In his regular weekly column Inter fanatic Sam Olsen dives deep into the stories that matter to Inter’s fans looking to keep the spirit of discussion alive and well on the pages of Sempreinter.com.
Verona 2 – 1 Roma
Juventus 0 – 1 Udinese
Fiorentina 2 – 0 Milan
Sassuolo 2 – 1 Napoli
Anyone brave enough to have predicted all four of those results in the first round of Serie A 2015/16 will be struggling to decide what to do with their unexpected windfall. It was the first weekend of a season that will hopefully mark the turning of Serie A from a struggling league to one on the way back up as a plethora of sides displayed their intentions for the season.
One of these was of course Inter who were drawn at home against the plucky but decidedly limited Atalanta in the first test for the new look team. After a lacklustre pre-season where the team looked disjointed and unbalanced, and with fans still reeling from the sale of star midfielder Mateo Kovacic, the team, and perhaps manager Robert Mancini most of all, had a point to prove.
The starting lineup came across as solid but unspectacular. On paper it contained only two pure attacking players Mauro Icardi and Rodrigo Palacio sitting in front of a formidable defensive unit. Marcelo Brozovic and his massive engine was given the attacking midfield roll while Gary Medel, big money signing Geoffrey Kondogbia and youngster Assane Gnoukouri were assigned differing rolls in the central/defensive midfield trio. The formation was built around one premise. If they don’t score we don’t lose. Mancini wanted to make sure that if nothing else happened Inter would not find themselves on the donut like the four rivals at the top of the page.
In defence Mancini went for Juan Jesus on the left, Davide Santon on the right and a central pairing of Jeison Murillo and Miranda, the central combination in particular has got fans foaming at the mouth in anticipation.
The formation, selections and comments made earlier by Mancini all point toward what he is trying to do with this project. Build a foundation of strength through the centre of the park. Make the team hard to score against and once this is in place work on getting the attacking side of the game going.
It was clear at the end of last season that Mancini was far from happy with his squad when he stated after the victory over Empoli “How many players would I take? Maybe even eight or nine!” It was as clear a statement as needed that the manager did not have faith in his team and particularly his starting line up.
Against Atalanta, Mancini started with five players he has signed since January plus Gnoukouri who he has bought into the first team. With Icardi hobbling off after 15 minutes against Atalanta this became seven Mancini players on the field simultaneously. The only one Mancini player who was part of the squad but did not see game time was Martin Montoya, most likely because of the need for attacking players in the final quarter of the game.
The match against Atalanta, who appeared happy to settle for a point at kick off, went almost perfectly to script. Inter dominating possession, bossing the midfield and fending off the occasional attempt at a counter attack but lacking the quality and magic up front to open up the compact and resolute Atalantian defence. Even after Atalanta had a player dismissed and Inter pressed forward they were unable to put the ball in the back of the net. It wasn’t until the final minute of added time that Stevan Jovetic, a player capable of being one of the best if fitness concerns are overcome, sprinkled some much needed stardust on proceedings after he found himself with an inordinate amount of time inside the box,coolly whipping the ball into the far corner.
The goal was no less that what an utterly dominant Inter had deserved but the team, as it is, looks like it may struggle in the final third this year.
Mancini was satisfied although no doubt far from happy with both the performance and the result. He has put his stamp on the back and middle of the park but still has big questions to answer up front.
Perhaps his biggest frustration is not over what was happening on the field against Atalanta but off it. Prior to the match he made some interesting comments regarding the sale of both Mateo Kovacic and Xherdon Shaqiri, two players with an eye for the attacking side of the game. Mancini stated that “He (Shaqiri) had offers, we needed to get fresh funds and therefore he was sold. We believed in the player, but in the end we had to sacrifice him…..Inter are forced to bring in money and the only offers are for Shaqiri, we had no alternatives.”
The implication here is that there were other players the club would have preferred to sell but the offers are simply not there. A quick look at the bench give some indication of who these players might be. Club captain Andrea Rannochia is one as it seems he will not be anywhere near first choice this season, while Fredy Guarin has long been linked with a move away but it seems to have been thwarted by his inflated salary, rejection of clubs not deemed good enough and lack of decent offers. Yuto Nagatomo, Danilo D’Ambrosio and even Davide Santon have all been linked with moves that have not eventuated while the club would no doubt love to have Nemanja Vidic off their books but his salary is proving prohibitive.
The next week will be pivotal in seeing whether Inter can find creative sparkle that will ignite the team from one of several fighting for the Champions League to one of the favourites. At the moment the squad seems to lack depth and creativity up front but a couple of astute purchases could change that. Against Atalanta they proved they are going to be difficult to beat but to challenge for top honours they need to be able to work the magic at both ends.
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