The 3 consecutive Serie A victories and the elimination of Celtic in the Europa League left fans excited about the team and their recent upturn in form. Some were even looking at the table again with a little bit of hope in their hearts. It was this excitement that was coursing throughout the San Siro as Inter lined up against Fiorentina. Everybody knew that this would be a tough match-up but some (myself included) were hoping that the Nerazzurri would be able to put on a good performance based on their recent wins and take something from this match.
There were 6 changes from the side that beat Celtic midweek. Handanovic replaced Carrizo in goal, Campagnaro and Vidic took their place in defense for D'Ambrosio and Ranocchia, Brozovic and Kovacic lined up in midfield instead of Hernanes and Shaqiri, Podolski replaced Palacio to partner Mauro Icardi up top. Without Ranocchia in the lineup, Guarin was captain this match.
Fiorentina started the match the brighter of the two sides, putting early pressure on the Inter players and not really letting them get out of their half much. Handanovic had to make a few early saves from Diamanti and Babacar. Inter did get more of a foothold later in the match, highlighted by a Fredy Guarin rocket shot that struck the post. Fiorentina ended the half with Salah having to come in and replace Babacar due to an injury.
In the 55th minute the deadlock was broken. Pascual put in a cross that Handanovic spilled right into the path of Salah who pounced and put Fiorentina into the lead. In response Medel put in a lofted ball for Icardi who took too long to pull the trigger and allowed a defender to slide in and take the chance away.
Mancini sent in Shaqiri for a useless Podolski and he immediately began making an impact, first forcing a save out of Neto and then teeing up Icardi for a open chance from 12 yards out that he put high. Vidic later had a free kick saved by Neto as Inter were really pushing for an equalizer.
After Montella had made all 3 of his substitutions, Tomovic had to come off leaving Fiorentina with 10 men. Palacio took a low weak shot that Neto easily saved though Icardi was wide open and screaming for the pass. A few minutes later Savic came off through injury as well. Fiorentina were defending with 9 men at this point and the Nerazzurri players were desperate for a goal. Neto made an amazing save from a Palacio header and Fiorentina managed to hold on for the win.
Good, Bad, Ugly (I haven't done one of these in a while but a couple of the players deserve mention)
Fredy Guarin: Guarin was given the captain's armband and he another strong performance. His first half shot that hit the crossbar was the best chance of the half, and he was constantly driving forward and trying to make something happen throughout the match. In the second half when the side was pushing for an equalizer there were numerous times where he was seen yelling at the other players trying to motivate them to keep going.
Xherdan Shaqiri: After playing in midweek, Shaqiri was rested for the match and as soon as he came on he showed Mancini why benching him was a mistake. His introduction sparked Inter's best attacking plays, forcing Neto into a series of saves. His creativity energized what had been a lethargic midfield and made Fiorentina work for their win. He will make Mancini think twice about benching him for Kovacic in the future.
Defense in general (for the most part): In recent weeks the defense has not been considered one of the team's strong points but today, they were fairly impressive. Santon played well (before getting tired towards the end of the match). JJ was solid throughout and Vidic was smart defensively and had a good chance to score off a free kick. Basically I'm including them in this category because they didn't do anything too stupid (which unfortunately we have come to expect from them).
Samir Handanovic: While Handa did make a few decent saves early on in the match, the goal was not his greatest moment, with him pushing out the cross right into the path of Salah. There was another instance later in the match where the same almost happened again. Not the most confidence-inspiring way to come back from being injured.
Mateo Kovacic/Marcelo Brozovic: They were both just invisible. Brozovic was nowhere near his usual link between the defense and the attack, while Kovacic was not as creative as we have come to expect from him. One of them having a bad day in the midfield might have been managable but with both of them off pace, the midfield struggled to really gain any sort of foothold in the match, leaving it all up to Guarin. When Shaqiri came on it was evident what the midfield had been missing.
Lukas Podolski: So when one of my friends that is an Arsenal fan told me that Inter wasn't gaining much by picking up Podolski, I didn't take it to heart. Now I am starting to see what he meant. The German had another bad game, wasting chances and having a number of poor crosses and touches. Besides his appearance in the Derby D'Italia Podolski hasn't had any good performances since he arrived at the club. Oh and just to sum up, take a look at this.
This is one of those matches that serves to remind us where the team currently is. Yes, Mancini has improved the style of play. Yes, Mancini has gotten a number of the players to perform a lot better. Yes, Mancini did bring in players who improve the squad (for the most part...). But this team still needs work. This team is not yet at the point where a challenge for CL can be realistically thought about. This team is not yet at the point where we can be considered favorites for the EL title. But Mancini has time and the squad should reach that point because the players are good enough (again for the most part). This side has not shown itself to be good enough to take on and beat the big boys yet. Knock out Wolfsburg in the EL and we might be able to have that conversation again.