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Sampdoria 0 – Inter 2

Inter break their away hoodoo with an impressive win against a very much in form at home Sampdoria 0-2. There were a lot of notables in this game including the away win including the clean sheet and the reemergence of Inter in the Europa League shading of the table.

Marco Luzzani

There’s no doubt that this is a big win, made all the bigger because it breaks a lot of the wrong kind of streaks that Inter have been in the middle of. Inter’s playing form, since just after the Tottenham debacle, has been worlds better than the form that had just preceded it and the game today was a nice long awaited reward for that effort, especially considering last weekends game where Inter’s play was good enough for a draw. Yes, a draw this weekend would have been fairer on a lot of different levels.

As big as this game was, it wasn’t a barn burner. Strama dug deep on the bench for this one, and the quality showed especially when the gas started to run out. Nagatomo and Samuel where questionable to return at this point, so considering the game this weekend is another big one, an almost derby/revenge match against Atalanta, it seems like he tried to see if he could recuperate the better iffy players for that game. Either way, he bet on Jonathan and Silvestre – albeit not for very long in both cases – and he played a conservative 4312 for the win. Kudos on the cojones.

The Good

My Player of the Match is going to be Kovacic. He played well, defended better than I thought he would and distributed very well, but more than that he had a presence in the middle that this team had been lacking for so long. His well rounded ability allows the coach the luxury of putting a player like Gargano next to him who, as I have said plenty of times, is purely a one dimensional player and showed that single dimension plenty of times – but I’ll get back to him later.

So Kovacic is slowly proving to be well on his way to a regular player. It’s good that Strama is playing him in a relatively stable position – he’s always in the center of the midfield either in a 3 man or 2 man set up – and he always has the same job – get the ball safely out of our half and make a nice initial pass forward if you can. Fifteen to twenty minutes in, Samp decided to step up on him to pressure deep so Inter went either outside or over until the pressure eased. Although it looked like as the game wore on, and players got more tired, there was more and more reliance on the young man to get other players in the back out of trouble. And this is where another all around midfielder like Kuz or Benassi would be helpful. Kuzmanovic did come on late about the 70 minute mark, but Inter were already turtling and at that point the midfield wasn’t going to move up to join the attack unless there was significant possession up there.

In addition to the safety of possession deep, the decoy he created, and the off the ball moving he does – all of which would have made him a superstar on this current iteration of Inter, btw – he was able to play some defense in the deep midfield – according to one source he led the team in tackles. This, Gargano, is what I call a midfielder.

I would be very remiss if I didn’t add Palacio to the good pile. When Palacio’s name was floated 2 summers ago, my reaction was: solid forward. I didn’t realize that he was this good. He had 4 good looks at the goal while in the penalty area and he put 2 in. You just can’t ask for anything more. You just can’t. You could wish that he had a little more size. You could wish that he would take on the defenders more in a physical way. You could wish that he was better with the head. But the bottom line is that with this team of mostly mediocre midfielders at best (Kov excluded) behind him, he’s got over 20 goals this season in all competitions, and 12 goals in Serie A with 8 more game to go. His best season, last year was 19 total. He’s having a career year.

And in this game, late while he was left up top essentially alone he was able to be trouble for 2 or more defenders twice, once ending with a score to essentially end the game that he imbalanced in Inter’s favor to begin with. He had a monster game and I shudder to think what would have happened if we hadn’t picked him up when we did. If I am calling Kovacic My Inter Player of the Game, than Palacio is 1a. on that list.

Lastly on this list I am going to call Stramaccioni. I thought he was going to go back to the 3412 to match Sampdoria, but I was wrong. He played the 4312, but he didn’t sit back. In my preview I said that it would be interesting to see if he tries to defend his position or if he tries to reach out and grab it. I would say that in the first half, he definitely reached out and grabbed it. The first half was all Inter. This isn’t to say that he went all out attack, but he definitely had a plan to hold onto possession and to pick the moments to attack. Palacio would have beaten out Kovacic if he could have converted his 1v1 with the keeper very early in the match. And that wasn’t the only close call. Jonathan running deep down the right put it right on the line for Guarin who couldn’t beat the keeper. Add in Palacio’s all alone in the box header and that’s three significant chances in the game that had much more than a half a chance and showed quite a bit of aggression for a team that has something of a reputation this season of starting slow.

I liked Strama’s changes. In a bold move, Jonathan leaves at 58 minutes for Silvestre and exchanging the backline for a more defensive attitude – which I completely in favor of considering the dearth of clean sheets this season. Zanetti moves from left full back to right midfield to challenge play higher up. Ranocchia stays put. Juan stays put and Silvestre goes in between to clog the middle. Pereira moves up to play at his more natural left midfield. Ten minutes later Cassano comes out for Kuzmanovic, I have no problem with this move either. Flooding the midfield is a classic move with 20 minutes left. Plus, I have no problems getting Cassano rest for the weekend.

If I had to nitpick his selections I would have liked to see Benassi in this any game. Look, I get that the man has his job on the line, but Benassi had several good outings this season for being such a young man – especially in a position like midfielder which is such a problem for us. Granted his best outing was against Pescara, but I would like to see him again, even if it’s a few minutes at the end of games. I get why Strama loves to use Gargano, because who else can press at such speed? But the bottom line is that I would love to see more passes actually find their mark instead of get rammed right back down our own throat. Having said all that, Strama gets the crap kicked out of him when he loses a game like the one against Juventus – one in which he had a grievance and should have gotten more. He made his calls with what he had tonight and he hit on almost all of them. Plus I like the fact that Kovacic has been gradually been integrated into the team from second half sub, to first half of the game player to 90 minutes.

The Bad

There were some individuals that I wasn’t thrilled with, but obviously they didn’t do too much harm today. Against another team, sure it could have been worse.. But really, railing against individual players kinda bores me at this point. We know who the bad guys are. We know why they are on the team (cheap mistakes made at the player acquisition level without intense vetting of the player due to putting ourselves in situations of desperation), further we know why they are playing (there isn’t anyone else, due to poor performance at the player acquisition level). And hitting my head against the wall about this isn’t my idea of having fun with this sport or this blog. So I’ll just move on.

So here were the “bad” trends I am seeing. The first was giving up fouls around the box. And let’s be clear, I am happier with them being outside the box as opposed to inside the box. But the fact remains that of the 20 shots that Sampdoria took on the night, at least 5 were set pieces just outside the area. For those who are interested in all the stats, 12 shots of the 20 total were from outside the area, 8 were from inside the box – a lot resulting from corners - and only 3 of those 8 were on target (one blocked). So while I am not thrilled with the fact that Samp were able to work the ball down to where they could shoot on target, there is no doubt that the majority of them were prayers with defenders in front of them that Handanovic collected with ease. However, I can remember at least twice where he had to stretch his fingers on a dive to make the save. The eight shots from inside the area – from however they got there – isn’t a great stat either.

My take away here is that Samp at home was much more an equal participant in this game in the second half as Inter gradually tried to shut up shop after capitalizing on their chances in the first.

The other trend that bothers me is the turnover problem. This begins and ends with Gargano. The only player to get a worse rating than him in the back 8 was Jonathan – and we know he sucks because he doesn’t play that much. He had the worst passing average of the midfielders and he had the worst long pass completion of them too. Defensively, where he’s supposed to shine, he was eclipsed by Kovacic as well. Kov had more tackles, more interceptions and committed half the fouls – see above about set pieces. The only factor that Gargano has over Kovacic is his range. If you were look at a heat map of Gargano’s tail through out the game you would how he was able to do all that and finish the game. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate his effort and range – but I wonder how much less trouble we would be in if we had a more competent passer in his place.

The Ugly

Jonathan slipping twice - or whatever he was doing to himself in the area late in the first half - and turning the ball over about 10 meters in front of Handanovic, who probably dropped a brick into his pants watching that horror show, comes to mind. But other than that catastrophe, the ugly box is looking pretty empty today. It’s nice to see what we can accomplish when we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot, eh?