Inter participated in a winter tournament designed to keep players match fit and extend opportunities to lesser used players. Although Inter were expected to breeze by the opposition, we did not. The first of the two opponents, Real Balompedica Linense, made our defense look ridiculous. Then Marbella shocked all those expecting an easy win for Inter by beating us in penalties. Losing to a second tier side will always be a little embarrassing, but we still managed to win the mini tournament on point differential.
Against Linense, Stefano Pioli chose players we have seldom seen selected throughout the season. Senna Miangue, Assane Gnoukouri, Gabriel Barbosa, Marco Andreolli, and Rodrigo Palalcio were all given a rare opportunity to please the boss. To compliment the aforementioned players, Pioli chose: Handanovic, Danilo D'Ambrosio, Jeison Murillo, Brozovic, Antonio Candreva, and Eder. The game against Linense quickly highlighted our defensive deficiencies. In the match, there was a clear lack of communication as our defense lacked structure and positional awareness. Further, the defense panicked consistently and it was punished as the team gifted easy chances to Linense. Linense scored two goals in forty five minutes (including a penalty) and could have scored more. Despite the mishaps in the back, Inter managed to level the game twice through Murillo. Somehow, Inter secured the victory in the dying embers of the match through a marvelous goal from Barbosa.
Against Marbella, Pioli decided to change nine of his starting eleven. Andrea Ranocchia and Andreolli were in front of Carrizo with Santon and Ansaldi playing fullback. Gnoukouri and Joao Mario were stationed in front of the defense while Ever Banega, Jonathan Biabiany, and Ivan Perisic supported Mauro Icardi up front. This group showed greater chemistry, but struggled to create anything decisive up front. Inter lacked a clinical touch and the final ball always seemed to allude us in the final third. After dominating proceedings throughout the match, Inter did manage to score after a long pass from Ansaldi was slotted past the Marbella goalkeeper by Perisic. This equalizing goal came long after Marbella scored a goal of their own. Again, Inter's defensive credentials were called into question as the defense seemed out of sorts, especially on the play leading to the goal. The central pairing of Ranocchia and Andreolli did not appear solid at all and the game was sent into penalties (even though Inter had already won the trophy) as regulation ended in a draw. In penalties, Inter had several chances to win, but failed to do so and Marbella eventually won the encounter after who else but Ranocchia missed a penalty shot.
These friendlies were crucial in allowing players, who would not normally get playing time, to showcase their talents. Several players did just that and will be providing Pioli with some healthy completion to choose from. Others, like Andreolli and Ranocchia emphasized glaring issues with the team. First, the obvious issue the team has with shifting on dead weight at the club. For years, the club has known that Ranocchia cannot compete at the highest level. Yet, here he is acting as our first center back off the bench. This also points out the second issue. This issue is that Ranocchia and Andreolli are our back ups at center back. Inter need to target a replacement for them because if anyone gets injured then one of these two will be starting.
On the other side of the token, there are two young players who played well and I believe deserve more playing time. The first of the two is Miangue who controlled his flank with class. None of the threats that Inter were troubled by against Linense came down his flank. Further, Miangue always presented himself as an offensive option for the team. The fullback repeatedly surged forward causing the opposition problems with his crossing. Another youngster who deserves praise is Gabriel Barbosa who was a spark for the team. The young Brazilian worked hard and displayed a great deal of determination in this outing. He tracked back when he needed to, always put himself in an open position ready to receive the ball, and cut decisively through the defense on several occasions. His hard work was rewarded in the closing minutes of the game as he lifted a chested pass from Palacio over the Linense goalkeeper. I hope Pioli gives these youngsters serious consideration for further minutes in the league.
Overall these games provided a good indicator for where Inter can improve. These games also gave our players the opportunity to shake off some of that winter break dust and play again. Hopefully this trophy will boost the squad's confidence and propel them towards a strong finish to the second half of the season.