With Inter going into the game off the back of a four-game winless streak, after the fantastic start they had, it was expected of them to cast Bologna aside and take three points. However, from the start, there were surprises in how the game developed. Firstly, Mancini left out Jovetic from the starting line-up, which was particularly strange with him having saying he needs game-time with Icardi to build up a connection. The movement of the front three – those two plus Perisic – has been a plus point for Inter at times in this campaign, but Bologna provided strong resistance to any sort of penetration by the away side from the start.
The majority of the attacking threat from the Nerazzurri, adorned in their luminous shade of yellow, came from the wings through Perisic and Ljajic. This was highlighted in the first ten minutes as the Croatian showed his pace by nipping past Massina but then not being able to get the cross in. This was a theme of the first half – not Perisic being able to beat his man, but the failure to provide any decent service into the box. Santon was available for an overlap on the right, but was used too little. The game became compacted in the middle inside Bologna’s half, as they effectively had a ‘screen’ of midfielders in front of the defence, and Inter couldn’t open up the opposition enough to expose space down the flanks. The home side probably had the edge – and formed one notable chance from a very good long ball, which Mounier failed to get on the end of. Mancini’s team looked flat, and in need of the creative threat and individual skill required to unlock the door – one in which Jovetic would presumably have been looking to provide had he been on the pitch.
Kondogbia was possibly Inter’s best player in the first half, whilst not doing anything spectacular, he demonstrated his ability on the ball, willingness to engage the opposition and mobility in moving up and down the centre of the pitch alongside Felipe Melo. However, as we’ve seen already this season, Kondogbia is prone to a booking, which he duly picked up just before half time. This restricted him in his role in centre-mid and put more reliance on Melo to be positionally aware… until the Brazilian got himself sent off. It was possibly harsh – good skill from Rizzo to pop the ball through his legs, and the Inter midfielder couldn’t, or wouldn’t, shift out of the way quickly enough. This changed the game completely. The problem with Melo’s red was that Mancini was looking like he was getting ready to bring on Jovetic, but had to alter his plans. As it happened, Bologna’s ‘screen’ broke down, and what was once an organised station of red defence became a mix with gaps opening up between the lines. This allowed Inter to move the ball infield more and stretch the home side’s midfield and defence around.
Inter’s goal came from two mistakes by the home side, which was unfortunate because they were still in with a chance of making it a really good game. Gastaldello misplaced a simple short pass which was picked up by Perisic and found its way to Brozovic. He played a ball through the middle which Ferrari let slip past to Ljajic, who was able to square for Icardi to tap in. Although the errors resulted in the goal, Bologna were surprisingly exposed for the first significant time in the match. Although the game was opening up, Mancini’s side may well have struggled to break the deadlock without that gift. From there though, credit must be given to Inter, as they played more freely and cohesively with ten men. I think this was partly due to Bologna’s lack of defensive rigidity compared to the first half, but also much more fluid movement and control of the game from the away side, who upped the tempo. Brozovic was looking, for 5 to 10 minutes or so, that he would be forced slightly deeper alongside Kondogbia after Melo’s dismissal, but never really needed to.
From about 75 minutes onwards, it was like the roles had been reversed from the first half. Inter had a wall of players lined up at the back, notably covering wide areas too, which made it difficult for Bologna to engineer any room to get crosses in from good positions. It forced the play narrow and made the spaces for the home side to operate in much smaller, becoming easier for them to close down the man on the ball and not get dragged out of position. Just prior to Inter’s retreat, Guarin was brought on to bulk up the midfield, although he didn’t always stay there. Throughout the game, although not tested greatly, Inter’s defence was solid. Ranocchia came in and defended his area effectively, particularly in the air, along with Miranda. Jesus looked comfortable out on the left, despite not looking to get forward much like Santon on the opposite flank, he covered his space very well providing good cover defensively and not being afraid to come out to meet the ball. However, the one time when a Bologna player got free in the box was the time when they should have made Inter pay – in injury time. The ball popped back up to Destro, who blazed it at Handanovic. It was a fine instinctive save, but the substitute six million pound striker knew he should have punished the away side and taken a point away which they will feel they probably deserved.
It was a pretty typical result for Inter in the end, with Bologna not proving to be the pushovers that their league position may suggest, and a familiar 1-0 scoreline. Mancini said after the game that he wanted much more from his side in the first half and that his front men became too isolated. The manager himself wasn’t away from the spotlight too much in the match, after a long conversation with the referee Luca Banti and ultimately a dismissal, presumably regarding the sending off of Felipe Melo. Aside from that, he can take away some positives – primarily being the performances of Kondogbia & Brozovic, the defence as a whole and the improvement in the second half. I suspect the starting lineup will look a bit refreshed going into the weekend game against Roma, where they will most likely need to see an improvement in a game that will give us a much clearer idea of their title credentials.