For the first time in months, Inter players set foot on the pitch at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on Tuesday night feeling the kind of pressure that could have crushed them, as has happened in the past. Instead, they claimed a vital win.
In fact, almost one year has passed since the Nerazzurri hosted Shakhtar Donetsk in the 2020/21 Champions League group stage, needing a win to stay in the competition against an opponent they had defeated 5-0 in the Europa League semi-final just a few months earlier.
Yet, despite a number of clear chances, they couldn’t even score one on that night and were sent packing from European competition as the fourth-placed side in their group.
Inter’s signs of mental fragility
From there, then-coach Antonio Conte used the disappointment as fuel in order to build a machine-like team that started collecting one victory after another, slowly crafting a self-awareness that a title-winning Inter seemed to have brought into the new season.
Instead, following their recent loss at Lazio which cast many doubts in terms of mental strength, the Biscione faced a dilemma that has been recurring for some seasons now, having to defeat their own fears before Sheriff Tiraspol, a tricky rival who had already stunned Shakhtar and Real Madrid in their surprising debut Champions League campaign.
The game had everything it needed to prove to be slippery ground for Simone Inzaghi’s men, especially after Denzel Dumfries and Edin Dzeko wasted two early chances which would’ve given Inter an immediate lead, pushing all worries away.
Despite that, the Nerazzurri put the fearful approach that cost them dearly in the past aside, rather showcasing calmness and patience, which allowed them to gradually take control of the game, forcing Sheriff to reconsider their lively style of play.
The weight of experience
Following a decent first-half, marked by Edin Dzeko’s lead, the sudden equaliser scored by Sebastien Thill could have easily sparked panic in a side that had only collected five wins from their previous 20 Champions League games. Instead, quite surprisingly, the Nerazzurri were able to produce an immediate reaction, relying on their most experienced players such as Arturo Vidal and Stefan de Vrij.
The confidence that they put on display made the quality gap between the two sides evident, making the encounter look easier than it actually was for an outfit that have historically shown a penchant for self-destruction.
While it’s too early to say whether Inter have retained the same strong mentality they’ve built under Antonio Conte, as tougher opponents will come and they’ll face mounting pressure, it’s fair to say that the Nerazzurri held their nerves at the first crossroads of their season – it may not seem a great deal, but it’s already a step forward in comparison with their previous seasons.