Internazionale defeated Lazio 4-1 in round 37 of Serie A in what was to be their last game of the season at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza. The home fans waved farewell to the captain Javier Zanetti as the team claimed an important victory to all but secure Europa League football for next season with a dominant performance.
The Nerazzurri had raced to a 3-1 lead in the first half through a brace from Rodrigo Palacio and an effort from Mauro Icardi after Giuseppe Biava had opened the scoring for Lazio in only the second minute. Former Lazio playmaker Hernanes completed the rout by letting rip with a long distance shot in the 78th minute which flew into the corner and finished the game at 4-1 and broke Lazio hearts.
This was a massive win for Inter, not only to lift morale amongst the players and fans as they bid farewell to Zanetti and Walter Samuel and co., but also for the much maligned coach Walter Mazzarri.
The Italian tactician has come under increased pressure as the season has worn on due to Inter’s stuttering form and his inability to get the best out of the players available to him. In addition to this, as I’ve mentioned in previous weeks, Mazzarri is at odds with club president Erick Thohir’s vision for the future of Inter and a desire to redevelop the first team squad and install a youthful set-up.
However, the three points gained against Lazio have boosted Mazzarri’s prospects of clinging to his job for the immediate future. He can point to the fact he has defeated one of the club’s closest rivals and delivered on a top five finish, a task which was seen as the absolute minimum expectation when he was appointed as coach last summer.
In spite of his negative approach to the team’s style of play, Mazzarri has found a way to fit Hernanes and Mateo Kovacic into his system, where both playmakers complement each other, as demonstrated by the Croatian’s three assists against Lazio and Hernanes finding the net.
Indeed Mazzarri has moulded Kovacic’s style from a more advanced playmaker who is used to operating higher up the pitch to someone who can drop deeper into midfield and help his side defensively and is willing to track and harry opponents to win possession back for his side. Credit is due for this.
And yet one win isn’t likely to change fan’s opinion of Mazzarri as they have a long memory and 36 matches prior to this rest long in one’s mind and are hard to forget. Too many times have Inter sat back and been happy with a point where they should have claimed three. Such tactics will not be tolerated at a leading club.
The coach did atone for not bring Zanetti on in the Milan derby the week previously when in the 52nd minute the Argentine legend was introduced to a rapturous applause for the Brazilian right-back Jonathan and the emotion was plain to see across Il Capitano’s face.
It was fitting that with one of Zanetti’s final touches came with a trademark run down the flank as he provided an outlet for the midfield he worked tirelessly. One has to wonder if he could have played for one more season.
Credit is due to Lazio who amassed a total of 17 shots on Inter’s goal as the second half wore on and Inter retreated into their defensive shell. But they only managed nine shots on target and Samir Handanovic made eight saves to only concede once, keeping his side in the game.
Inter’s defensive retreat highlights the flaws with Mazzarri’s tactical strategies as the decision to sit back and invite Lazio onto them only made it more difficult for the Nerazzurri to shut out their opponents.
Still, a win is a win and the home fans will be satisfied with a crucial three points and European football secured for next season and they had the chance to say a fond farewell to a true hero who will now retire.
Zanetti is held in such high esteem that reports in Corriere Dello Sport emerged this week claiming that the club are considering retiring the no.4 shirt in his honour. It would be a fitting tribute.
Follow Ryan Ross on Twitter: @rross11