I don’t know about you but despite Inter’s crushing of Cagliari on April 17th, my blood pressure still hasn’t quite fallen since Inter’s nail-biting draw with Atalanta the previous weekend. It was difficult to imagine a team less prepared for a game than Inter was that day. In fact, the only consolation from watching the pace and ferocity of Atlanta’s belligerent high line was the fact that Handanović managed to stop everything Atalanta threw at him. Škriniar and Miranda – usually so solid and confident – seemed unsettled and, at times, outwitted by Atalanta’s strike force. It was only in the second half, when Atalanta started to fatigue, that Inter began to assert some control over their football, find some space and start to pose a threat. Paradoxically, Eder seemed more at home in the penalty box than Icardi in this game.
For Inter, these have been Strange Days indeed (when are they not, I suppose?). In March, it looked Inter had put its nightmarish December-February behind them with firm victories over Sampdoria, Hellas and a hard fought draw with Napoli. Then came April. The draw with Milan in which Inter played quite commanding and stylish football was marred by Icardi’s two missed open goals (which, depending on your point of view, was a footballing scandal par excellence that threw away our chances of Champion’s League football, or a tragic example of how Icardi is just as human as you or me), then another decent performance against Torino which Inter were unlucky to lose 1-0. The aforementioned draw with Atalanta. Was this the beginning of another goal famine? Three successive zeroes and things were beginning to ominously resemble the nightmare months. And then there was the goal feast against Cagliari (highlight goals: Cancelo’s lovely glancing header and Brozo’s glorious curling shot.)
However cathartic our thrashing of Cagliari was, our game against Atalanta was something of an augury for last Sunday’s game with struggling Chievo Verona. Yes, we squeezed out a victory, but there should have been so much more. There was too much of that timidity that we saw against Atalanta, especially in the first half. The glorious sunshine that bathed the Stadio Marcantonio Bentegod in its fair light seemed to sap the lifeblood from Inter.
Some things that we learned from Chievo-Inter:
1) The glare of Chievo’s vivid yellow shirts must have caused Inter problems in the first half
Inter’s build-up play in the first half was sometimes impressive. Karamoh – who looked very spritely — and Cancelo linked up nicely, Rafinha played some lovely touches but time and again the final pass or cross or the final shot was missing. Inter was tepid; Icardi looked stifled. In contrast, the Flying Donkeys had many more chances and we have, as usual, a combination of luck and the fine reflexes and magic gloves of Handanovic to thank for keeping Chievo goalless.
2) Inter’s magic 20 minutes
At the beginning of the second half Chievo continued to look dangerous but Inter, for the next twenty minutes, took full control. A fine curling free kick from Brozović was tipped over the crossbar by Stefano Sorrentino. Brozović
followed this, soon after, with a fabulous 20 yard shot on goal. Sorrentino’s save put the ball in the path of D’Ambrosio who coolly passed the ball to Icardi who tapped the ball in (apparently only his ninth touch in the game.) Icardi’s goal was immediately ruled offside, but referred to VAR. There ensued a typically surreal drama that is typical of this glorious new age of VAR, which involved much excitement and debate among players, coaching staffs, supporters and commentators about the offside law. Icardi’s goal was ultimately ruled onside.
Ten minutes later, there was more. Somewhere near the middle of the pitch Rafinha made one of his signature short passes to Perisic, who crossed the ball over to an unmarked Karamoh who was just to the right of the 18 yard box. Karamoh passed the ball to the incoming Rafinha, who tapped the ball to the sprinting Perisc who slotted it into the net. This was silky stuff. Inter was ascendant.
3) Spalletti’s Enigma Variations
Or were they? Spalletti proceeded to make a series of substitutions that were rather enigmatic. Santon came on for Karamoh (did he really need a rest?) Santon joined D’Ambrosio on the left flank, playing wing back with D’Ambrosio tucking in as a third center back. Shortly after that he was joined by Matías Vecino, the Uruquayan international, who replaced Valero. And then later, in the final minutes, Candreva was given the opportunity to run around and get some sunshine.
At a moment when it might have been wise to remain on the offensive, Inter seemed to switch into a defensive cruise control which relegation threatened Chievo took full advantage of. Rather than continuing their assault on the Chievo goal, Inter spent much more time absorbing the Flying Donkey’s pressure. By the time Chievo scored – thanks initially to a fumble from Vecino — Miranda and Skriniar looked utterly spent with exhaustion. Chievo continued to bombard Inter until the final seconds of the game and were perhaps unlucky not to equalize.
Why worry? Inter after all came away with three valuable points. Well, just as Spalletti was packing Inter defensively, Lazio, far away in Rome, put four goals past Sampdoria. They may only lead Inter by one point, but they are way head in goal difference. The second half of the second half was a missed opportunity. Spalletti’s substitutions did not enhance Inter’s game and in the end, victory wasn’t as convincing as it should have been.
4) Rafinha vs Cancelo, to buy or not to buy…
To buy Rafinha or Cancelo? This question might be moot if we don’t make the Champion’s League, but if by some miracle we do, we will have to take a long and hard look at these two players. Both are young, exciting prospects. Cancelo has speed and creativity, but can be erratic, especially with his longer passes and crossing. Rafinha, on the other hand, who grew up as a player at La Masia, seems more of a finished product, despite his worrying injury history. His confidence and playing time grows with every performance. Wherever the action is, Rafinha is. He is blessed with great technical skills, but he also shows humility. He is not one to showboat. His skill lies in his great positional sense, his quick passes and lethal through balls. His character and skill are a huge asset for Inter. If there has to be a choice, let it be Rafinha.
We face the Vecchia Signora at home tomorrow. That’s enough reason to make one’s stomach churn with anxiety. Yet strange as these days are, there are reasons to be hopeful. Even in our most lethargic recent seasons, we have challenged Juve in the Derby D’Italia. These last few weeks has seen Juventus roughed up in Europe and by Napoli at home; Buffon’s halo has suffered a slight slip. Chiellini is injured. Inter has everything to play for. An Inter victory And might make the second part of Netflix’s carefully curated Juve documentary series First Team: Juventus even more fun for us than we ever imagined when it airs this summer. Long live Strange Days!
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