Well, that’s another 90 minutes done and dusted, and another three points for Antonio Conte and his ruthless Inter machine.
The 2-0 victory over Crotone was everything we’ve come to expect from I Nerazzurri over the past two months, ever since they leapfrogged rivals Milan to reach the Serie A summit.
They were defensively immaculate, dominant in midfield and clinical up top. Devastating efficiency, and peak Conte-ball. It has to be said though, it’s a far cry from the calcio they were producing at the beginning of the season.
Having kicked off the campaign with a 5-2 win and then a 4-3 success in their opening two matches, Inter went on to score three or more goals on 11 occasions, including a massive 6-2 victory over Crotone at San Siro.
This time round, it was a much more measured, calculated and assured display from Conte’s men, who have happily accepted the pressures and consequences that come with leading the pack heading into the final weeks of the season.
Since the beginning of March, Inter have gone into power saving mode. Conte has reined them in offensively, cutting back on the expansive style and taking far fewer risks all over the pitch.
Now it’s all about efficiency. Get a goal, and defend it with your life. If you concede, go and get another when it’s safe and possible, but do not lose. Since their back-to-back 3-0 victories over Milan and Genoa in February, which saw them consolidate their place at the top of the table, Inter have not scored more than two in any game.
That’s a run stretching back 10 games, following Saturday’s victory over Crotone. In those 10 matches, I Nerazzurri have won seven games by a single goal margin, drawing 1-1 on two occasions. It’s a safety first approach, and it’s not particularly attractive, but it is extremely effective.
Those strict measures were key to win over Crotone, allowing the hosts so few chances over the 90 minutes, every now and again edging out of their shell to try and land the killer punch.
Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez both tried their luck in the first half, with the Belgian hitting the post with a header from a corner, and the Argentine bringing the same outcome with his shot from the edge of the box.
In the end, three goals weren’t needed. Once again, Conte’s incredible squad depth and ability to shuffle the pack came up trumps, as substitute Christian Eriksen came on and fired home from the edge of the area to send Nerazzurri supporters into delirium.
From that moment, it was time to shut up shop, lock the front and back doors and barricade the windows. It may not have been glamorous or bold, but it was wise and pragmatic by Conte. And for the first time in 10 matches, they did win a game by two clear goals, as Achraf Hakimi tucked home to round off a blistering counter.
That’s not to say Inter haven’t been entertaining at all. Far from it. The two goals against Crotone were numbers 73 and 74 in Serie A this season, making them the second-most prolific team in Italy behind Atalanta.
But thanks to Conte’s change to a miserly and minimalist approach, Inter are now on the cusp of a first league title in over a decade, and that counts for more than any other quantitative metric. Now, it’s time for cold, hard facts.
Sitting 14 points ahead with only 15 on offer for the chasing pack, it looks as if the switch to substance over style is yet another masterstroke from one of the game’s best coaches.