Following a disappointing result against Cagliari at the weekend, Inter’s fans may well be heartened by a home tie against Qarabag in the Europa League. However, Gurban Gurbanov’s Azeri champions will be no pushovers, as their 0–0 draw with Saint Etienne on matchday one illustrated. With Inter struggling for form, Qarabag will travel to the San Siro fancying their chances. Here are five things Inter will need to do to avoid slipping on the potential banana skin.
1. Tighten up the Defence
While it might seem obvious having conceded four goals in the first half against the Isolani, Inter’s defence is looking as creaky as ever. Walter Mazzarri’s back-three composed with the likes of Nemanja Vidic or Marco Andreolli are failing to convince. With three recognised centre backs, no team should be able to get four shots away within the six-yard box and yet the most distant of Cagliari’s goals was Marco Sau’s strike from the penalty spot. Against a team like Qarabag, who have scored eight goals in their last four games, leaving such spaces open could be fatal. After all, in Reynaldo and Vugar Nadirov, there is personnel there to punish Inter.
2. Possession, possession, possession!
Having enjoyed just 46% of possession against a team managed by Zdenek Zeman at the weekend, ball control is something that is clearly eluding the Nerazzurri. They will face a team who are confident in their passing and ability on the ball and who are happy to let the ball do their running. With Gurbanov basing his philosophy on Barcelona’s, it will mean Mazzarri’s men will end up chasing the play a lot should they allow Qarabag to build momentum during the game. With no ‘star’ player within their ranks, Inter will have to be alert to danger regardless, especially as the Qarabag forwards constantly interchange positions and to great effect. This will demand the five-man midfield to not just remain disciplined without the ball, but with it as well.
3. Feed Icardi
In Mauro Icardi’s first 180 minutes of football this season, he had 10 shots, five of which were on target and three of which were goals (all against Sassuolo). During the second 180 (184 to be precise) he had one shot, which was off target. The Argentinian remains Inter’s best chance of scoring, so for him to be marginalised/isolated could prove fatal. It goes without saying that without shooting, Icardi cannot score. As such, Inter’s worrying form in front of goal requires improving; 40% of the Nerazzurri’s shots on target to date came during the game against Sassuolo.
4. Vidic must Dominate
Since signing from Manchester United, it is possible that Nemanja Vidic has put together one of the least impressive Inter careers of all time. Vidic gave away penalties, missed headers and was sent off for sarcastically applauding a referee. Against a team that boasts of great mobility, Vidic will have to steady himself to remain in position in order to make the goal-saving tackles that were his stock-in-trade at Old Trafford.
5. Involve the Wing-Backs
The formationn Inter utilise means that there is more space on the flanks than in the middle of the pitch. Against Dnipro, both Dodo and Danilo D’Ambrosio were flawless — the latter scored the only goal. Just as Qarabag will try to find spaces out wide and work the ball into the box, so should the Nerazzurri. Icardi, Pablo Osvaldo and Rodrigo Palacio have won a combined 25% of their aerial duels this season… In other words, crosses into the box either need improving or must be relinquished altogether.