed in at the far post.
Shouts of nervousness shook the empty stadium as it looked evident that Crotone’s brave and aggressive attitude had caught the Nerazzurri unprepared. The visitors blew another major chance a few minutes later, as Messias produced another impressive run.
However, it took Inter a single moment of brilliance to even the score. Romelu Lukaku’s delightful assist was picked up by Lautaro Martinez, who shrugged off his marker before beating Alex Cordaz.
The equaliser was followed by a number of opportunities for the hosts, who eventually capitalised on Crotone’s defensive fragility seconds after the half hour mark through a Luca Marrone own goal, as the defender sent the ball into his own net in a desperate attempt to block a Nicolo Barella pass to Lautaro.
The turnaround should have brought confidence and calm to Inter, but Arturo Vidal further added to a roller-coaster first half, as his foul on Arkadiusz Reca was punished with a penalty after a VAR review, allowing centre-back Vladimir Golemic to equalise from the spot.
Antonio Conte made no secret of his discontent towards Vidal, opting to replace the Chilean midfielder with Stefano Sensi at the break.
Once again, it was Crotone who posed the initial threat in the second half, but Emmanuel Riviere’s strike from good position flashed over the bar.
All the visitors’ efforts were cancelled out in the space of less than 10 minutes as Inter most inspired players took the spotlight. A clever back-heel from Lukaku gave Marcelo Brozovic time and space to tee up Lautaro, who showed composure in front of goal by scoring his second of the day.
The Belgian striker rounded off the scoring a few moments later, latching onto a Bastoni’s long ball before outmuscling Sebastiano Luperto and adding a fourth for the Nerazzurri, his 50th in the Inter’s shirt in all competitions.
Lautaro Martinez completed a hat-trick in the closing minutes, but there was still time for Achraf Hakimi to put a sixth past Cordaz.