Internazionale 2-1 RB Salzburg: Çalhanoğlu fires home the winner as Inter Milan secure top spot in Group D

On the winning side in eight of their last nine encounters against Austrian opponents across all competitions, Simone Inzaghi omitted Nicolò Barella, Marcus Thuram and Francesco Acerbi et al from his Inter Milan starting lineup on Tuesday – possibly with one eye already on the Nerazzurri’s highly-anticipated Serie A match with José Mourinho’s AS Roma on Sunday.

On the other hand, Red Bull Salzburg have never beaten Italian opposition in the UEFA Champions League – prompting manager Gerhard Struber to recall Danish duo Mads Bidstrup and Maurits Kjærgaard to Red Bull’s midfield machine after leaving the pair out of the weekend’s eleven that was overturned in front of their supporters by LASK.

INT: Sommer; Pavard, de Vrij, Bastoni; Dumfries, Frattesi, Çalhanoğlu, Mkhitaryan, Augusto; Martínez, Sánchez

SAL: Schlager; Dedić, Solet, Pavlović, Ulmer; Gourna-Douath, Bidstrup, Kjærgaard, Sučić; Gloukh, Šimić

Seeking to become the first-ever Austrian side to emerge victorious in a UEFA Champions League encounter against the backdrop of the San Siro, Red Bull began positively in their record-breaking pursuit as Oscar Gloukh’s instinctive effort forced a smart stop from Yann Sommer. 

However, against the early run of transitional attacking play, Inter would break the deadlock shortly after the fifteen minute mark as two of five players – Davide Frattesi and Alexis Sánchez – restored to the Nerazzurri’s starting eleven clinically combined in the penalty area, which allowed the latter to exquisitely lift the ball over Alexander Schlager into the far corner.

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Nonetheless, that turned out to be the sole significant goalscoring opportunity to conclude a somewhat scrappy first half between the two sides battling it out for the top spot in Group D.

Victorious against Benfica on Portuguese soil in their opening match of the 2023/24 Champions League campaign, Salzburg took a step towards registering their maiden consecutive away-day successes in the competition as Gloukh unleashed a stunning strike past Sommer into the top corner to cap off a scintillating sweeping move in and around the penalty area.

Heartbreakingly, the visitors would only be back on level terms for seven minutes, as Hakan Çalhanoğlu restored Inter’s lead from the penalty spot – following a prolonged VAR review – after Frattesi had drawn a poor challenge from Lucas Gourna-Douath.

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Inter should then have confirmed all three points, and subsequently secure their temporary position at the summit of the group ahead of Real Sociedad’s match with Benfica, but Monza loanee Carlos Augusto could only manufacture an authoritative header straight down the throat of Schlager.

Despite having a goal controversially ruled out, as Lautaro Martínez was denied a spot on the scoresheet after being adjudged by the footballing gods to have strayed marginally offside in the build-up prior to firing Frattesi’s fantastic defence-splitting through-ball into the back of the net, Inter remained in the ascendancy to celebrate extending their unbeaten UCL record in the San Siro to seven matches. Meanwhile, despite succumbing to their second defeat in this year’s competition, Salzburg still hold a very realistic chance of progressing through to the knockout stages.