Inter’s record-breaking start to the season suffered an unexpected setback on Sunday as the Nerazzurri were held to a 1-1 draw by Torino at San Siro. Second-half goals from Iago Falque and Eder ensured that the spoils were shared after an entertaining 90 minutes, in which both teams looked to win and created numerous clear chances.
1. You can’t win them all
Inter headed into this match off the back of their best ever start to a Serie A season, with 9 wins and 2 draws from their opening 11 games, and would have been justifiably confident of adding a tenth win on Sunday afternoon.
Ultimately that didn’t happen, leading to plenty of disappointment amongst supporters on social media at full-time, but despite that it would be wrong to paint this as a completely negative day for the Nerazzurri. The team responded well to falling behind with 30 minutes left and managed to preserve their unbeaten start to the campaign, and having levelled the game through super-sub Eder they then came close on a couple of occasions to completing the turnaround.
And that - at least in my opinion - should be enough to spare the players a fortnight’s worth of angry criticism before club football returns after the international break. (I mean it probably won’t, but it should.)
Was this an error-free performance? No. Did several people play below the standards that they’re capable of? Yes. Did Spalletti wait a little too long before turning to his subs bench in the second half? Probably. But despite that and all the other legitimate criticisms one could make of the team today, a little perspective wouldn’t go amiss.
This wasn’t the result we wanted, but we were up against a good team who put in their best performance of the season so far, and we created more than enough chances to win the game. Perhaps this match was compensation for some of the victories we’ve picked up already this season, in which we created far less yet were able to maximise our opportunities - perhaps Matias Vecino hitting the bar is karma for the 8 times opposing teams have hit our posts and bars so far this season, for instance.
Inter are third in the Serie A table, unbeaten after 12 games and 11 points clear of the team that everybody was certain would finish above us in the summer. Call me small-time or provincial, but as far as I’m concerned the glass remains half-full.
2. Inter drop two points that could prove costly
Having said all of that, the two points that Inter dropped against Torino could prove costly come the end of the season.
In a ‘normal’ league where everybody can beat everybody and the number of points required for a top four finish is somewhere around the 70 mark, a result like ours on Sunday should not be cause for concern in the slightest.
Unfortunately, Serie A 2017-18 is not a normal league, because it’s a league where the top five are winning almost every weekend and systematically destroying all the teams below them, and therefore instead of floating around the 70 mark the points tally required for Champions League qualification is probably going to be closer to the 80 mark.
In other words, every single slip-up that teams at the top have this season risks being fatal, and on Sunday Inter did slip up.
Incredible as it may sound, Sunday’s draw with Torino is one of only FIVE matches so far this season in which a top five team (Napoli, Juventus, Inter, Lazio and Roma) has failed to beat one of the other fifteen teams in Serie A.
The other four matches in question are Lazio 0-0 SPAL (Matchday 1), Bologna 1-1 Inter (Matchday 5), Atalanta 2-2 Juventus (Matchday 7) and Chievo 0-0 Napoli (also on Sunday afternoon) - apart from those, every other match between one of the Fab Five and one of the rest has ended in a Fab Five victory. Played 48, Won 43, Drawn 5, Lost 0.
However I would like to reiterate that this doesn’t automatically mean Inter disgraced themselves against Torino. The stakes are very high in every match this season but that doesn’t mean we have to point the finger at all costs. They played well. Sugar happens.
3. Eder shows why Inter have extended his contract
Perhaps you’ll have a different point of view, but this was how I interpreted the announcement of Eder’s contract extension with Inter on Thursday: both Spalletti and the club hold him in very high regard, and they wanted to make sure he realised that to keep him committed to the cause.
Having refused to consider offers for him in the summer - and there were a couple of offers, in particular from Roberto Mancini in Russia - Eder would probably have expected a bit more game-time over these first few months of the season, so in order to wade off any potential grumpiness and prove to him how much they’re counting on him Inter put an extra year on his contract. I’ve read it as a ‘we’re sorry you’re not playing much at the moment, but you are highly considered and we’ll prove it’ kind of renewal.
And judging by the impact he had off the bench on Sunday, Inter’s gesture is already having the desired effect. Eder has hardly seen the pitch since playing for Italy over the last international break, yet he looked sharp when he came on and gave the impression of somebody who wanted to take on the world - and his positive attitude was rewarded when he grabbed the equalising goal.
That’s why Inter like him so much: he’s ready for battle at all times. Spalletti said it himself post-game: “We extended his contract because he’s a fundamental player for us, not least because he can play in several different positions. His mentality is what completes him as a professional; he hasn’t played much and yet he came on and changed the game with the energy and impetus of someone who plays every week.”
Eder will never be Pele or Maradona, but in a squad as thin as ours he is an extremely valuable resource for Spalletti to have on the bench. I’m glad he’s renewed.
4. Inter replenish their reputation as the comeback kings
For the umpteenth time this season, Inter staged a late rally against Torino and recovered points with a late goal. By this stage some people are probably starting to take our ability to do this for granted, but we shouldn’t. It’s an important quality that not all teams have.
With Eder’s equaliser on Sunday Inter have now scored 10 goals after the 75th minute in matches this season, and with those 10 goals they’ve recovered 8 points - as things stand, that is the difference between us being 3rd in the table on 30 points and 6th in the table on 22 points.
This really is the main reason that I’m not feeling especially downhearted after Sunday’s draw - this team may not always play well, but they’re on the ball from minute 1 to minute 90 and don’t collapse at the first sign of trouble. That’s not something we’ve been able to say about an Inter team in a very long time.
Would we have recovered this game in previous years? No. Would we have gone on to beat Verona after conceding a goal like that in previous years? No. Would we have done what we did against Roma in previous years? No.
That’s why I like this team, even when they fail to beat Torino and drop two very important points. That’s why I like this team a lot. It’s got bottle.
5. Sometimes Mauro Icardi is human too
Last but not least, a word on Mauro Icardi’s performance, because it wasn’t great, despite the assist he provided for Eder at the end.
Normally you can be sure of one thing when it comes to Maurito: if you give him a chance, he’ll score. Often at the very first attempt - such as against Fiorentina, Roma, SPAL, Bologna, Milan and Sampdoria, to name exactly half the matches we’ve played this season. But today that wasn’t the case. Today he was human.
Icardi must have had at least five or six good chances to get his name on the score-sheet against Torino, but for once he’d left his shooting boots in the dressing room and conspired to waste all of them. Right from the third minute of the match, when he failed to make contact with Antonio Candreva’s pinpoint cross, you could tell something wasn’t quite right, and that suspicion was then confirmed by the succession of mishits and scuffs he produced before the final whistle. It just wasn’t his day.
In fairness, when evaluating Icardi’s performance today one has to consider the knock he took early in the first half, as it was serious enough to force him to pull out of Argentina duty over the coming fortnight on Sunday evening. Spalletti said after the game that he’d reported a problem at half-time but he decided to keep him on anyway, as ‘Icardi is someone you never want to do without’.
But perhaps that phrase needs tweaking a little, and here we come to what I felt was the only true cause of concern to come out of Sunday’s game: more than someone you don’t want to do without, these 90 minutes suggested that Icardi is someone Inter can’t do without.
Do we have enough goal-scorers in our team to cover for Maurito when he has an off day? This game suggested perhaps not. Take Candreva, for instance: he was Man of the Match against Torino, but he’s not scored a single goal so far this season and he’s a fixed starter in our front three.
Along with a lack of depth, one of the biggest problems with Inter’s squad this season is that it doesn’t have enough reliable goal-scorers, so we’d better hope Maurito doesn’t make a habit of performances like this one.
(I’m not blaming him or suggesting he’s the only reason we didn’t win today. Just to be clear.)