People who don’t like Italian football were probably driven insane if they watched the late game on Sunday. It was a highly tactical affair, there was low scoring and both managers seemed to be happy sharing points going in despite what they may say afterwards.
As we get to the Champions League fixtures in the business side of February it’s time to take a short overview of the season so far. Drawing a top 4 team away is an acceptable result. Looking over the season so far, we have had 3 meh results and 1 bad conclusion to a game all season: drawing Parma away isn’t disastrous but as Parma slips further in the standings this result gets worse. Drawing Bari twice isn’t a great result but at least they are right at mid table. Drawing away at Atalanta is shocking really. MAD’s Guide to Scudetto Winning ™ (patent pending) says that teams in the bottom half need to be beaten home and away. We failed to do that twice now. The losses to Sampdoria and Juventus – both away to upper table teams - aren’t very damaging at all. We can expect the chasing pack to get mixed results against those teams as well.
My Inter Player of the Game – there can’t be any doubt. Since the forwards didn’t score despite some very good chances late, we needed a shutout to get points.
Stats Home Team First
Shots (on Goal): 16(2), 9(2)
Fouls: 20, 16
Corner Kicks: 3, 2
Offsides: 2, 3
Time of Possession: 48, 52
Yellow Cards: 3, 3
Cesar: Julio Cesar is one of the top two goal keepers in the league and he showed all his quality on Sunday. He’s athletic, he’s quick, he has excellent coordination, he commands his area he can get to high and low shots equally and he distributes well. He can even play with the ball at his feet. 8.5
Maicon: I don’t have as much a problem with Maicon’s play Sunday that many other did. It was his penetration into the Napoli area that could/should have gotten us a penalty kick – which would have proven to be decisive in such a closely fought game. However, I also think that he could have done better in bringing the ball up field. 6.0
Lucio: Considering the scoring drought that we seem to be going through, I think that the defence has been stepping it up wonderfully. Sunday was no different as I though that Lucio was the best of the back four. 7.5
Samuel: Samuel was matched up with Denis all game long. I don’t think that I rate Denis too highly, personally, but whatever he is quality-wise, he’s a starting forward on the 4th place team in the league and Samuel marked him off the park. 7.0
Santon: I thought that Santon did okay in the first half, but I think that he did even better in the second half for one extremely important reason that I would love to see more of: Mourinho moved Zanetti in front of Santon and was a kind of coach on the field for the youngster. With Zanetti backing him up Santon did his job with improved confidence. 6.5
Zanetti: As I said above, if Mariga is going to figure into the lineup more often then I would move Zanetti to the left and start on the job coaching for Santon. I think its suicide to have Mariga and Santon on the same side of the field together. 6.5
Cambiasso: There were flashed here and there of the Cambiasso that we all want to see. But the truth is that he looked overrun, and we knew he would be before the game started – which is why we were trying to bypass the midfield from the get go. Still I thought he got stronger as the game wore on and I would like to see him get another full game in before the Champion’s league mess starts. 6.5
Muntari: Muntari’s game on Sunday reminded me of the game against Catania his first season with us. He was wild and made crushing tackles left and right and was madman from the gun. Right after that initial burst of madness he calmed down and was a very good midfielder for us. I am hoping that this was just Muntari not playing for a while and getting the Evil Spirits of Inaction out. God knows I need to do that from time to time. 5.0
Sneijder: Sneijder looked like he hadn’t played a competitive game in a while. His passes were off and his free kicks were a little kaka. But he ran and he didn’t give up no matter how much he got kicked, pushed down and grabbed. I admire that attitude in a player. It’s also going to be good practice for when we meet the English team. 6.5
Milito: I can’t remember a time in this game when Milito carved out some space for himself and took a good shot. Part of that was the Napoli defence, but I am also wondering if Milito will last the entire season with us at his incredibly high form. I have to say that it’s worrying to me that the 30 year old will hit a wall, after all, he didn’t have the schedule at Genoa that he has here. 5.5
Pandev: Goran had the best opportunity of the game to score and he flubbed it. Worse, he didn’t make many other opportunities for anyone else, either. 6.0
Mariga: McDonald did a very decent job coming in for Muntari at the half. He was able to defend well and he even pushed the ball forward decently. His passes were okay. I am trying to be conservative in my opinion because I haven’t seen a full game from him yet, but the spot duty has been positive. 6.5
Eto’o: When Eto’o left us in December he scored in 3 out of 5 games we played that month and was in absolutely incredible form. Since he has come back 3 weeks ago, he has been goalless and has looked just out of it. The team will get a much needed rest this week and I hope that he finds some rest and his shooting touch. 5.0
I thought that it was a highly entertaining affair. It looked to me like Napoli definitely had the edge in emotion of playing at home in the first half, but I thought that they had pretty much worn themselves out by the middle of the second half. We definitely looked the better team in the second half as we pressed forward and made some nice chances – in exchange for the nice chances they had on us in the first half.
As far as tactics go, Napoli isn’t the most exotic team in the league. They mostly attack in a pretty straight forward manner: penetrate as far as possible and kick it back towards the support striker (Quags) or the attacking midfielder (Hamsik) to take a ripping shot from the top of the box. There are 5 midfielders to clog up the middle lanes and they run out in twos and threes against anyone who tries to attack wide on them. This Mazzarri style team is tough to break down, but it has proven hard to maintain if you don’t have enough horses to provide the frenzied midfield play over the whole season. Basically they put all their eggs in midfield dominance/clog.
Which is why, when Inter went to Napoli on Sunday, our offensive tactic was to bypass the midfield entirely. Mourinho’s attack was to get past the 9 players (4 for us, 5 for them) all packed in the compact midfield that both coaches prefer, take his chances with our forwards plus Sneijder against a 3 man defense.
I think that strategy worked out okay for us. We wore them down late. We got some shots off. We hit the crossbar once. We had what looked like a handling knock the ball out the area and there was a weird sequence of events that looked like someone was holding/hugging Milito from going forward – but there was a mass of bodies and I didn’t see it very well, even after a second viewing. If someone gets a better look at it – let me know about what the heck was going on there, please.
Defensively, I think Lucio was at his intercepting best. Napoli likes to cross the ball backwards a bit to a trailing player to get more space to shoot from and we were able to shut that down pretty well. Samuel and Lucio managed to keep a buffer in front of Cesar which helped make sure that all the crosses that came into the middle had to go backwards further out to keep the ball out of Lucio and Samuel’s clutches. As a result of forcing lower percentage shots, there were a lot of shots that went wide and high – and we had a bit of luck as 2 shots hit the crossbar. Napoli had their chances though.
So it was about as even a game as one would expect from 2 teams in the top 4 of the league.
Switching gears slightly, there has been some juice in the rumor market that has been too persistent to completely disregard. I have to say, that given the market that we have just had, these two rumors are eminently plausible.
The first rumor is the one with the least impact – namely, that we are close with Genoa in signing Ranocchia, who is on loan to Bari, and loaning him back to Genoa for a year or two. We have an excellent relationship with Genoa, like we do with almost every other team – yes, even Milan, where Moratti, Berlusconi and/or Galliani often are seen dining together and often root for each other despite their political differences – excepting Juventus.
The second rumor would seem harder to make happen, but it has been persistent these 2 or 3 years, and that is Hamsik to Inter. Mourinho, it must be said, absolutely loves Hamsik and was rumored to be his first choice after Lampard when he came to Inter 2 summers ago. News is sometimes slow to come out of Inter Headquarters but it seems like Quaresma was more Moratti and Co. than Mourinho – which would be much more consistent with the way Inter has been doing things these last few years. Like most coaches in Serie A, Mourinho might have suggestion and limited veto power but the big personnel decisions come from higher up. Anyway, there is a lot of complications with this rumor – namely the president of Napoli is a little… well, let’s say eccentric, shall we? But even he has to see that Hamsik is a hell of a player. I don’t see him leaving for cheap if at all. But, it might be worth it to see what Moratti does this summer. I am already on record saying that we are going to see some more BIG changes this summer. I wonder how many more I can take…
And I will leave you all with a note or three on our neighbors in the standings.
The first note is about Milan who has still not played their game in hand from the 17th match day on December 20 which makes, as of this writing, the 58th day of extra rest that Milan has benefited from, thank you very much Sr. Albertini. Maybe that game will be made up some time before the spring thaw.
The second note is for the recent Roma visitors who are desperately hoping that we are afraid of them. Speaking for myself, I was apprehensive when Juve were talking trash all summer only to fall behind by December. I was apprehensive when Milan were ahead of us in September after one game, fell behind us, talked trash in January and then fell behind us again. And I am apprehensive now at a time when we are +7 points – or at least 3 games - ahead. And I am only going to say it once, so don’t expect any more out of me, at least, about this.
It’s not you. It’s us. If we take care of business, no one will catch us. Between injuries, suspensions, meltdowns, scandals, Champions League, Coppa and schedule congestion I am apprehensive from August until May no matter who is in what position. Juve supporters will call it a “loser mentality”, because when the deck is stacked in your favor for decades, it’s hard to be humble and uncertain or to have empathy when others have it. So, yes, I am afraid – but not of you, of the uncertain future.
The third note is for the Juventus supporters who came here crying that the culture of Moviola and media pressure on referees is somehow against them – after getting 2 questionable penalties in successive weeks. My initial thought? Typical Juve. They are crying that everyone is against them right after they gifted 2 phantom penalties that granted them 4 points and might just have saved their season. I had a coworker like that. He was rich as hell and used to complain about the price of gassing up his 3 Mercedes. If they don’t like the Moviola culture, then maybe they shouldn’t have created it by casting doubt on every result made in the past 2 decades through pharmacy and referee tampering in the first place... instead of blaming Mourinho and Inter for their predicament, which has become the Juve default position for the past 4 years, which is also a bed of their own making, by the way.