pioli

Inter pushed the self-destruct button on the 2016-17 season when they crashed to a 5-4 defeat against Fiorentina on Saturday. It’s little consolation to Nerazzurri supporters that the squad waited until the second last week of April to implode as usually the inevitable collapse comes much earlier in the campaign.

A convincing argument can be made that Erick Thohir’s decision to relieve Roberto Mancini of his duties two weeks before the season started led Inter down the road to perdition, but the Nerazzurri were very much in the race for a Champions League spot in mid-March before the wheels came off in spectacular fashion.

Inter’s conceded 13 goals during its current five-game winless run and has collected just two points since thrashing Atalanta 7-1 on March 17. The Nerazzurri haven’t kept a clean sheet in over two months and surrendered four goals and a penalty during a disastrous 20-minute spell against the Viola on Saturday.

Inter was down 1-0 against Fiorentina before Ivan Perisic and Mauro Icardi put the Nerazzurri on top, but for the second time in as many weeks they failed to parlay a halftime lead into three points. A comedy of errors at the back – highlighted by the ineptitude of Inter’s fullbacks – saw a 2-1 lead turn into a 5-1 deficit in the blink of an eye.

Danilo D’Ambrosio has reverted back to his factory settings after signing a contract extension in early April and Yuto Nagatomo reminded us once again why he should remain permanently affixed to the bench. Gary Medel had his worst performance as a central defender in an Inter shirt as he made Khouma Babacar look like George Weah.

Icardi was the only player who could hold his head high after the game, scoring twice in quick succession to give Inter a sliver of hope but it was too little, too late as the Nerazzurri slumped to another disappointing defeat.

So it’s on to the newest Year Zero at Appiano Gentile as the Nerazzurri hope to figure out how to challenge for a top-four finish next season.

Here’s what we learned from Inter’s latest defeat:

The Defense Needs a Major Overhaul

In retrospect a backline consisting of D’Ambrosio, Medel, Miranda and Nagatomo was always going to leak goals, but the ease with which Fiorentina sliced through the defense was particularly frustrating.

Inter had 10 men behind the ball for the first three Fiorentina goals but was powerless to stop the likes of Matias Vecino – who had been held scoreless in the previous 32 Serie A matches – from finding the back of the net on two occasions.

In a scene that perfectly illustrated the Nerazzurri’s incompetence at the back, D’Ambrosio conceded a penalty after Nagatomo inexplicably directed a header towards his own goal despite zero pressure from any Fiorentina forwards. It was amateur hour, stuff you see in Sunday leagues by hungover, out-of-shape hacks.

Inter must start its summer mercato with two fullbacks – preferably Ricardo Rodriguez and Bernard Mendy – along with a world-class central defender (Kostas Manolas) if it plans on returning among the Serie A elite.

Pioli is a Dead Man Walking

Inter hasn’t had the same manager for two straight pre-seasons since Jose Mourinho from 2008-10 and the trend is likely to continue as the Nerazzurri are almost certain to part ways with Stefano Pioli at the end of the season.

Pioli was given a Sisyphean task and made the best of it for a few months but it was always going to be an uphill battle. The Nerazzurri would probably benefit from some stability in their coaching ranks but the club gave Pioli the dreaded vote of confidence earlier in the week.

“Inter confirms its backing of the ownership in Stefano Pioli and his technical staff,” a press release from Inter stated. “Pioli joined Inter at a difficult time and the work he has carried out with his staff since he joined Inter in November has been exceptional and deserves our full respect.”

Steven Zhang is reportedly ready to throw millions at Diego Simeone and give him carte blanche over sporting decisions, but it’s far from being a done deal while other lesser candidates like Luciano Spalletti have been rumoured as potential replacements in the press. This is a decision that Inter must get right as it will reverberate throughout the club for years to come.

Icardi Still Cares

While most of the Inter players checked out in the second half Icardi was still fighting for a result against Fiorentina. The Inter captain scored two late goals en route to his second hattrick in six games to give the Nerazzurri a slim chance of salvaging a draw.

He fought to the end, that’s what captains do, unlike the majority of his teammates who threw in the towel after Fiorentina’s fifth goal. He cares for the club, that much is obvious. His anguish after the final whistle in the draw with Milan was evident for everyone to see. He loves Inter but it’s a love that hasn’t been reciprocated of late.

Icardi has scored nine goals in his last eight games and is one strike behind Andrea Belotti and Edin Dzeko in the race for the capocannoniere, which is a minor miracle given his tribulations on and off the field earlier in the season.

Max De Luca is a journalist based in Toronto, Canada and has been published on Reuters, CBC, Yahoo, Goal, USA Today and many more. Every week Max pens a column exclusively for SempreInter.com discussing the most pressing topics of the past week.

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