For Inter fans, last night’s game was excruciating to watch. The Europa League match against Tottenham seemed to highlight everything that has been going wrong with the Nerazzurri of late. What started with an innocuous first five minutes soon turned into example after example of what not to do. This match has delivered more questions than answers, and Inter have a little more than two months to figure out the solutions needed.
Coming into the first leg, it would be a fair assessment to say that Inter’s chance of getting a result at White Hart Lane was going to be quite difficult. Comparing the two teams’ recent run of form, it would have been challenging to have knocked off Tottenham, especially as they had recently beaten their rivals, Arsenal, in the North London derby this past weekend. Couple the disparate form of the two teams with the ongoing injury problems facing Inter and the chance of taking something away from London looked even slimmer.
The buildup to the match surrounded the much hyped Gareth Bale, as it was also against Inter that the Welshman made his mark on the European scene during the Champions League group stage in 2010. While Bale in 2010, got the better of an injured Maicon (which was later revealed to be knee ligament damage), his performance last night focused on taking advantage of a disorganized defense. The problem last night was not so much Bale himself, but it was the undisciplined play from Inter that allowed Spurs to take advantage of the tie. The first and third goals were completely preventable, and they were scored in manners that the Nerazzurri have been susceptible to all season long.
The first goal came in the sixth minute and was the point where it started to unravel for Inter. After being diligent about closing down spaces and pressuring the ball in the first five minutes, a lapse in defense struck to give Tottenham the lead. There was a gaping hole on Inter’s right side, which left a solitary Sigurdsson with no one within 15 feet of him. This gave him the time and space to place a cross into the box, where Bale headed the ball into the back of Samir Handanovic’s net. No one picked up Bale in the box, as it looked like there was nobody marking him.
The third goal came off a free header from a corner kick. While it may not have been apparent in previous matches, zonal marking was employed by the Inter defense and no one picked up on Vertonghen’s run towards the back post. Possibly due to the zonal construct, Esteban Cambiasso was uncharacteristically out of place, which led to the ability of Spurs’ players to run with space in the box.
Obviously losing by three goals is more than disappointing, especially knowing that Handanovic kept the score line respectable. What was more bothersome was Inter’s play, or lack thereof, on the ball. As difficult as it was to win the ball back, it was harder still to keep possession to try to make any play towards their goal. There was no pressure applied and seemingly a lack of desire to change the game. While Inter had some good opportunities to score an important away goal, no one had the all-important finishing touch. Ricky Alvarez had a glorious chance to pull a goal back right before halftime, but shot wide. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident and it has plagued the team for months even prior to Diego Milito’s horrendous knee injury.
The repercussions for this match go far beyond the Europa League. If anything, it showcased to the world what Inter are trying to work through, specifically transitional factors of coaching and player integration. Andrea Stramaccioni is a young manager who is literally learning how to coach as well as manage players, while dealing with the pressure as the whole world sits in judgment of his every move. There is also the matter of trying to integrate the new talent with the old Senatori, the veteran players who everyone have come to rely on over the past ten years. It is a necessity to utilize and develop the new talent as the fixture list demands multiple games per week as it is not feasible to ask the tired legs of the Senatori to play every three days. The possibility of resting some players with the infusion of new talent can help spell the older players while facilitating the development of the younger players. Theoretically, this makes sense yet the challenge lies in practical application as Strama does not have the luxury of cultivating his craft at a small club with no one watching, yet he is expected to deliver results every game because he is at Inter.
Stramaccioni is a talented coach with a multitude of ideas in his head, but there seems to be a disconnect between theory and practice. Part of being successful is not only the ability to adjust and adapt the team to the situation at hand, but to also have an identity for the squad and its players. Therein lies the dilemma, as developing an identity has become challenging considering the numerous first team injuries and adjustments seem more reactionary, as survival from game to game is more crucial than long term development of the project.
While qualification for the next round of the Europa League looks bleak, keep in mind that the objective prior to the season starting was to obtain a Champions League place. Inter are only one point behind third before this weekend’s Serie A action, and after the slide that has happened since November, it is still a good position to be in. Through all the current anguish, remember that the club has been through worse and are still in “Year Zero” of this transition. Keeping all of these aforementioned factors in mind, it is important to view Inter’s current status with perspective.
As Inter approaches its birthday this weekend, they face a gritty, mid-table Bologna on Sunday at home. The best birthday present would be for the team to shake off last night’s events, learn from their mistakes, and return to winning ways.
Buon compleanno, Inter! Happy 105th birthday!
About the author:
An avid Interista, TB has written for numerous football sites such as Unprofessional Foul, Simply Futbol, and Serie A Weekly. She is delighted to be connected with FedeNerazzurra. Follow her on twitter: @SonoTuttoBene