Very rarely do matches have so much at stake, especially in Serie A, where Juventus have dominated the top of the table for the past decade. However, Lazio took on Inter at the Stadio Olimpico in Matchday 24, and with both clubs within striking distance of an inconsistent Bianconeri side, the winner of this match would see themselves as Scudetto favorites alongside the Old Lady.
Lazio vs Inter: First Half
For most of the first half, there was little to separate the two sides. As always, Lazio’s midfield trio of Lucas Leiva, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, and Luis Alberto was able to provide a blanket of protection and attacking potential for the Biancocelesti. The best chance for Le Aquile came when Sergej took a shot outside the 18. The ball swerved towards the goal; had it been a few centimeters lower, the Serbian would have undoubtedly put Lazio up 1-0. The ball, however, hit the crossbar.
There were other quality chances, Luis Alberto brilliantly set up Ciro Immobile, but the striker sent the ball flying over the net. There were a few chances for Inter early on as well. While Lazio kept their shape pretty well, Inter were at times able to break down the Biancocelesti, one such counter-attack lead by Marcelo Brozovic gave a golden opportunity to Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian striker’s shot, while strong, was stopped by goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha.
The stalemate was broken in the 44th minute when a shot deflected by Strakosha found its way to the feet of Ashley Young, who gave Inter the lead right before the end of the half. Young has been Inter’s surprise talisman. He was able to take advantage of Lazio’s lack of quality on the wings. Adam Marusic performed well in the first half but was unable to properly defend Young when the former Manchester United captain opened the scoring.
On the left flank, Jony has been unable to match injured captain Senad Lulic’s defensive ability. The Spaniard’s attacking contributions in the first half went nowhere, and on the defensive side of the ball, Inter were able to constantly take advantage of him when starting attacks. At the end of the first half, Lazio was still in the game, but the serendipitous attacks from Luis Alberto and Sergej needed to manifest themselves with more consistency, and Marusic would need to find a way to stop Ashley Young.
Lazio vs Inter: Second Half
It was in the second half where Lazio truly started playing like the best team in Italy. A penalty in the 50th helped. Goalkeeper Diego Padelli tripped over his own defender, and then Stefan de Vrij fouled Ciro Immobile in the box. Ciro Immobile was calm as ever from the spot, leveling up the match at 1-1.
It was not until the two substitutions where Lazio truly took control of the match. Joaquin Correa came on for Felipe Caicedo, who did little to inspire attack against Inter. More importantly, however, Manuel Lazzari replaced a struggling Jony. Lazzari provided the defensive stability needed on the wing.
The breakthrough came in minute 69 for Lazio. A corner from Luis Alberto fell to Marusic, who fired a shot that was miraculously blocked by Brozovic. This should have been the end of the attack, has Inter’s defense was well put together. However, Sergej, who has constantly show his composure under pressure this season, placed a shot perfectly in the bottom left corner of the net. Even with three Inter defenders on him, he was able to put the ball exactly where it needed to go. This put Lazio up 2-1.
After the second Lazio goal, Inter could do little to pressure Le Aquile, even with the addition of Christian Eriksen. One of the few bright spots for the Nerazzurri was Ashley Young, who had a phenomenal game. Pretty much all of Inter’s best attacks went through Young, though little would come from this, mostly because Lautaro Martinez looked out of sync for most of the 90 minutes. This lack of a final product would be Inter’s demise. Lukaku provided a few promising moments, but many of these were thwarted by Strakosha and Francesco Acerbi. Acerbi again was phenomenal against Inter. As he has all season, he came in at the last moment to stop Inter’s best chances.
Francesco Acerbi, Luis Alberto, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, and Ciro Immobile are world-class. This cannot be stated enough. They are players that make momentum seem useless for the opposition. This match was defined by the moments of magic from these four. Acerbi stopped chances that were destined for the back of the net out of nowhere. Sergej scored the winning goal in front of a wall of black shirts, he controlled the game by himself. Luis Alberto started attacks from nothing, he was incredibly unlucky not to get at least one assist. Immobile was as dangerous as ever, now having scored 26 goals in 25 matches.
Inter played with quality. They were able to break down a solid defense on multiple occasions. They were able to take advantage of Lazio’s weak points and scored because of it. Lazio, however, played with magic. They scored goals, thwarted chances, and stopped shots that defied all logic. It was because of this that Lazio came out on top, and now Le Aquile see themselves clear in second place only one point behind Juventus, and for the first time in 20 years, the Scudetto is clearly in sight for Lazio.