Things are looking up, finally, in this cursed season. Inter scored more than 2 goals for only the third time this season. Forlan is getting healthy. Nagatomo is coming into form. Alvarez looks like he’s acclimating to Italy finally. Julio Cesar has woken up, or at least has taken his head out of his ass. The team itself is looking more like a unit and not a bunch of confused yet highly paid athletes.
Yesterday’s game was interesting not because Inter hit the post a maddening 4 times in the first half before finally equalizing, but because for the first time in a long time, the Oldies got into the act with the Young’uns. Also, it’s something of a landmark for Ranieri as he performs a rare formation change from a substitution and then changed formation again. Tinker, tinker, tinker.
Position Score: 6.5
The goal wasn’t his fault and he probably saved at least another goal. Cesar has been phenomenal during this little run of ours. I don’t know if it’s the light turning on in his head, the threat of Viviani coming back to practice or someone sitting him down and reading him the riot act. I will say this; Ranieri is no nonsense when it comes to players not performing and a quiet word to Julio might have been made.
Position Score: 6.5
Clearly the defensive line score is bolstered by the incredibly inspired play of Maicon and Nagatomo. Lucio and Samuel looked very foolish to me on the counter attack they allowed into the area and left Julio out to dry. Towards the end of the game they did the same thing again, only this time they were lucky the ball sailed over the goal and didn’t end up threatening.
Nagatomo had a battle on the left where he would win one and then lose one all through the first half. He was much better in the second, not counting his assisting the scoring, he also tightened up the defense.
Maicon I don’t remember having any troubles on defense but then again he was pretty much told to stay back in the second half like a traditional fullback.
Position Score: 7.5
It was poor midfield play that sprung the Lecce counter before the 20 minute mark and put Inter and my blood pressure in jeopardy. However, after that somewhere around the 25 minute mark, I think that Inter put their teeth into the game until Lecce started to actually attack.
Motta was the culprit for the midfield mess up that led to the goal. I didn’t think that he was in good shape for this game and deep in the second half I thought that he looked gassed.
Faraoni looked a little lost yesterday. He wasn’t awful, but his substitution at the half was appropriate. He just needs some continuity. He’s still a little frantic.
Zanetti was doing his best mostly switching with the fullback but he made a couple of runs forward. By the way, Javier’s passing has been off target this season as a whole, but yesterday was stinky.
Alvarez was inspired, especially in the second half. It looked like he had picked up a minor injury at some point and the bench was waving him to keep playing. Listen, Alvarez has steadily acclimated to the Italian game to the point where he’s a real option now. A couple of weeks ago you could see when there was a break in the action where Ranieri would talk heatedly on the sideline with Cambiasso and immediately following the summit there would be another exchange, this time with Alvarez as he was being micro-coached on the field. He didn’t need too much coaching yesterday. He ran after the ball if he lost it. He got his ass back on defense when the attacker came in his zone. He went forward in support of the attack and took his shots as well. When he was told to switch formation he was able to do it seamlessly. It was a nice disciplined game.
Cuchu came on in the second half and it looked like the rest did him some good. He was able to just run his little Terrier heart out and didn’t have to keep anything in reserve. He must have loved it.
Position Score: 8.5
In a complete reversal of the entire season thus far it was the attack that lifted the team yesterday. Forlan probably should have scored a couple of times and only his prolonged injury rehabilitation could explain why he was so close, but not quite on target. Pazzini scored on one of his trademark lightning drives towards goal and a one touch winner. Milito scored for the first time since a month that started with an “S” in one of his trademark nifty finesse touches. Yep, you read that right; I said something nice about Milito. Feel free to mark it down in your diary, who knows when I’ll say something nice about him again.
As I teased earlier, this game is perhaps the first time that the Young’uns and the Oldies finally got on the same page, at least for a game. It was quite a sight to see as Alvarez was finally able to deliver that final ball to Milito in a beautiful threaded pass through I think it was 3 defenders right to Milito’s foot, facing goal.
And if you want a storyline for the second half of this season there it is. Can we integrate the two elements of the team into a single fighting force? We know that the oldies can’t do it by themselves. September and October proved that the Oldies are… not done but not capable of doing it through sheer determination anymore. The mind is willing but the flesh just isn’t able to cash those checks anymore.
Enter the modern day warriors, today’s Tom Sawyers - sorry, I despise Rush, but I just couldn’t resist that one. In November and December the Young’uns picked up the slack from the limit where the Oldies were able to take the team and got them that extra meter or two to be that difference between defeat and victory.
The likes of Lecce, Cesena and Siena are not exactly world breakers, I get that and all expectations should be tempered accordingly. But what they were for us these last 2 months is game time experience and in game training for those we are so desperate to integrate so that after the winter break we can make our serious run at a Champions League spot.
There are those who are saying that it’s too late and that our season is down the tubes right now. They might be right, but the Fat Lady hasn’t even gotten up off the table to warm up and we have a bunch of young guys who are going to finally get some extended training time with a competent coach. And we are going to finally get some older guys off the trainers table and practicing with those young guys.
Speaking of the coach, Ranieri needed to win this game badly. He knew that a loss or a draw to a team on the very bottom of the table would have undone all the work he started this season in building the mentality of the team up from the horror of August and September. Plus, it would have probably damaged his relationship with Moratti, who was also desperate to have something positive to cling to this winter break.
So a rise up the table will probably quell any talk regarding a big name coming to the team. In fact, these recent result will probably mean that the current project – of signing promising players prior to their prime years for hopefully significantly less money will stay in place this January. So forget any immediate help. I am thinking it’s going to be young guys to integrate into the team, not established players to take the place of someone.
But to get back to Ranieri needing this game badly, you can tell how seriously he took Lecce. He started in the 442 in the hopes of blunting any quick counters and wearing Lecce down a bit as they sprinted up and down the field on those counters.
That didn’t exactly work as planned, as Lucio made a terrible error in defending the counter. The caroms off the goal posts were both hopeful and frustrating. It was clear that Ranieri made the right decisions in the line up – the team was attacking very well – but there was just no luck until Pazzini sent in the equalizer. The poor performance on the day was Faraoni – which is fine. The kid is not going to be consistent at the age of 20. He’s never faced competition this good for such extended time. It takes a while to get used to and I, for one, am willing to give him that time.
However with the inclusion of Cambiasso the midfield got back that feel of solidness that we kind of expect of that area with Cuchu, don’t we? With the midfield braced, Ranieri also took Forlan off and brought on a now rested Milito. Which by the way, I have no problem with. Forlan being eased into harness is a smart idea and Milito playing the part of a substitute is pretty much what he is at this point in his career. Pretending he’s an everyday starter is to deny reality, in my opinion. He was able to give his all in that window of opportunity because he knew he didn’t have to save himself for another half of football. It was a perfect situation for him.
With the inclusion of Cuchu and Milito the team went from 442 to 4312 with Alvarez playing just behind the forwards. This isn't the first time that Ranieri changed the shape of the team, but it is a promising sign. Lecce was essentially countering right down the gut and letting us play on the outside. Ranieri puts all of our midfield eggs into the middle of the field basket. Later, when Inter have a 2-1 lead, his last change to sit Pazzini and bring in Obi Ranieri opts for more speed, a wider presence and tackling power. The shape of the team kind of changes again, it flattens, this time to a more 4411 type arrangement where there is still a strong presence in the middle but also incorporates the fact that Lecce is done countering and is trying to actually attack Inter and using the wings in their attacks. Ranieri is famous for tinkering and over-thinking some issues, but in this case I think that he got it about right. Plus Obi was instrumental on one of the 2 goals that occur after he comes on, so his presence isn't a signal that the offense has stopped working.
Maicon, a foreign player who is technically an Oldie, assists Pazzini, an Italian who is technically a Young’un, on the first goal is like the realization of the integration of the diverse elements of the team. Young, old, foreign born and native; this was the dream of what this team was built around over 100 years ago and it’s exactly the dilemma that the team faces today. How do we rein in all these factors into a single force pointed in a single direction, with a single ambition and a single will.
And will Ranieri get the chance to be the man to hold those reins long enough?
Nagatomo and Slick Ric are the only suggestions that I will take here. Naga had the second half of his life so far and it warms my heart on these chilly, rainy, misty, grey days of not really ready for Winter not quite done with Fall, Great Lakes Dreary. Both are showing a lot of heart and I continue to shake my head in wonder at some of those things Naga is doing - for an example of this take another look at that last goal he assisted. Amazing.