The temperature was below freezing but Alexis Sánchez kept shedding layers: first his match jersey and then his thermals, until he stood bare-chested under the Curva. It was as though he wanted everyone at San Siro to see him, to know he was still here, still in peak physical condition, still, as he described himself in a post-game interview, “a monster”.
He had delivered the evidence that Inter supporters really wanted moments before, when he muscled past Daniele Rugani on the edge of the Juventus six-yard box and swept the ball into the bottom corner of their goal. It was the deciding act of this year’s Supercoppa, putting his team 2-1 up in the 121st minute.
Here was the first trophy of Simone Inzaghi’s tenure as manager, confirmation of their status as Italian football’s top dog despite the departure of Antonio Conte last summer. They had not lifted this trophy since 2010, the year they won the treble. To reclaim it in such dramatic fashion, with the latest goal ever scored in this fixture and against the rival who dominated the decade in between, could only feel even sweeter.
It had been a nervous evening. Inter controlled the tempo, finishing with more than 60% of the possession and three times as many shots as their opponents. They played with the authority of a team that sits top of Serie A, boasting an 11-point advantage over Juventus as well as a game in hand.
Yet they also conceded the first goal and, even after equalising, were held in a stalemate for almost 90 minutes. Juventus were missing several starters – from Wojciech Szczęsny to Leonardo Bonucci, Juan Cuadrado and Federico Chiesa – but defended from the front with Federico Bernardeschi and Weston McKennie on the flanks behind Álvaro Morata. Dejan Kulusevski was assigned to get under Marcelo Brozovic’s feet in the middle.
It was McKennie who opened the scoring, converting Morata’s cross with a close-range header, but Juventus’s advantage was short-lived. Edin Dzeko got in front of Mattia De Sciglio, and the defender went through his heel. Lautaro Martínez converted the penalty.
Inter always seemed the likelier winners thereafter, but clear-cut chances were few and far between. Denzel Dumfries saw a header pushed on to the bar and Dzeko narrowly failed to apply a finish to a cross from the same player, but that was about it. Then Inzaghi made a surprising choice, substituting the Bosnian forward and Martínez together in the 75th minute, sending on Sánchez and Joaquín Correa.
If Inter had failed to win, this would have been cited as their manager’s great mistake. Dzeko has been integral to the team’s style under Inzaghi, his hold-up play and calm redistribution allowing the Nerazzurri to adapt away from the fast-break football they played under Conte to a more possession-based approach.
His withdrawal seemed to further blunt an Inter attack that was already struggling to carve out openings; Sánchez sent a header just wide from a corner at the start of extra-time, but that was it. Juventus were playing for penalties and as time ticked down, Bonucci stripped out of his tracksuit ready to come on and take one.
But Sánchez scored before the Juventus defender could make it to the pitch. A share of the credit belonged to Matteo Darmian, who pounced to intercept after Federico Dimarco’s cross was chested awkwardly by Juventus’s Alex Sandro. The ball looped up over Giorgio Chiellini and Sánchez was on it in a flash, finishing at the near post.
It was a goal to vindicate a player who feels he has been underused at Inter, starting only four Serie A games this season. “This is how champions are,” he told his Mediaset interviewer at full-time. “Champions do things that others don’t. The more that champions play, the better they are … I am like a lion in a cage, if they let me play I am a monster.”
Time will tell whether this moment can be a turning point. Sánchez’s contract runs to 2023, but it contains a clause allowing the club to buy him out for around €4m this summer. Previous reports in Milan suggested that they were strongly considering the option. More goals like this one may provoke a rethink.
Either way, he has written his name into club history. The Supercoppa might not be the most important piece of silverware that Inter were aiming for this season but it was the first piece available. Claiming it was an important step for a team that is at once starting a new cycle under Inzaghi and seeking to build on what they achieved under Conte: proving that their first Scudetto in 11 years was no fluke.
It is easy to forget now, but few people had them listed as favourites to win anything in the summer. The departures of Conte, Romelu Lukaku and Achraf Hakimi were widely perceived as the dismantling of a project. Massimiliano Allegri’s return to Juventus, meanwhile, was expected to restore the Bianconeri as frontrunners.
The Supercoppa confirmed what we have learned since: that Inzaghi was an inspired appointment, capable of not just maintaining Inter but evolving them into something different. Only a prisoner of the moment could perceive Dzeko as a stronger option up front than Lukaku, Serie A’s second-highest scorer and assist provider last season, but the manager has adapted his team to get the very best out of the Bosnian as well as others around him: Hakan Calhanoglu has thrived since arriving from Milan and at 32, Ivan Perisic looks the sharpest he has in years.
Greater tests lie ahead. Inzaghi won the Supercoppa twice at Lazio, too, as well as a Coppa Italia. Wednesday’s win made him the first manager ever to beat Juventus in three finals, but he would not have walked away from his beloved Biancocelesti last summer for anything less than the pursuit of a Serie A title.
Still, Wednesday’s game mattered. You could see it in Sánchez’s celebration and the impotent fury of Bonucci, launching himself into a physical confrontation with Inter’s team secretary, Cristiano Mozzillo, on the touchline. You could hear it in Inzaghi’s own voice, cracking and failing in post-game interviews after a night of too much yelling.
“We wanted this trophy,” he said, reminding his interviewer of the 11-year gap since Inter last won it. “That’s too long,” he insisted, “for a team with so much potential.”