“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.
Serie A is boring, again. Last season saw an end of season run-in where four sides were potential candidates for the Scudetto. Post-World Cup seasons can often throw up surprises, perhaps because players in the top sides will have exaggerated schedules.
The league enthralled neutrals worldwide as Napoli, Udinese and Lazio chased Milan all the way to the title. This season, though, we are seeing a return to the normality of the pre-Calciopoli era – at one point Inter even threatened to re-assume the position of perennial losers.
This week saw the culmination of Gian Piero Gasperini’s short spell in charge of Inter, a dismal 3-1 loss at newly-promoted Novara being the final nudge into the abyss for a man already teetering on the precipice. In stark contrast, the Genoa side he left behind have had a fine start to the new campaign- one of their best ever, in fact. The season is still young, but i Rossoblu have yet to lose and have been impressive in attack, displaying some swift and incisive forward play.
A key cog in their offensive unit is Argentine striker/wide-man Rodrigo Palacio. With an electric turn of pace and ability to run endlessly, he has been a mainstay of a Genoa side that has changed personnel at an alarming rate since his arrival for a fee of around €5m two years ago. Usually deployed as a supporting striker, either as one of a pair or wide in a three-pronged attack, Palacio’s goalscoring record is unremarkable, but his assists and work rate have proved essential at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris.
He was courted by Inter during the transfer window, but did not link up with his former boss despite the interest; an ideal fit for Gasperini’s much derided 3-4-3 system, could Rodrigo have protected, or at least prolonged, his old manager’s tenure?
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Serie A was due to kick off two weeks ago, but because those poor, disenfranchised players couldn’t agree a deal for a standard contract with those mean, horrid, nasty chairmen there was a strike and they will now be kicking balls into goals starting from this Friday. The only positive to have emerged from this scenario is that it has given us time to collate our thoughts for a Serie A preview which will be judged upon when the season ends, making us look like ridiculous court jesters.
On the panel will be: -
Rocco Cammisola (@rcammisola) – Editor and writer for this fair site, you’ll also find him tweeting about Serie A-D. Searching out obscure stories from deep in the Italian leagues, trying too hard to be a hipster.
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.
Wednesday’s Champions League encounter at the San Siro had been billed as Rafa Benitez’s last chance. The last game he had before owner Massimo Moratti would put him to the sword in the hope of rescuing what has so far been a tumultuous season. In the end they secured a place in the Champions League knock out rounds following a nervous 1-0 victory at home to Dutch champions Twente Enschede. The deciding goal scored by Esteban Cambiasso in the 56th minute, ironically the player rumoured to have asked Moratti to find a way to get rid of Benitez just a few weeks ago.
The pressure on Rafa Benitez’s shoulder has been steadily mounting. In the early season exchanges he appeared to have revolutionised Inter’s style of play – making them a thoroughly exciting, attacking team to watch while maintaining the results that have been consistent for some 5 seasons. This was all going on while Liverpool, his former club, wept his departure together with the arrival of Grandad Hodgson; Benitez was of course still to blame for that catastrophe. Since those early exchanges things have taken a turn for the worse for Benitez and he was left with 2 games to save his job. He lost the first, which brings us nicely onto Wednesday evening’s events.
A mere cursory glance at the starting line up gives us an indication of the kind of trouble that Inter are currently in. A back line composed of Ivan Cordoba, Lucio, Marco Materazzi and Javier Zanetti hardly inspires confidence when the side require a win to keep up with Tottenham Hotspur in the group. Cordoba was selected ahead of David Santon – on the bench – after the young full back has failed to really kick on after showing signs of early promise and an abhorrently poor display against Chievo on Sunday.
Looking at the bench proved to be even more worrying, only Thiago Motta and David Santon played any sort of role in the treble winning side of last season. The depleted squad have had to call on players with no experience at league level, never mind in the Champions League. The Inter benched comprised of youngsters including Biraghi (18), Crisetig (17), Nwankwo (19) and Natalino (18) all of whom have made just 4 first team appearances between them.
With the prospect of such aged full backs, Benitez deployed Inter as a 4-2-4 with Eto’o and Biabiany on the wings and Pandev and Sneijder operating in the central areas. The attempt to provide width using only his forward players required a great deal of discipline from Eto’o and Biabiany. Any deviation from their flanks would make the side very narrow going forward and easy to stifle. In the first half Inter’s play was focused down the left hand flank – combination play between Sneijder and Eto’o helping to maintain possession in Twente’s final third.
This can be seen in the chalkboard above. First of all, we can see that Eto’o receives all of his passes in the wide left channel. We can also see from the first half passes made by Inter that there is a heavy bias toward the left flank; indeed during the game Pandev was largely anonymous in the first half. Despite lots of possession high up on the left flank, there was rarely a ball available into the box and only 7 crosses were attempted in the first half.
In the second half we saw Inter spread the ball a little more evenly across the playing surface, Biabiany and Pandev became slightly more involved in the build up play but they were still rarely at the heart of the action. The goal itself came in the 55th minute from a set piece, Sneijder blasted a free kick into the wall and Esteban Cambiasso reacted to the the multiple ricochets to fire home from about 10 yards out. Cambiasso was unmarked after having hid behind the wall prior to the free kick, Twente could’ve done much better with that despite the fortunate dropping of the ball.
Despite eventually taking the lead Inter were never comfortable in either half, Twente had their fair share of possession and threatened to score on numerous occasions – Castellazzi and the woodwork coming to the rescue of the Milanese a number of times. However, the telling statistic is that Inter had 3 times as many attempts (27 vs 9) and they had 9 shots on target. Twente had few shots and when they did arrive they were not particularly potent or accurate (barring the couple that hit the crossbar).
The formation used by Inter (4-2-4) allowed them to keep the Twente defence occupied for the majority of the game, but it also gave their own players plenty of work to do. The formation requires an incredible amount of technical ability to be shown by the players at the centre of the action – Stankovic and Cambiasso in this case. Cambiasso focused his passing to the left flank, and from a slightly deeper position, compared to Stankovic who sat just ahead of the centre circle and spread play to both flanks. Both players will have had lots of work to do when defending because they were essentially outnumbered by Twente’s 4-2-3-1.
It was no surprise to see Stankovic had completed the 2nd highest number of passes (50), surprisingly behind Samuel Eto’o who attempted 53 but completed some 13% less than Stankovic.
Benitez was correct in his pre-match prediction, Inter did not lose. However, the manner of the victory left much to be desired. Despite fielding what has inherently been regarding as an ultra attacking formation there was little fire power behind the Inter win, mostly due to some defensive frailty. Inter fans and Rafa sympathisers will hopefully forgive me for saying that this was one of the most boring 4-2-4 performances I have ever witnessed, but at least Rafa is getting the job done.
The headlines in the papers a few weeks ago were asking if Benitez would be eating his panettone – will he still be in a job at Christmas? I think he will, purely because of the circumstances he finds himself in. Injuries and lack of additions in the summer have not given him the best conditions to work in, but a workman should never blame their tools.
A league campaign is considered marathon rather than the sprint which the cup entails – in any country, at any level. As soon as October passes by fans all over the world have made their minds up. A poor start and you’ll be lucky to make the top 4, annihilate the weaker opposition and you’re guaranteed to walk the title at a canter leaving you to play the youth team for the last 2 months of the season.
This season was initially billed as being Roma’s year, it was to be season in which they were to have their best opportunity of prising the Scudetto from Inter’s excitedly clammy grasp. Roma flattered to deceive initially, possibly psychologically distraught after pushing Inter so close last season. A draw against newly promoted Cesena on the opening weekend was followed by demolition away to Pier Paolo Bisoli’s Cagliari – one of their 3 wins so far. Everything was going wrong for the club from the capital, and at the same time their bitter rivals Lazio were rising to the top of the table following an annus horribilis.
Roma’s descent into chaos was composed of ill discipline, embarrassingly poor passing performances (particularly in Europe) and dressing room problems that made their way out into the media spotlight. After a demoralising 2-0 defeat in the Champions League to last years finalists Bayern Munich Francesco Totti made his feelings clear to the press about what he thought of the side’s style of play, denouncing it saying “you can’t win with this form of catenaccio”
On top of all this, Ranieri has had to deflect constant speculation about his job security. Numerous names have been linked with the Roma job in the past 3 months – from Marcello Lippi to Carlo Ancelotti. Ancelotti in particular has made it clear in the past that he would love the chance to coach Roma, this name provoked a comical reaction from Ranieri when asked what he thought of the rumours. Ranieri offered to “collect him from the airport myself, I’d be delighted”. Ranieri has been able to keep his job thus far, perhaps in part to a strangely patient season in Serie A where few sackings have occurred in comparison to years gone by. He will also owe his job to the imminent sale of the club by current owners Unicredit, no manager should be looking to take a job where there is instability over the ownership.
Many thought that the narrow win in late September against Inter would signal a watershed moment for Roma. Sadly it only led to an indifferent October where they notched up just 1 win in 4 matches – including defeat in Napoli for the first time in 13 years and home defeat to Basel. The second perceived turning of the corner came in the Rome derby. They undeniably battered Lazio for 90 minutes and fully deserved the victory, despite some dubious decisions by the officials.
However the force that Roma are now exhibiting had been in full flow for 2 games before the derby. They went into the encounter with back to back wins in the league and Europe. They lie 3rd in the form table behind Milan (league leaders) and Juventus (on an 11 match unbeaten run) with a tremendous 10-3 goal record. This is in stark comparison to the first 5 games of the season where their record was 5 goals scored and 10 conceded, just in Serie A. At the end of September they were perilously close to the foot of the table!
The rebuilding of the side has seen the centre back pairings regain the solidity that took them so close in last years chase. Whichever of the two of Burdisso, Juan and Mexes have been playing they have been particularly impenetrable. Ranieri has had a particularly dynamic midfield, able to use Pizarro as a deep lying playmaker together with the more energetic De Rossi and Brighi. Fabio Simplicio, who arrived from Palermo in the summer, has been particularly influential in the resurgence; providing energy and driving runs from midfield and has bagged a goal to boot. The real star in midfield has been Jeremy Menez, the young French man has linked midfield and attack with youthful exuberance, he has been good enough this season to have his name uttered in the same breath as Palermo starlet Javier Pastore.
Up front Ranieri has been operating a rotation policy and has finally found a way to get the best out of Vucinic and loan signing Marco Borrielo. Francesco Totti has shown his class all seasons but still needs to answer questions over the real value he brings to the side, the talismanic Roman has been accused of slowing down what had been a slick passing game. The joker in the pack is the Emperor, Adriano has yet to be deployed properly by Ranieri. Earlier in the season he was seen becoming visibly exhausted while warming up along the sideline. He was given 20 minutes on Saturday against Udinese and hopes his fitness will allow him to take part on Tuesday night.
Things can only improve for Ranieri now, they sit just 7 points off of the top but will be getting the majority of their squad back from injury in 2 weeks, in time for a crunch match with high flying Milan just before the Christmas break. The rebuilding work that was so badly needed after defeat to Bayern in September could reach its conclusion tomorrow night against Bayern Munich at home. It has taken a while, but its true what they say – Roma wasn’t built in a day.Next Page »