Inter’s expensively assembled squad were dealt a heavy dose of reality in a 1-0 defeat at Sassuolo in their Serie A season opener on Sunday.
Plenty is expected of Luciano Spalletti’s side following an influx of fresh faces but they appeared disjointed against a team that finished seven places below them last season.
Punishment came in the shape of Domenico Berardi’s 27th-minute penalty and it was all a counter-attacking Sassuolo needed to notch a seventh victory in 11 league meetings between the pair.
The Nerazzurri’s highly anticipated attacking partnership of Mauro Icardi and Lautaro Martinez failed to threaten, with the injured Radja Nainggolan sure to be rushed back as soon as possible to shore up an unsteady midfield.
Spalletti’s decision to name four new signings in his starting XI came at the cost of early organisation with only Samir Handanovic’s outstretched left boot preventing Mehdi Bourabia from netting a third-minute opener.
The hosts did not have to wait long for a deserved lead, though, as Berardi converted from the spot in the 27th minute, Miranda having clumsily bundled over Federico Di Francesco.
Ivan Perisic stepped off the bench at the break but it was Matteo Politano who looked the most likely to conjure an equaliser against his former side, the winger flashing a fierce drive across the face on the hour.
Clearer chances soon came at both ends with Kevin Prince-Boateng brushing the outside of the near post with a clever first-time effort, before Icardi side-footed a low Perisic cross over the bar.
Stefan de Vrij threatened to snatch a point in stoppage time, but his header from Politano’s delivery was impressively parried by Andrea Consigli as Sassuolo clung on.
3 – Domenico #Berardi has scored 3 goals in his two 2018/19 games played (Serie A and Coppa Italia). Reborn. #SassuoloInter
— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) August 19, 2018
What does it mean: Too soon for title talk
The early evidence suggests a developing Inter are, understandably, some way short of the finished article. Napoli were excellent last season and still finished four points shy of champions Juventus, who have only strengthened further over the off-season. Inter, with a 23-point gap to bridge, cannot yet be considered genuine Scudetto contenders.
Pat on the back: Duncan the driving force
Compact and disciplined from front to back, Sassuolo were richly deserving of three points. Their tireless efforts to squeeze the space in midfield were led ably by Alfred Duncan, who made numerous interceptions and provided necessary energy going forward.
Boot up the backside: Brozovic in the bad books
Spalletti undoubtedly wanted a Croatian in his midfield come the start of the season, but Marcelo Brozovic was perhaps not the player he had in mind. The 25-year-old was too often ponderous in possession, with his turnovers in the early exchanges regularly exposing Inter’s high line.
Inter head back to Milan for a meeting with Torino next Sunday, while Sassuolo visit Cagliari.
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