Inter faltered once more in their bid to regain the Serie A title as they were held to a 1-1 draw away at Lecce on Sunday afternoon.
Despite the hosts setting up with a deep back five and a compact midfield three, they weren’t afraid to commit men forward in transition early on and they spurned a great chance to take the lead – Marco Mancosu, Lecce’s leading scorer this season, blazing his close-range effort horribly wide.
After Lecce had frustrated Antonio Conte’s men in the opening 20 minutes, Inter started to have more joy in the attacking third and they should’ve taken the lead through Marcelo Brozovic on two occasions, but a combination of the post and Lecce shot-stopper Gabriel kept out the Croatian after he’d linked up well with Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez respectively.
As the Nerazzuri continued to probe, it looked like they were dealt a sucker punch on the stroke of half time with Stefano Sensi penalised for handling inside the area. However, after another look at the incident via the pitchside monitor, referee Piero Giacomelli decided to overturn his original decision.
The home side started the second half brightly going forward and their rearguard action defensively continued to frustrate Conte’s Scudetto chasers.
The visitors were eventually rewarded for their relentless pressure, however, as substitute Alessandro Bastoni headed home emphatically from a wonderful Cristiano Biraghi cross from the left.
Lecce struck an equaliser soon after, though, as Mancosu atoned for his earlier miss by tapping home expertly on the volley from Zan Majer’s cross from the left after the initial break looked to have broken down.
Inter continued to dominate territorially while Lecce remained a threat in transition, but after Filippo Falco struck his free kick against the post with ten minutes to go, neither side were able to create anything clear-cut as Inter were forced to settle for yet another draw.
Starting XI: Gabriel (8); Rispoli (6), Dell’Orco (6), Lucioni (8), Rossetini (8), Donati (5); Deiola (6), Petrioccione (8), Mancosu (7); Lapadula (6), Babacar (7).
Subs: Majer (7), Falco (6), Meccariello (6).
Key Talking Point
Inter’s indifferent recent form in Serie A continues, as they’ve now drawn three of their last five league outings and could be five points adrift of Juventus by Monday morning in the race for the Scudetto.
While they dominated throughout, the Nerazzurri often lacked penetration and creativity in the final third – failing to regularly trouble Gabriel in the Lecce net. Both Sensi and Nicolo Barella are yet to reach the heights of their pre-injury form and until they find their groove, Conte will continue to rely on individual brilliance from his front two – something that we didn’t see in this game.
Out of possession, we didn’t see the typical high and intense Conte press as Lecce often played out of the back with relative ease. When Inter did press high, their midfielders were often bypassed, creating a huge gap between defence and midfield – making them vulnerable to the Lecce counter.
Another worrying performance for Conte, who will certainly feel the urgent need to strengthen his squad this month if they are to compete with Juve and Lazio for the remainder of the season.
Starting XI: Handanovic (6); Godin (7), De Vrij (7), Skriniar (6); Candreva (5), Barella (5), Brozovic (6), Sensi (6), Biraghi (6); Lautaro (6), Lukaku (7*).
Subs: Bastoni (7), Sanchez (5), Valero (6).
On what was a disappointing afternoon for the Nerazzurri, Romelu Lukaku enjoyed another fine display amid his excellent run of form.
While he wasn’t able to get on the scoresheet, the Belgian proved a difficult proposition for the impressive Lecce backline as his ability to play with his back to goal was almost impossible to stop.
He created a couple of chances for his strike partner Lautaro with some tidy work of one and two touches while he set up Brozovic for a glorious chance in the opening half – holding the ball up brilliantly in the Lecce box before completing the one-two with the onrushing Croatian.
It was another game where Lukaku’s superb ‘target man’ skill set was on full display.
Inter take on Cagliari – a side they beat 4-1 in the Coppa Italia last week – next Sunday in Serie A while Lecce travel to Verona to take on Italy’s surprise package from the first half of the campaign.