Inter Milan: Stretched To The Limit
There is an old and very well-known saying that goes, “Don’t bite off more than you can chew”.
We’ve all heard it before, and even sometimes with a nice porterhouse steak in front of us it’s been realised in the literal sense. However, in footballing terms, this particular fan is starting to see the a moral to the story that is unfolding for Inter.
Now, I’m probably writing an article right now that won’t sit well with a lot of Interisti, and who could blame them. You yourself are probably sitting there right now and can see where this is going. Please don’t exit your browser, be patient and let me explain everything first.
Before I move forward with this article, let’s take a look back to last season, undoubtedly one of Inter’s worst. We finished in 6th spot, only barely qualifying for any European competition and with only 17 wins and a massive 14 losses. The season before that we finished runners-up and with 23 wins and 8 losses. I also don’t need to remind anyone here of the treble from the season before.
It wasn’t only our inability to win matches last season that hurt our progress up the table, it was also our inability to salvage even a point from most matches. Coming back from behind and being able to draw a match wasn’t on the agenda much last season (and even this year, Inter are the only team in Serie A with only one draw so far). We lost more times than we should have– any team hoping for European qualification or even Lo Scudetto should be hoping for much better than that.
Now this brings me to our current season. Yes – we are performing much, much better than we did this time last season. Yes – we are winning many more games and against sides who we just couldn’t get over last season. Yes – we are able to attack a lot better and score more easily and dangerously against our opponents this season.
No – we simply aren’t in the frame of mind where we’ll win the league this season.
I’m sorry if that last sentence sounded completely blunt, but with the current depth issues in our squad, it seems as if this season was always going to be what we talked about it being back in August - a rebuilding year.
Of course, as a die-hard Interista, I’m hoping with every fibre that I’m completely wrong. But let’s look at some of the facts here, shall we?
Injuries and Depth:
Of course our squad is always going to have to face injuries to key players, like every other team. The only problem with this is our current depth. The fact that one of our key defenders, Rannochia, was replaced by the young and relatively inexperienced Silvestre, and he turned out to be part of the reason for a shock loss to Atalanta a week ago, means that we simply don’t have anyone else to fill the role that Andrea plays.
We also currently have Wesley Sneijder out long-term. To add to this, Coutinho is also out injured. Our midfield in that match consisted of Zanetti, Cambiasso, Guarin and Gargano. Of the 3 in the middle, Guarin was the only player who really stepped up. But it isn’t the fault of those players; our problems really lie in the back.
The depth of our defenders is beginning to leave a lot to be decided, and it has been like this since the departure of Maicon at the start of the season. Since then, we simply don’t have anyone who can attacking runs up and down the wings and deliver crosses into the box. We are also missing a truly quality defender.
Last week, there was a discussion at Inter about bringing someone of this calibre to the club. This was pleasant news to hear, and until it happens, our depth problems simply won’t go away.
Up front, we don’t have issues at all, despite what some may say. Cassano is quality, Milito is lethal and Palacio is a gun, particularly when the stakes are high. We also have Livaja coming off the bench who has proved himself on more than one occasion, although sporadically. I don’t believe that Inter needs to begin looking for a striker at all over the winter, particularly with the promise of Longo coming back at the end of this season after his stint at Espanyol.
Really, the problems and also the answers lie with our defenders. We need much more flexibility from our bench.
I love the 3-5-2. In fact, I’m a reformed ‘Catenaccist’. I used to believe in ultra-defence and the counter-attack to win matches. Having a superior back line in numbers and ability, being a wall and not letting one inch past you.
Those days are gone – seeing the new attacking Inter and a more positive influence up the pitch is what most of us have really been longing for. So the days when I thought 4 at the back was standard are now gone. In fact, there’s a much better analysis of the new Inter here.
There is only one problem though – right now we are missing our best attacking midfielder, Sneijder. With Coutinho just barely back from injury and only coming off the bench in our last disappointing encounter against Cagliari, we are missing that vital element.
The fact that we were left to resort to the counter-attack at our own home stadium is testament to not only our lack of depth, but possibly Strama’s recent mistakes in utilising the players that are currently available.
We as fans have the right to expect a lot from our club. Why shouldn’t we? There is such a history of success at Inter that we should always assume that any failure will be quickly cancelled out by twice as much achievement. Yet, this shouldn’t mean that within two seasons, Inter will be the powerhouse in Italy, let alone in Europe, straight away. We need to be more patient, and this impatience can have a real impact on the squad and on a young, yet highly capable, manager.
Expectations of having an improved season are one thing, but having a good start and then moving on to discussions of winning the Scudetto are another. Yes, Inter will more than likely finish in a top 3 (or 4) spot this season, it’s just basic mathematics. Will we play in the Champions League next season? I definitely think we will. Will we qualify automatically from first position on the table? Probably not. That’s just basic mathematics as well.
You see, Juve’s unbeaten run came to an end at the hands of Inter late last month. That was possibly the single greatest moment in our season so far. Since then, talk has elevated from improved side to championship contenders very quickly. However, and this pains me to see, Juve have crushed their opposition since that match. Not factoring in the draw against Lazio last week, they have scored a multitude of goals against the clubs that they have faced, one of them being Chelsea only last night. This run seems like it may actually last a little while longer than any Inter fan, including this one, will hope it will, meaning that if it does, Inter have to continually grab 3 points as many times as they can from now until the end of the season, and even then grabbing top spot may be difficult (see above reasons).
Being stretched by more than one competition takes its toll on a club that is having injury problems. The lack of depth at Inter is currently another reason why the Europa League is seeing them stretched beyond their ability. Although currently in first place in their group and already qualified for the next round, Inter will face a difficult few months now as the elimination rounds begin in Europe and the crunch time of the Serie A season unveils itself before the Nerazzurri. Both competitions are going to be unforgiving and heartless from now on: Inter face both Napoli and Lazio over the next month, and there is also the possibility of a bitter Manchester City to face in the Europa League.
Let’s look back at the Mourinho days, more specifically the 2009/10 season when Inter’s depth was, well, deeper. We also had strikers such as Eto’o, a fully fit Sneijder and a decent number of defenders, such as Cordoba and Maicon. We also didn’t have to worry a whole lot about our title defence in Italy since we were dominating that competition. Yes, we had Roma breathing down our necks on that home stretch, and we also had to contend with them in the final of the Coppa Italia, but it was the fact that our nearest rivals, Milan, were a whole 12 points away from us – this clearly showed the gap between ourselves and the runners-up, against the rest of the league. There was no added pressure of relying on other sides to win or lose and the stress was taken off the squad for the most part – not that the last few weeks of the season didn’t bring any stress at all. We were, for the majority of the season, the best suited squad in Serie A for almost any opponent thrown at us (only 4 losses for the season).
The Champions League that season saw us grind out one of our greatest wins when we took on Barcelona in the second tie at the Nou Camp. Down to 10 men, we held back a very determined and brilliantly attacking Barcelona to end up advancing to the next stage.
Let’s not forget as, we had Mourinho at the helm – someone who is extremely adept at handling these types of situations and who also has an extremely excellent knowledge of player rotations and tactics.
This season – we seem to have bitten off a little more than we can chew, so to speak.
I’m still not convinced that we are going to win the Scudetto. I’d love to say that yes, we will eventually outrun Juve and all other contenders because we are, after all, Inter. However, this season, I simply can’t think that way. We have far too many issues that need to be addressed and fixed before the half-way point of the season. I think that there are some necessary signings that need to take place, particularly in defence, as I mentioned earlier.
What I will say is this no matter what the end of this season brings (and once again, I’d really hope it brings a league title), the Inter of 2012/13 is going to be a very formidable opponent for pretty much any side in Italy and in Europe. Strama has already made the appropriate changes that needed to be made, he knows how to rebuild the squad, and really, he’s halfway there. What needs to happen now is what’s so obvious to everyone: fill those gaps, deepen our bench, keep that morale high, and please, please, don’t bite off any more than you can chew.