Inter-Empoli was set to be the match that decided few teams’ destiny in the final round and it did not disappoint from an entertainment standpoint, with the result hanging in the balance up until the final whistle and great end-to-end stuff throughout the contest.
The Biscione went into the contest looking for a win that would have kept Milan behind in the standings no matter what. The Azzuri needed a win to stay in front of Genoa and therefore in Serie A, but also a tie would have sufficed in case the Rossoblù did not got the three points in Florence.
Luciano Spalletti picked Mauro Icardi over Lautaro Martinez up front, while Matias Vecino partnered Marcelo Brozovic in the midfield and Stefan De Vrij returned in the back after missing time with a thigh pull. Aurelio Andreazzoli confirmed his recent XI, which could not include the injured Rade Krunic, again substituted by Afriyie Acquah.
The Nerazzurri were the aggressors in the first half, but Bartlomiej Dragrowski immediately commenced putting on a show with strong saves on Ivan Perisic and Brozovic’s long-range efforts and an otherworldly one-handed one on a point-blank De Vrij header on a corner kick.
The guests found some room on counter-attacks, but the first time he managed to shake free, Francesco Caputo hit the body of Samir Handanovic on a one-on-one. Dragowski again denied an attempt from downtown, coming from Kwadwo Asamoah.
Spalletti went to his bench at half time and replaced the Ghanaian left back with Balde Keita, moving Perisic to the back-line. The move paid off right away as the Senegalese striker broke the deadlock with a fantastic cross-shot from outside the box after dancing his way through defenders.
Mauro Icardi drew a penalty by pouncing on an errant back-pass and being tackled by the goalie, but it was saved by Dragowski.
The guests were revitalized by the turn of events and restarted pushing: Handanovic came out beautifully on a sprinting Diego Farias on the first chance, but they equalized on the second one. Giovanni Di Lorenzo and Salih Ucan interplayed on the right flank, the Turk sent in a terrific square ball from the base line that an uncovered Hamed Traorè nudged home on the far post.
The tie did not last for long though, as five minutes later Matias Vecino charged the box: his powerful strike hit the post, with Radja Nainggolan was clinical in his not-so-easy tap-in from angled position despite the empty net.
The game, however, was far from over, as Empoli did not go down without a fight and came inches close to knotting it up again on two occasions. In the first one, Di Lorenzo found Caputo behind the back-line, the striker tried to set up a wide-open teammate, but Danilo D’Ambrosio intervened with a last-second interception that bounced off the crossbar. In the second one, Ucan glided though centre-backs and arrived in front of Handanovic, but the goalkeeper again stopped the enemy with his figure on a tremendous coming out. On the subsequent action, Keita could have sealed the deal but Dragowski stepped up again.
Wild scenes in the stoppage time, when Empoli goalie went in the opponents’ box on a corner kick, but the ball trickled out to Brozovic, who started a solo fast-break and found the mark from midfield, but it was waived off because Keita tackled Dragowski who was trying to desperately recover his position. The attacker was booked for the second time. Handanovic easily saved the Tuscan side’s last-gasp, which was a pretty tame header by Diego Farias.
Inter ended the season in 4th position, qualifying to Champions League, while Empoli finished tied with Genoa but the head-to-head record was disadvantageous and therefore they returned in Serie B after just one season, despite showing a pleasing style all year long.
In the fantasy game, Nainggolan and Traore earned four points with their goals, Matteo Politano and Salih Ucan two for their assists. Same haul for Keita for his combinations of bonuses and maluses.
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