At the turn of the year, last season’s champions, Inter, had been considered by many to be all but out of the title race. When Leonardo was appointed, he vowed to turn things around with love and hugs rather than a cold and heartless iron fist. Since his appointment Inter have played 9, Winning 8 with just the 1 loss against a currently impressive Udinese side. This represents a marked change of form and they are beginning to pick up momentum.
Momentum is something that other sides at the top of the table have lacked in the past few weeks, on Tuesday and Wednesday night Inter’s title rivals provided the perfect platform for them to catch up a pack trying their hardest to fall over themselves. With Milan, Lazio and Roma all drawing and Napoli and Juventus both losing, the top 5 or 6 are very tightly crammed together and Inter had the chance to leap into 3rd place by winning at the Stadio San Nicola.
Inter lined up in a 4-3-3 with Andrea Ranocchia and Kharja starting as well as Diego Milito, whom we’ve not seen much of this season due to injury. Wesley Sneijder was on the bench, also fresh back from an injury which has kept him out of the side for some time. The midfield trio made up of Zanetti, Motta and Kharja left much of the link work to Kharja as Zanetti and Motta were both included to give Inter solidity rather than flair. Up front the side were incredibly narrow due to fielding 3 out and out strikers who like to play through the middle, although Eto’o has ‘done a job’ on the wing in the past.
Bari were deployed in a 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield, with the ball they looked to shift the whole diamond to create width and drag the Inter midfield across the pitch. They were assisted greatly by the advances of both full backs, particularly Parisi on the left flank. Both forwards also moving very wide to create space centrally for driving runs from Almiron and Bentivoglio, which led to Materazzi and Ranocchia dragged wide on a regular basis, both look uncomfortable on the flanks against the small, skilful strikers.
Bari looked very comfortable for the first 70 minutes of the game, despite failing to offer much in the attacking third. Most of their best moves came through Sergio Almiron, who was able to pick the ball up at the base of the midfield diamond and turn and run at the opposition, without too much trouble from the Inter players. It was evident just how much they have missed Almiron while he has been injured, Bari looked to Almiron for inspiration.
Bari in the defensive phase
Without the ball, Bari took an interesting position from which to defend their half. The defence and midfield immediately dropped off to 25-30 yards out from their own goal and both strikers went wide to mark the full backs, Chivu and Maicon, while Bentivoglio pressed the centre backs.
This gave Inter two problems. First of all their defenders had trouble playing the ball out from the back and often lost possession, and the necessity for a midfielder to drop deeper to pick up the ball dragged the team back towards their own goal. Once the ball had been played out from the Inter defence, Bari stepped up to squeeze the space with which the midfielders and forwards had to work in.
Inter lacked bite up front
Throughout the first half especially Inter found it incredibly difficult to build any sort of rhythm and their pattern of play was very predictable. There were a 2 primary reasons for this. A lack of width in the attacking third due to playing 3 almost identical players up front, as well as Bari’s defensive shape and half press forced the midfield, already devoid of a true attacking midfielder, further away from the front line.
The two players who made an effort to try and force the play in the first half were Maicon and Kharja. The Brazilian constantly bombing down the right hand flank offering an out ball and a few balls into the area for the likes of Milito and Pazzini to attack. Maicon was even in a position to shoot on more than one occasion.
Sneijder was introduced to the game on the 60 minute mark for Diego Milito, heralding a change of system to a 4-3-1-2 with Sneijder in behind Eto’o and Pazzini who were both to play a more central role from this point forward. The only surprise with this change was that it had not come sooner, as soon as a player was introduced with the aim of linking midfield and attack Inter looked dominant.
They were no doubt assisted by the officials’ failure to spot Christian Chivu’s awful forearm smash on a Bari player, an incident for which he will surely receive a retrospective suspension.
Kharja scored the opening goal of the game on the 70 minute mark, picking the ball up wide and playing a one-two with Eto’o and being allowed to move into the centre of the area unmarked with no player tracking him. It was Eto’o's spin away to toward the corner from a central area that dragged two Bari defenders with him that created the space for the goal.
After this first goal Bari began to commit lots of fouls during the last 15 minutes, heads naturally dropped and they lost their composure. This was a real shame after they had battled so hard for so much of the game and looked like a decent side. The second and third goals were born of Bari’s desperate forward charges, both being scored in injury time by Pazzini and Sneijder (from open play I might add, a real rarity).
“It can change as much as it likes. As long as it stays the same”
Leonardo tried to win this game with a battering ram, fielding 3 out and out forwards hoping it would provide him with a tactical possibility in the future. Indeed, many were puzzled by the starting line up and had already called the changes long before they had come about. Leo’s tactical prowess is the attribute which has been questioned consistently since his appointment. He should be commended though, for eventually made the necessary changes after allowing the players he picked to win the game the necessary time to act.
The win takes Inter into 3rd place and they still have a game in hand against Fiorentina, a win in that fixture later this month will theoretically leave them just 4 points behind Milan – assuming both sides match each other until then. We also have another Milan derby to come, so this Milan side are to be considered huge title contenders, if they were to go on to win this season it would, in my opinion, be their best Scudetto of the past decade.
Bari have a lot to worry about, with just 14 points to their name so far they will need to win 9 of their next 15 fixtures to guarantee safety. This seems a feat too far, and the team that shocked many by finishing tenth last season look like they’ll be spending next season in Serie B.