As the mist curled over the Stadio Luigi Ferraris at kick off time the omens didn’t look good for Inter. Never mind that Inter haven’t won there since 2011, or the fact that Genoa have had a strong, unbeaten run at home in recent weeks, or the fact that Inter’s form has stuttered to a halt since being beaten by Udinese just before Christmas. The settling mist was a reminder, if anything, of the miasma that seems to have enveloped the Inter dressing room and penetrated the soul and sinew of every squad member over the last few weeks. To watch Inter play these days is to watch a team playing with a heavy weight on their shoulders.
Spalletti has rebuffed claims that Inter’s squad is suffering from depression and has tried to down play any dressing room schisms but one can only judge the actions of his team on the pitch to realize that their mostly somnolent performance against Genoa was more than the sum of Icardi, Perisic’s and Miranda’s absence. To wit, other than occasional first half exertion from Antonio Candreva – a strong, swerving shot that Genoa’s keeper Mattia Perin saved quite easily, and some solid defensive work in the first 44 minutes – Inter looked nervy, their passing rarely finding rhythm, until Rafinha came on in the 63rd min, but by then Inter were 2-0 down and whatever energizing effect Rafinha had on the team, it was too little too late.
1. What about that Andrea Ranocchia own goal?
Even though the Rossoblu showed far more confidence in the game’s first half, forcing a series of corners, Inter’s defense never looked overly troubled, even though Ranocchia had picked up a yellow for fouling Pandev and nearly got a second not long after for a raised elbow in a challenge. It was befitting of Inter’s fortunes that Genoa went ahead in the 44th minute from one of the most surreal own-goals in recent Serie A history. Although it lacked the majesty and scale of Geoffrey Kondogbia’s delirious own goal against Chelsea in June. A long, floating cross from Ervin Zukanović which showed no danger of finding any of his teammates in the box, was easily cleared by Skriniar until it found the knee of Ranochhia and promptly pinballed into the back of the net. There’s no explanation for that goal except sorcery. Indeed an earlier chance that Genoa had in the tenth minute – which hit the post – seemed also to be guided by an invisible agent rather than the foot of shooter.
2. Inter are far too generous to their former players
Just as they were last week to Rodrigo Palacio, Inter were far too generous to Goran Pandev, a member of Mourinho’s all conquering class of 2010. They gave him plenty of space between the lines to move and charge forward and when he scored Genoa’s second goal – a swift turn and strike – Inter’s defence was generous enough to give him the space he needed.
3. Before Rafinha come on…
Inter’s midfield play was halting, consisting of poorly conceived passes and poor combination play. Valero encapsulates this. He is an enigma. What does he do exactly? In recent games his performances have lacked energy or purpose. At the beginning of today’s game he seemed to be playing just behind Eder; then he drifted back. What kind of midfielder is he? A deep lying playmaker, a box to box midfielder, a trequartista? At the moment no-one knows as Valero plays as if he is in hiding.
4. After Rafinha came on…
Interisti are complaining about the game time Spalletti is giving him but Spalletti is absolutely right here. He is not long recovered from a serious knee injury. But like last week, his entry onto the field had a catalytic effect on the team. Rafinha is a silky but not too showy a player, darting laterally and diagnally, quick to call for the ball but quick to release it too. He seems to energize all those around him. Karamoh and Cancelo combined well with him and whenever they were together Inter showed possibility.
5. Inter missed Icardi and Perišić severely
Even though Inter’s overall problems seem deeply metaphysical, they do look like a midtable team without Icardi and Perišić. Time and again, Interisti must have imagined what would have happened if Icardi had been on the end of those crosses rather than Eder. Moreover its seems that it’s better to have a Perišić on the pitch despite being low on confidence and trying to do too much as witnessed by the previous game against Bologna, than to have no Perišić at all. Inter missed his wing-play and his prowess in the box. And know this: If Inter do not finish in the top four this year, Europe’s big club will surround Inter like a vulture fund and pick off, at the very least, Handanovic, Skriniar, Perisic, Icardi.
6. Was it all a dream?
As Inter settle into their midseason funk Interisti are entitled to ask of the first half of the season, was it all a dream? Not to discount Spalletti’s undeniable achievements. Former SempreInter columnist Max De Luca once compared him to a Zen master, noting that Inter had been experiencing “a dark night of the soul and needed to snap out of their existential crisis. Spalletti has taught his pupils to drown out the excess noise. He’s brought equanimity to a chaotic concerto. He’s given Inter an identity and now everyone is dancing to the same beat.”
Yet despite some dazzling moments and defensive solidity, Inter’s winning streak was never entirely convincing. And as October became November and Inter edged into December, there was a growing fragility to Inter’s game. The draw Inter scrapped in the Derby d’Italia brought a sigh of relief but was not enough to banish a dark sense of foreboding. Everyone then knows what happened against Udinese; now Inter has returned to its “dark night of the soul.”
This seems to be an annual event; one might call it the Inter Mysteries or Misteri Interisti. The return of Icardi, Perišić, and Miranda to the team, more playing time for Rafinha, the growing confidence of Karamoh and Conselo, could all count for something. Will that be enough to remove the miasma from the dressing room or will Inter need something more tonight against Benevento? Perhaps starting from tonight and until the end of his tenure at the club, Spalletti now needs to be less of a Zen master, and more of an Exorcist.
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