Inter were brought crashing back down to earth after their Supercoppa Italiana win as they were deservedly defeated 1-0 by Empoli at San Siro on Monday.
Simone Inzaghi's side looked to be set for a big second half to the season after dismantling champions and rivals Milan in Saudi Arabia last week.
But the Nerazzurri's return to action in Serie A saw them completely out of sorts and beaten by teenager Tommaso Baldanzi's goal following a first-half red card for Milan Skriniar.
Defeats such as these may not now cost Inter in the race for Champions League qualification due to Juventus' points deduction, but any remote title hopes appear to have been quickly quashed.
Skriniar's dismissal epitomised an erratic first half from Inter, who could have trailed early on as Andre Onana saved unconvincingly from Nicolo Cambiaghi before Henrikh Mkhitaryan escaped punishment from the subsequent corner when his high boot caught Francesco Caputo's head.
Caputo continued in a bandage while Inter threatened only through Federico Dimarco, who had a volley well saved and also squared for Lautaro Martinez to stab awkwardly wide.
Skriniar, already booked, then became the second Inter man to kick Caputo in the head, and this time the foul was spotted by referee Antonio Rapuano, leading to his dismissal.
Inter showed precious little improvement after half-time and trailed when Onana, whose shaky showing had included another unorthodox stop, was beaten by a Baldanzi shot that was straight at him.
Stefan de Vrij headed against the post from inside the six-yard box but Inter proved as unimaginative in attack as they had been hapless at the back in a frustrating finale.
What does it mean? Inter deservedly dealt rare defeat
Empoli had only once previously won away at Inter in Serie A, with that sole victory coming back in 2006. It might be tough to recall too many more disappointing Nerazzurri displays than this one in the intervening years, though.
Inter could not say they had not been warned when Baldanzi scored with Empoli's eighth shot on target, but Inzaghi's men – already without Skriniar – then completely lost their cool, costing them any opportunity to get back into the match.
An irate Nicolo Barella was substituted as he also threatened to earn a second yellow card, meaning one of the players most capable of breaking down Empoli watched from the bench as his team-mates struggled through to full-time.
Oh no, Onana
Onana has won the starting jersey at Inter, but he still has not convinced. According to expected goals on target (xGOT) data, he has conceded 1.4 more goals than expected this season.
This was another example of Onana letting Inter down in that regard. Although he faced eight shots on target, his most in a Serie A match, those attempts had a combined value of 0.5 xGOT. He should not really have conceded from any of them – and especially not the one that did creep in.
Baldanzi was introduced as a substitute just 114 seconds before he benefited from that Onana error to score his fourth goal of the season. It was the third-fastest goal by a sub in Serie A this term.
In netting, the 19-year-old became the third-youngest player in Europe's top five leagues to score four this season – behind Borussia Dortmund pair Youssoufa Moukoko and Jude Bellingham.
Key Opta facts
- Tommaso Baldanzi is one of two players, along with Nicola Pozzi, to have scored at least four goals with Empoli in Serie A before turning 20.
- Prior to Milan Skriniar, the last Inter player to receive a first-half red card in Serie A was Matias Vecino in April 2018 v Juventus.
- Empoli have won two games in a row without conceding a goal for the first time since December 2015.
- Since his Serie A debut (April 2016), only Kalidou Koulibaly, Gabriel Paletta and Juraj Kucka (all with five) have received more red cards than Milan Skriniar in the top-flight (four).
- Empoli have gone unbeaten in the first four matches of a calendar year in Serie A for the first time.
Without Skriniar, Inter will have the opportunity to get back on track this weekend when they visit winless basement side Cremonese.