Heading into this one, you wouldn’t think that there would be many similarities between the two clubs however one similarity sticks out like a sore thumb, especially for the visitors and that is the poor form of both teams. SPAL have just one win in eleven games (All competitions) whilst the Nerazzurri are winless in their last eight games (All competitions). On paper, 4th placed Inter should be able to do the job against a struggling relegation candidate in lowly, 18th positioned SPAL even given the recent poor string of results.
Last season’s Serie B champions and have struggled to adapt to life in Serie A this campaign as expected given they have climbed from Lega Pro to Italy’s top division in just two seasons, largely due to manager Leonardo Semplici who took charge in 2014. The former Fiorentina u19’s manager used either a 3-5-2/3-5-1-1/5-3-2 (depending on the situation in game) to guide the Ferrara based outfit to promotion last season and he has stuck with his guns for the Biancazzurri’s first season back in Serie A for 49 years. So, as expected the same 3-5-1-1 formation was in use for this home fixture against one of world football’s giants. There were two changes to the team that drew away to Udinese a week ago with loanee keeper, Alex Meret returning to the starting XI for Alfred Gomis and Pasquale Schiattarella replacing Floccari in midfield with Kurtić moving further forward.
Inter arrived at Stadio Paolo Mazza in their worst form for over a year hoping today would be the day they ended the awful run. Manager Luciano Spalletti stuck with the 4-3-3 which he deployed against A.S. Roma to stick with the more attacking intent instead of having two players guarding the back four. Two changes were made which were expected; the first was Davide Santon out for D’Ambrosio who had just recovered from injury and Gagliardini who struggled last week in the draw for Marcelo Brozović who created the equaliser last Sunday.
It was a cagey opening ten or so minutes as neither side really got a grip on the game. Inter had most of the possession but with SPAL’s very deep block, it was tough to create any real chances. Whenever SPAL got the ball, they were either wasteful pumping it up to Antenucci who was all alone or they attacked predominantly down their right flank with Lazzari targeting the out of position, João Cancelo.
The first real chance of the match fell to Candreva, who is yet to score a goal in 22 matches this season prior to the game, after a fantastic run in the right half space by Vecino. Something he tries to do often however it was a negative to his game at times when playing in a pairing in front of the back-line as it left gaps but in the role he has had in the previous two matches, it is a positive.
It is good play from both Vecino and Candreva as LWB, Mattiello gets drawn out of position to Candreva who has come further back where as Vecino is now dragging a man (Kurtić) too far back into the position Mattiello should be in. The ball found its way to Borja Valero was playing in the deeper role allowing him to break the lines and that’s exactly what he did here to create this wonderful opportunity. Unfortunately, you could say the ball fell to the wrong man otherwise the away side could well have been 0-1 up.
Due to SPAL’s continuous deep block, Brozović and Vecino pushed further forward in order to keep their midfield pinned back which allowed Borja Valero/Škriniar a tonne of space to pick their options from deep. So, positive and negatives since it would be hard to find the correct passes between all of the bodies but with Valero’s/Škriniar’s quality and the time they were being given due to this, that’s a positive.
Throughout the first half, you could clearly see that Inter lacked any enthusiasm and drive in their attacks with most just being ended by misplaced, long passes. An indication that a creator further up the field is desperately needed to really spark off passages of play. An example of the space between the midfield line and defence line not being occupied and exploited is shown below. A common theme.
The systems remained the same until the end of the half. Relatively one-way traffic with SPAL occasionally trying to counter but not pushing numbers forward.
At the break, Éder who reportedly rejected an offer from Premier League side Crystal Palace this week, came on for Candreva with the Italian forward offering more support to Icardi like he did last week against A.S. Roma. A good move by Luciano as Icardi had no more than a handful of chances in the first half and if that was to continue, getting goals or even a goal would have continued to be very difficult.
Inter came out pressing high and in numbers to try to force errors to win possession back quickly, it did work however I felt it was certainly more risk than reward with the way in which it was done. Usually, you press in numbers when the ball is on the wing because that way you can cut off the passing lanes going forward a lot easier resulting in the team with the ball attempting to switch the play or go backwards. Yet, Inter tried this in the middle of the pitch which gives the team a lot more options, fortunately SPAL weren’t composed otherwise they could have started very dangerous counters.
After the Nerazzurri were absolutely gifted a goal by SPAL through a good cross by Cancelo, the home side changed their system to a 4-5-1 with Kurtić moving over to left midfield, wing-back Lazzari pushing more forward and the defence shuffling across. A tad more offensive with real threats on both wings but not really enough to cause Inter many problems and Borja Valero was still given all day to find a pass, poor from the Biancazzurri.
The game really began to change in the 75th minute when former Swansea City striker, Alberto Paloschi was subbed on for midfielder Schiattarella indicating they were now prepared to push further for an equaliser; switching to a 4-4-2 from a 4-5-1 in the process. Inter stuck with their 4-3-3 shape with the wide men tracking back slightly more.
Only five minutes later, manager Leonardo Semplici withdrew Mattiello for Filippo Costa in a like for like change on paper but the fresh legs meant SPAL resorted back to their 3-5-2 in search of a goal to tie things up. Five minutes later once again, defender Vicari, the one who put Inter in front due to an own goal was taken off for forward Bonazzoli as yet again SPAL changed formation; this time to a 4-3-3 with front three playing close to each other. These constant changes put Inter under severe pressure which eventually cost the team as the equaliser was grabbed in the dying minutes to the despair of the Interista.
As boring as it must be getting for all Inter fans out there, the goal yet again was a poor goal to concede. A whipped free kick into the box, half cleared and no real intent to stop Antenucci on the edge who dinked the ball back into the danger area for Paloschi to guide the ball into the corner.
The space the goal scorer finds himself in is honestly laughable. This goal can’t come down to the manager, the players have to take responsibility here. Leaders such as Miranda, Handanović, Borja Valero and captain, Icardi need to ensure that everyone is focused and doing their jobs. Evidently here, that wasn’t the case and Inter were rightfully punished for their amateur error. New signing Rafinha took to the field for his first appearance for the Nerazzurri but it was just too little, too late.
Personally, I feel that Spalletti got it wrong today. Yes, we were leading up until the final minute just like in Florence however that doesn’t mean a win was deserved or justified. This SPAL side sat in and contained until 15 minutes before the end when they needed to push out for an equaliser but before that, I believe Spalletti was not brutal enough. With their five at the back, if both wingers were told to play in the half spaces closer to Icardi with each fullback also attacking, it would mean each one of those five defenders have a man to mark and more mistakes are likely to happen. More to the point, when SPAL changed to a three at the back pushing the wingbacks forward, they would have no choice but to drop otherwise they would have been completely outnumbered.
The only problem with this would be that our central defenders would be left to deal with Antenucci but in all honesty, that wouldn’t have been much of a problem at all. Instead, the fullbacks didn’t attack with intent and SPAL had it a lot, lot easier than they should have done. It’s results like this and Fiorentina away that we’ll look back on if we fail to make the UEFA Champions League by 4 or less points due to the fact both could and should have been wins given the circumstances in which the points were lost. All we can do is keep supporting the team and hope that a win finally comes next week at home to 17th placed, Crotone.