STADIO GIUSEPPE MEAZZA (Milan) – Nobody knows how to make their fans sweat and suffer quite like Inter do. The Nerazzurri were at their most frustrating again on Wednesday evening as they made life complicated for themselves before taking a two-goal lead and, in the end, holding on for a comfortable 2-0 win over Shakhtar Donetsk.
The Champions League has seen the very worst of the Nerazzurri in recent seasons. Now, though, for the first time in a decade, they’ll be playing in the competition’s knockout rounds having fallen short of advancing from consecutive group stages under Antonio Conte. Real Madrid’s 3-0 win over Sheriff confirmed Inter’s progression on Wednesday.
? #UCL pod! ???? With one round of group games left, each of Italy’s four sides could be in the Champions League knockout rounds, as #Atalanta and #Milan still have hope of following #Inter and #Juventus through.
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But now the Italian champions look to have evolved, though they’re still far from being as comfortable as they might have expected to be in Europe by now. Inzaghi has, though, managed to do something that Conte couldn’t – the ex-Lazio boss has guided Inter to three Champions League wins in a single season for the first time since 2011/12.
Inter need to be more ruthless
The possession statistics show that Roberto De Zerbi’s Shakhtar had more of the ball at the Meazza on Wednesday, but the Nerazzurri never really looked troubled other than when faced with the occasional first-half counterattack.
If anything was to be Inter’s undoing it was always likely to be themselves. They passed up an almost countless number of chances in the opening 45 minutes and everyone in attendance was left scratching their heads at half time, wondering how the. game was still goalless.
As many as 15 shots came and went without finding the net – Ivan Perisic‘s offside finish not included – which took Inter’s tally of first-half shots in this season’s Champions League to 62. Astonishingly, they have only netted one of those. As highlighted by Opta, only Dinamo Kiev have scored fewer first-half goals in this season’s competition, and that’s with just 16 shots.
Edin Dzeko did manage to net just after the hour mark before doing so again six minutes later to kill the game off, but the No.9 was more guilty than anyone of passing up opportunities in the first half. Dzeko has now scored each of his last nine Champions League goals at home, but he’ll be hoping to bag some in the first half if Inter are to have a chance of advancing beyond the Round of 16 this season.
All eyes on Perisic
Ivan Perisic dominated his left flank again for Inter, and Simone Inzaghi might have been thinking about Antonio Conte while watching on from the sidelines on Wednesday evening, as he continues to benefit from his predecessor’s work at developing Perisic into an unlikely wing-back.
What will come as a concern for Inzaghi and Inter is that Perisic’s contract – as well as that of Marcelo Brozovic – will expire at the end of the current season, meaning he’ll be allowed to talk to clubs from January 1 to agree a free transfer for next summer, putting Inter in a tricky situation this winter.
If they can’t reach an agreement to extend Perisic’s deal, they may be forced to sell him for a reduced fee in January in order to get something for him and to avoid losing him for free.
Federico Dimarco has been lined up to be the next long-term solution on Inter’s left, but with Perisic enjoying the best form of his Inter career under Inzaghi, few in Milan will want to see him walk away next summer, particularly for nothing in return.
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