Stefano Pioli fails in his final Milan Derby
Having arrived as interim coach in November, Saturday’s Derby della Madonnina collapse could be Pioli’s last in charge of the Nerazzurri
Inter’s loss to Crotone provided an insight into the lack of motivation that exists among some of the existing playing squad.
However, letting a two goal lead slip in Saturday’s Milan derby exposed another significant weakness of this season’s Nerazzurri: Stefano Pioli.
Make no mistake, the Italian tactician holds one of the most tenuous positions in world football, existing as one small piece of the confusing and largely incomplete puzzle that Inter has become.
After Frank de Boer’s reign ended in November, Pioli has been viewed largely as an interim coach. A placeholder until a world-class replacement can be found.
The 51-year-old was hired as a public acknowledgement of the club’s perceived error in hiring a manager with no experience in Italian football. The former Lazio manager had proved he could foster the development of young talent, get the most out the resources provided and, importantly, compete in Serie A. Third place in the 2014-15 season with the Biancocelesti was testament to this.
It’s important to note that, on a whole, Pioli has done a respectable job in extremely difficult circumstances. Soon after arriving at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, he was able to achieve something De Boer had not achieved in his 85 days in charge, motivating and earning the respect of his playing group.
Despite the tactics remaining largely the same as his predecessors, the results significantly improved and the Nerazzurri coach should be credited for this.
Though while the short-term benefits of a managerial change can be positive, Pioli’s limitations are starting to show. And if Saturday’s draw with Milan showed anything, it was that the former defender does not have the tactical nous or game management skills to take Inter to the next level.
At 2-0 and with 10 minutes of normal time remaining, Pioli made the decision to sacrifice Joao Mario in attack to bring on an additional defender in Jeison Murillo.
While the Rossoneri had sent more men forward and were applying greater pressure in the final third, they were still struggling to create any significant chances and the Nerazzurri looked dangerous on the counter-attack against a questionable defensive line.
Though with one substitution, Pioli showed a concerning lack of confidence in his team’s ability to finish the job. He changed the formation, changed their direction and changed the game.
Three minutes after the substitution, Milan scored their first as Inter’s defence was caught napping as they still looked to be sorting themselves in the new five-man backline.
And on 97 minutes, the comeback was completed. Unfortunately for Interisti, Pioli read the game completely wrong.
While the Murillo introduction looked like the main catalyst, his decisions to bring on Eder and Jonathan Biabiany for Ivan Perisic and Antonio Candreva respectively have to be questioned.
Eder, an inconsistent performer who never seems to quite fit in with the Inter XI, and Jonathan Biabiany, an attacking player known mostly for his pace who had not played a minute of Serie A football this season.
Inter’s defence has been their biggest weakness for some time. Thus, why a manager would choose to close a game out by leaning solely on such a vulnerable element seems illogical. It’s a strategy that Juventus can effectively fall back on with the resources, experience and cohesion that their backline possesses.
Pioli’s team was out of their depth and it was the manager who threw them in the deep end.
So where to from here?
Since his arrival in early November, the Italian has managed to pick up two draws in two Milan derbies. Unfortunately for Inter’s third coach in eight months, Saturday’s result looks to have been his last Derby della Madonnina. At least with the Nerazzurri.
There’s no doubt that the club has been far too quick to wield the axe on their managers since the departure of Jose Mourinho in 2010. Nine coaches since the Portuguese’s departure has ensured that consistency and continuity have long been absent from the Nerazzurri camp.
And now, due to no fault of his own, Pioli finds himself in a position which is beyond his abilities and is fast approaching its expiration date.
Diego Simeone has long been regarded as the saviour for Inter; the problem being that his second coming is not likely to be before 2018.
In the meantime, there doesn’t seem to be a sound decision for the club to make around the team’s manager. Do they continue with Pioli for another season knowing his limitations at the helm, potentially delaying a Champions League return for another season? Or do they hire the 10th manager since Mourinho, with a view to making Simeone the 11th in 2018?
One solution the Suning Group owners have reportedly put forward is to entice Antonio Conte to the Nerazzurri, only one season after joining Chelsea. The former Azzurri boss certainly has the experience and discipline to cover the job requirements, however the chances seem slim (at best) so early in his Premier League stint; no matter how much Suning are prepared to offer him.
Simeone looks the most certain. Thus, preparing a squad that will be qualified and competitive for the 2018-19 Champions League would certainly be the aim. Achieving this with a temporary managerial team will be a completely different challenge.
Pazza Inter Amala!