STADIO GIUSEPPE MEAZZA (Milan) – Only Inter and Napoli were victorious of Serie A’s top four in Matchday 18, with the Nerazzurri defeating Verona 1-0 to earn their fifth consecutive home win in the league.
The Nerazzurri took full advantage of slip-ups from AC Milan and Juventus to move one point behind their city rivals in second, although they did it in an unconvincing fashion, with the early opener from Lautaro Martinez being the only real chance in a match that saw the visitors muster their first – and only – shot on target after 70 minutes.
Early, Inter seemed content with sitting back and waiting for Verona to come at them in search of an equaliser, in a style that could have reminded Massimiliano Allegri‘s much criticised Juventus.
One could argue that this could be a new trademark for Inter – after all, they came out on top of Napoli by scoring with their only shot on target of the match although, rather paradoxically, they created many more clear-cut chances on that occasion.
Onana helped Inter rediscover home solidity
A narrow 1-0 win should be welcomed as nothing but a positive signal for a side that have been dealing with the opposite issue in recent months, conceding 24 goals from 18 games, which has made them the most vulnerable backline in Serie A’s top 10, alongside Fiorentina.
While Inter’s recent 2-2 draw at Monza suggests it may be too soon to identify a clear trend, it is evident how their overall solidity has improved, at least when they play at the Meazza.
This improvement has happened since the changing of the guard took place between the posts. The Nerazzurri last dropped points at home in Serie A back in October in a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Roma, with Samir Handanovic starting in goal.
From that moment, Andre Onana has made the position his own and left the veteran to watch on from the bench, which appeared enough to tighten up, as Inter managed to keep four clean sheets from their following five home Serie A fixtures. There were also 1-0 and 4-0 wins in the Champions League against Barcelona and Viktoria Plzen respectively.
In fact, the ability to seal all three points by playing ugly at times, as they did against Verona, could be far from bad news for Simone Inzaghi‘s men, as their obligation to always win in a more entertaining fashion was almost becoming a problem for them, especially when not backed up by a solid rearguard.
Lautaro Martinez has found his shooting boots again
But the new year also seems to have brought the right amount of cynicism for the Biscione, suggesting that they often need a few chances to hurt their opponents and clinch a win when they manage not to concede.
Such sparks are increasingly coming from World Cup hero Lautaro Martinez, who took less than three minutes to find the net against the Gialloblu, scoring his sixth goal from his last eight Serie A starts, also delivering two assists in the process.
But it’s not just about the stats – since he came back from the tournament, Lautaro started looking livelier and more charismatic, often being the first player to lead the team’s pressure with his tireless runs.
Unlike in the past, a single moment of brilliance looks enough for him to be decisive, as he proved against both Parma and Verona, two games that could have gone the opposite way without his contribution.
After drawing much criticism for his lack of consistency, especially against the toughest opponents, the 25-year-old is now presented with the chance to prove he’s the leader the Nerazzurri can rely on in the absence of Romelu Lukaku.
If Inter can couple their defensive improvements and meanness with the ability to play offensive football that they have shown in the past, then their hopes to turn an apparently disappointing season into an exciting one could, somehow, still be alive.