“Inter collapse, now it’s a real crisis” reads the headline in La Repubblica over the match report from the San Siro on Friday night, with Diego Costa beginning the piece saying “Inter are a side who are lost”. Fabrizio Bocca, also La Rep, allowed himself a single word to describe the result, “Amen”. That is to say, that while the current run is shocking it is completely believable and somewhat unsurprising. The root causes of the problems affecting the Milan club are numerous, and well documented elsewhere, but throughout this season and more specifically the recent poor run one aspect of the Inter team has been particularly interesting to follow: the deployment of Wesley Sneijder.
In La Gazzetta dello Sport Andrea Elefante writes that “that fearful day has arrived where Wesley Sneijder becomes a problem”, What does a coach do when his best player becomes his biggest problem? Sneijder had been injured for 2 and a half months of the season, missing games between the start of November and mid-February. Inter proved themselves capable of surviving without the muse who was once their sole creative force.
Ranieri had been able to get the side to do the basics again, selecting a flat midfield four, with Ricky Alvarez on the left given licence to cut inside when in possession. This simplicity wasn’t always attractive but it made it easier for Inter to cover the width of the pitch defensively and offensively and, most importantly, it worked.
Inter have only won 6 of the 17 games that Sneijder has played in this season (33%), compared to 60% without him (9 out of 15). This is only scratches the surface of the problem, but it suggests that the team does not perform when he is involved – perhaps it is no surprise that Inter’s run of good results coincided with the Dutchman’s absence.
When Ranieri arrived one of the first things he intended to do was “play Sneijder behind two strikers” as a trequartista, “this is his best position” he continued. But since Sneijder’s return from a thigh injury, Ranieri has tried 4 different formations and 5 different midfield line-ups, leaving him open to the accusation that he no longer knows his best team.
The problem was worst felt away against Lecce, where they faced a 3-5-2 whose wing-backs were able to plough deep into the Inter half to fire crosses into the penalty area before finding any opposition players. Inter’s midfield were too narrow and immobile to meet the threat and the Lecce goal came from exactly these positions. The situation raises further questions about Sneijder’s future at the club.
After their crushing defeat to Bologna, Ranieri commented again on Sneijder’s positioning, which suggests accommodating him is becoming incredibly problematic and unsettling:
“He should be our extra man behind the striker, but when I see we have trouble then I send him out wide so he can play without having to win back the ball. That forces me to readjust the whole team. We’ll have to see what we can do.”
In something of a sadist way, a drop in form, multiple niggling injuries and a large pay packet mean that the rest of the season will make for interesting viewing where Sneijder is concerned.
Image from Flickr.