Taped Together : Patched Up Inter Finding Ways To Win
Despite their struggles, Inter remain in both Europa and Coppa Italia contention not to mention still remaining an outside chance of completing a top 3 finish in Serie A this season. Today on the blog Adam Digby tells us how they're keeping it together.
With Catania holding a two goal lead over Inter at halftime, Italian football watchers everywhere were relishing the prospect of a nostalgic reworking of the infamous ‘Clamoroso al Cibali’ headlines. Originally coined by radio commentator Sandro Ciotti back in 1961, the phrase is synonymous with a sensational final day win for Catania over the same opponent that handed that season’s Serie A title to Juventus.
However, as the two teams came out for the second half, the restart was delayed as the officials were repairing a damaged goal net. Finally managing to hold it together with tape, the moment provided a superb metaphor for an team whose best player – striker Diego Milito – was joined on the injury list by Walter Samuel, Matias Silvestre, Yuto Nagatomo, Gaby Mudingayi, Joel Obi and Luca Castellazzi. Then, add in the latest twist in the Antonio Cassano saga, meaning the temperamental star was dropped as punishment and a suspension for Andrea Ranocchia, it quickly becomes clear Andrea Stramaccioni was the one doing the repair job.
Since the end of their ten game winning streak in early November, the team has suffered through some woeful performances with a 3-0 loss to Udinese, a 3-1 defeat at Siena and a 4-1 embarrassment at the hands of Fiorentina perhaps the lowest points of the campaign. Yet, they also managed to become the first visiting team to win at Juventus Stadium, held in form neighbours Milan to a draw, all while advancing to both the Semi-Finals of the Coppa Italia and last sixteen of the Europa League.
Game to Game Adaptation
With Tottenham awaiting them later this week, there is a stark contrast between the two teams. While Spurs have found the perfect formation and playing style to bring the best from Gareth Bale, Inter appear to be tailoring their approach game by game. Moulding their approach and personnel to their opponents, they have adopted something of a provincial mentality. As well as those aforementioned departed names, the club sold both Wesley Sneijder and Philipe Coutinho, meaning the squad contains nowhere near the quality expected of a side of such historical stature and, unlike their Premier League opponents, has no clear star.
That their most recent turnaround victory was inspired by the introduction of 34 year old Dejan Stankovic only serves to reinforce the feeling that the club is held together by aging, fading players as they await youngsters like Ricky Alvarez to finally mature. Almost every transfer has been made with one eye on UEFA’s Financial Fair Play Regulations, rules to which the club would almost certainly have fallen foul had they attempted to hang on to players such as Maicon, Lucio and Sneijder.
Indeed, despite clearly not being a ‘small’ club, the Nerazzurri have been forced to act like one given the sheer volume of talent unavailable to them. They have utilised nine different formations already this term, regularly switching between a three and four man defence, while amassing some truly baffling statistics. Currently sitting in fifth place, just one point off a Champions League berth, they have a goal difference of just +8 after conceding 36 goals in their 27 league games to date. The 44 goals they have netted are shared among thirteen different players – the second highest number of scorers in Serie A – while leading scorers Rodrigo Palacio and Milito have just nine each.
As a team their stats reinforce the perception of them as a unit battling the odds, leading all clubs with 26.1 tackles per game while strangely committing fewer fouls (13 per game) than any other side. At the heart of this approach is Stramaccioni, a man who – much like Andre Villas-Boas – is touted as one of Europe’s potentially great coaches. He is the one who seemingly deserves the praise for their almost unbelievable position, managing to lead a team needing to rely on names such as 39 year old Javier Zanetti, Tomasso Rocchi (35) and Cristian Chivu (32) on a regular basis. It may have been his half time changes in both the Catania and Milan games which rescued a result for Inter, but it is undoubtedly the players on whom he relies that causes most debate.
While Zanetti leads the league in pass completion as his 90.9% ranks best among players to start at least twenty games, he has nowhere near the same impact he once did. His trademark runs from deep, which earned him his ‘Tractor’ nickname, are becoming increasingly more rare. His presence may inspire those around him and he is undoubtedly an iconic figure at Inter, but one imagines Sporting Director Marco Branca is ultimately disappointed by his failure to find a regular replacement for the aging skipper as he approaches his fortieth birthday.
There are of course bright spots to be found and none fit that billing more than Samir Handanovic. Brought in to replace QPR bound Cesar, the 28 year old has made selling the popular Brazilian look like one of the club’s smarter moves in recent years. Indeed, despite the mistake-laden play of defenders like Juan Jesus and Ranocchia, only six goalkeepers have more clean sheets than his eight thus far. That is thanks to a huge 77 saves in 25 league games and he has been instrumental in their continued strive for European football.
Without the Slovenian stopper, and of course coach Stramaccioni, Inter’s hopes of even a top half finish would be seriously affected. Yet there they are, narrowly ahead of a Fiorentina side viewed as one of the revelations of the season under Vincenzo Montella ,and looming large in the rearview mirror of Napoli, Milan and Lazio.
Should they achieve the unthinkable and secure a place in Europe’s elite competition, that Sicilian roll of tape holding them together would deserve a place in the club museum.
You can follow Adam on Twitter: @Adz77
And read more of his work at ESPN.com