Despite being given the space to grow his Nerazzurri side, the young manager will soon have to begin securing the victories that really matter.
Italian clubs are nothing, if not effective. Above all, none more than Inter should know that, for it was their fearsome side of the 1960′s, led by one Helenio Herrera, that would perfect the rigid, defensive plays that became widely known as Catenaccio; literally translating to ‘door bolt’. Shutting out opponent attacks in steadfast manner, then countering at blinding speed to steal the win, the legendary Herrera led his men to back-to-back European Cup victories in ’64 and ’65, therefore entering Calcio folklore forever.
Invariably, football has come a long way since the days Giacinto Facchetti, Armando Picchi, Luis Suarez and Sandro Mazzola helped define and instate the characteristic effectiveness Italy’s top clubs were to become known for. Some things in life never change, and even today, Serie A, despite adapting and employing modern continental styles of play as European league systems matured, can still count on a penchant for pragmatic methodologies that fulfill its clubs’ primary focus when stepping onto the pitch; that of winning counting above all and everything else.
Therefore, how well does Andrea Stramaccioni’s Inter side compare against his Argentine predecessor’s, when acting on the above presumption that the overriding philosophy of Herrera’s Catenaccio, the emphasis of securing the victory at any cost, still resides in the principal nature inherent of every team in Calcio? To say the least, Il Mago, who passed away in 1997 and is posthumously recognised as Europe’s first true modern football manager, must be turning in his grave, after witnessing his former club’s latest debacles.
Helming the Nerazzurri in his first start to the season as a professional first-team coach, Stramaccioni’s stewardship initially promised much. Rekindling enthusiasm in the squad and uniting superstars such as Wesley Sneijder under a common banner with promises of a climb back into the upper echelons of Italian football dovetailed seamlessly with the stalwart signings of Antonio Cassano, Alvaro Pereira and Samir Handanovic, to name a few.
However, after overseeing a terrible home record of draws and defeats in Serie A and the Europa League, cumulating in the shock 2-0 capitulation to Siena in front of the San Siro faithful on Sunday, the magnitude of the task awaiting Stramaccioni has just began to dawn upon the 36-year-old, as his failures to secure the results despite counting on a lavishly-reinforced team become increasingly scrutinised.
The demise of Inter has manifested itself most visibly in the defence, who’s conceding of sucker-punches derived from lapses in concentration despite enjoying relative dominance suggests a more complex problem at hand than merely to do with the defensive personnel available. Despite admitting his side missed the presence of someone in Douglas Maicon’s role, Stramaccioni can still count on the likes of Matias Silvestre, the Argentine who enjoyed consecutive revelatory seasons in Serie A with Catania and Palermo, promising Andrea Ranocchia and Juan Jesus, who have exhibited the makings of a growing partnership in the centre, not to mention the streetwise veterans that are Walter Samuel and Cristian Chivu to turn to on the bench.
As the above options available go on to suggest, there is no evident dearth in quality at the back, leaving the young coach clutching on the short end of straws to account for his 3-1 defeat in early September to Zdenek Zeman’s Roma in Milan. ”We didn’t do well in that phase of the match and I think it was more of a psychological problem than a football one,” lamented the shell-shocked manager, who had just been given a lesson in tactics by his wily Czech counterpart. ”We cannot concede goals like that on home turf and then feel such a heavy psychological blowback. We have a lot to work on, because we are a new team and so must quickly turn the page.”
You have to admit, for Stramaccioni’s failings thus far, he has a point there. Featuring a younger team than others that have graced the past decade of the club’s history, in particular within her defence, Inter’s naivety in most recently conceding goals against Siena and Rubin Kazan reeked of a rearguard in dire need of a confidence boost and leadership. Stramaccioni’s plans to implement a free-flowing style of football big on entertainment value have failed to provide his stoppers with the necessary assurance that comes from adequate support, often resulting in his backline becoming too easily isolated and therefore picked off at will by their opponents’ forward maneuvers.
As Antonio Conte proved when he inherited the formerly shambolic trio of Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini, turning them into the most feared defensive units in Serie A as he led Juventus to the Scudetto last season, a balanced outfit attacks, and defends, simultaneously as one. The underlying roots of Inter’s struggles therefore lie here. With a spate of new signings that have yet to bed in completely now forming the spine of his team further forward, Stramaccioni must quickly look at means to offer his team tactical equilibrium, if they are to overcome their struggles and return to winning ways anytime soon.
Fredy Guarin is an element that must largely be held culpable for the midfield’s failures to screen the defence sufficiently. Whether wasting possession by causing a promising foray forward to break down in favour of embarking on an ill-advised, long-range pot shot that was always going into orbit anyway, or letting the heat of the moment overwhelm him into making a poorly-evaluated foul ceding territory to his opponents via surrendering a cheap free-kick, it is a small wonder that the former Porto player has not yet been dropped in favour of the undervalued Joel Obi by his coach.
With Walter Gargano and Pereira afforded no solid foundation upon which they can grow into the team for the time being, the dysfunctional midfield department barely achieves balancing shielding their defensive colleagues with supplying the ammunition to a profligate forward line, leading to Cassano’s lack of match fitness and incompatibility with Diego Milito becoming cruelly exposed. While the ex-AC Milan striker progressively gets into gear however, it is Ricardo Alvarez and Philippe Coutinho that continue staking their claim for a regular place in the starting line-up, this after the South American duo last nearly succeeded in turning the tide around in the Nerazzurri‘s favour against Siena, despite only coming on late in the second half.
If Stramaccioni is to turn around Inter’s rut and deliver the results that truly matter soon, that of leading his team on a belated Scudetto charge, he will very much have to revert back to basics and closely re-access his lavish technical options, tactical assets the ill-fated Rafael Benitez, Gian Piero Gasperini and Claudio Ranieri were never able to count on. With Moratti’s acute impatience looking its most accommodating in a long period, Stramaccioni can take heart from the fact that his side’s problems are not terminally chronic, and can be ironed over with time and practice together. In spite of Wednesday’s success against Chievo, Inter must continue displaying reciprocal progress, or their boss will ultimately become just the latest in a long line of managers to be extradited, on the age-old premise that he has failed to do what matters most in Calcio, that of delivering trophies and prizes.