“This splendid night will give the colours to our coat of arms: black and blue against the gold background of the stars. It will be called Internazionale, because we are brothers of the world.”
113 years on from Inter’s split with AC Milan to form a club tolerant of any nationality, their latest coach may well have been cursing his new side’s cosmopolitan leaning when he waved goodbye to more than a dozen of his squad jet-setting across the globe for the October international break.
Naturally, Simone Inzaghi’s disposition won’t have been improved by witnessing his weary players cede a first half lead and slump to a 3-1 defeat against his former side, Lazio, on Saturday evening.
In total, Inter’s 15 internationals racked up 31 appearances and more than 2,500 minutes of football for their respective countries over the past fortnight – Lazio, by comparison, could only muster nine caps between them.
12 minutes in there seemed little rust in the cogs of what had been a reliably prolific scoring machine for Inter. Nicolo Barella won’t earn a sixth Serie A assist by making a trademark dart into the area before tumbling under faint contact from Elseid Hysaj, but it did win the penalty which Ivan Perisic converted to give Inter the lead.
Untethered from his normal post patrolling the left flank from wing-back, Perisic was afforded a rare starting berth at the sharp end of the pitch thanks to Lautaro Martinez’s international commitments. Shortly after 2am on Friday morning by Italian clocks, Inter’s number ten scored Argentina’s only goal against Peru, almost 7,000 miles away in Buenos Aires.
While clubs with South American internationals in La Liga, for instance, were granted a week off to allow their full contingent a chance for their ears to pop after the cabin pressure, Lautaro was swiftly thrust onto Inter’s bench for the trip to Italy’s capital.
In the absence of last season’s top scorer (and the team’s most prolific provider of assists) Romelu Lukaku, Lautaro has revelled in an enhanced role. Five goals from his first six Serie A games not only reflects his best start to an Italian campaign but also reflects a healthy bump in his underlying numbers – having averaged a highly respectable 0.53 non-penalty expected goals (xG) per 90 minutes last season, Lautaro is clocking in at an unearthly 0.96 (per UnderStat) this term.
Any team robbed of an attacking threat that potent is going to struggle. However, Inter were able to start their Argentine after a similarly laborious international break in September, yet still dropped points against a middling-to-poor Sampdoria (despite Lautaro’s goal).
Inter took the lead (twice) against Samp yet stuttered to a 2-2 draw with a sterile second half display they did their best to replicate against Lazio. The Nerazzurri – who came into the game on the back of 12 consecutive league matches with at least two goals scored – struggled to carve open any opportunities of note in open play.
In particular, after the interval Inter scrounged together just five shots worth a measly 0.26 xG according to FotMob – Lazio, contrastingly, saved their best thrust for the second half, taking advantage of Inter’s slipping grip on the contest.
Post-game, Inzaghi lamented Inter’s inability to see out a 1-0 lead they still held an hour into the match, telling DAZN (via Football Italia). “All the goals we conceded were avoidable. We should at least have tried to bring home a draw after going behind, not lose our heads like that.”
Bringing his players rather than the three points back home will be Inzaghi’s immediate concern in the wake of their first Serie A defeat of the season. However, Inter have only just embarked on a sickening sequence of seven games in the space of 22 days. The listless approach Inzaghi’s side took to the first of this gruelling schedule doesn’t exactly bode well for the already weary boys in black and blue.