Are Inter teetering on the brink of downfall?
“Where would we be without Strama,” Inter fans chorused in praise of coach Andrea Stramaccioni as they put an end to Juventus’ 49-game unbeaten streak, in Turin no less. Fast forward little over three months later, and such songs of praise might just have taken on a perverse turn, as Inter slumped to their seventh defeat in Serie A on Sunday.
The 3-1 humbling at the hands of bottom-placed Siena dampened renewed optimism following yet another intriguing transfer market. Inter offloaded forgotten misfit Philippe Coutinho, and immediately reinvested funds in Dinamo Zagreb’s Mateo Kovacic, another promiscuously talented teen sensation. Meanwhile, Ezequiel Schelotto and Zdravko Kuzmanovic arrived in shrewd transfer deals that ensure a sense of longevity lingers around this increasingly youthful outfit.
Nevertheless, that re-injection of hunger and conviction the management at Appiano Gentile were so fervently seeking from their newest acquisitions deserted them at the weekend, and despite promising debuts, one feels the club will have to do more than merely turn to their new signings in a bid to introduce greater impetus, on the way to securing Champions League qualification come season’s end.
Indeed, it would matter little that Inter procured such promising additions, should they continue being undone by their underlying deficits day in and day out. In how long Stramaccioni takes to acquaint himself once more with the same degree of improvisation and resourcefulness that led to himself being compared to Jose Mourinho earlier this campaign lies the key to defining his fortunes in the Nerazzurri dugout. That the 37-year-old has not yet already recognised the fundamental pitfalls in the way his side line up on the pitch despite witnessing multiple slip-ups suggests a glaring lack of clairvoyance in forging a balance between his men’s technical capabilities, and his team’s tactical needs.
Esteban Cambiasso might remain one of Inter’s outstanding arrivals during Massimo Moratti’s reign at the Milan giants, but while his performances have consistently identified him as the cornerstone of the Inter engine room, the Argentine’s admirable utility should not extend to that of a playmaker role, for which he remains principally unsuited for.
Similarly, praise Fredy Guarin’s lauded contributions in his coach’s interpretation of the trequartista position as you will, but that alone cannot disguise that he is a fundamentally flawed player to all intents and purposes, with attacking foray after foray breaking down at his feet as the result of an ill-advised shot or dribble.
It’s still unclear whether Kovacic could proffer an immediate answer to the lack of graft plaguing his new team at the centre of play. Precocious yet inexperienced and untested at the very top, weighty expectations threaten to undermine the 18-year-old’s explosive potential. Identified as one for the future, the decision to thrust him in at the deep end by burdening him with undue responsibility bears caution, and yet it appears increasingly unlikely that such trivialities will be actively considered in the desperate times that surround the club.
As players and coaching staff alike bite the bullet, how much more forgiveness can a beleaguered Stramaccioni bestow on stoppers Andrea Ranocchia and Cristian Chivu when things come to a crunch, the way they continue to provide unworthy support for Juan Jesus at the back? For every goal the revelatory Rodrigo Palacio nestles into the back of the net at the other end, the cumbersome pair conspire to doom their team-mate’s mighty efforts by producing laughable attempts at defending bordering on the amateurish. Should a summer clear-out grow to fruition – and that too is looking ever more likely – it would be come as no surprise that the inept duo lead the exodus out of San Siro.
Just as they ought to be breaking towards the upper echelons of Serie A, they flatter to deceive and falter instead. Still, the quality of the players themselves cannot be the sole cause of the awful form displayed lately, when indeed there remain other quality options that reside within. Despite an imperfect state of affairs, sufficient depth exists within to gift the man in charge viable, quality alternatives – options that might prove invaluable to overturning the challenge at hand. With several tweaks and more careful management of her assets, the club could yet bear resemblance to the machine that swept all before her in late October of the previous year.
The secrets to unlocking eventual success certainly lies within the team’s abilities, but the squad must first pull out all the stops if it is to succeed in taking its feet off the brakes, as the crucial part of the season beckons. Time and patience might be necessary if the exuberant spring in this Inter batch is to explode into bristling, world-class potential, but immediate results are discarded at one’s own peril, especially considering Moratti’s associated lack of tolerance for failure.
With a squad now outfitted to adapt to two or three different formations, Inter now retain a decently capable team the likes of Gian Piero Gasperini and Rafael Benitez would have killed for to turn it all around. Of the coaches which have succeeded Mourinho, Stramaccioni indeed remains the most lavishly equipped and supported by the hierarchies that be. Failure to seize the opportunities falling into his lap with both hands would be viewed as a severe blot to the young Italian’s copybook. The next few months of spring now threaten to make-or-break the career of one of Serie A’s most prominent budding tacticians.
Follow Jeremy Lim on Twitter: @JeremyLimCalcio