Matchday four of the Serie A season saw Inter travel to Crotone in a matchup that seemed straightforward on paper but was anything but on the pitch. For reference, the similar fixture in April last season saw Inter lose 2-1, a result that exemplifies how tricky such games can be when not approached with adequate preparation and professionalism.
With all that said, what a different five months makes! Inter, now under Spalletti, came away (escaped?) unscathed from the raucous Stadio Ezo Scida with a precious three points and maintained their 100% start to the season. The 2-0 score line though does flatter Inter's performance to some extent and scruffy is the best word to describe this game. It was not all negative though and there were a few bright spots from this game too.
1. Inter's defense is showing improvement but has a problem when dealing with pace
Title challenges are built on the foundations of a strong defense. That is something that Inter did not have the last few seasons. While depth in defensive ranks still remains a cause for concern, there were plenty of signs to show that organization and setup has markedly improved under Spalletti. The backline was able to step up in unison and catch Budimir and other Crotone attackers offside without too much fuss. However, there were numerous Crotone counter-attacks particularly in the second half that exposed a lack of pace in the defense. Inter looked most vulnerable from their own corners.
2. Sub-par attacking play needs plenty of work on the training ground
The 2-0 score in favor of Inter masks the offensive difficulties we had for majority of this game. Disjointed and scruffy come to mind when describing our attacking display. There were large stretches of this game that saw the Crotone keeper with less to do than Handanovic, and that says a lot. Inter enjoyed over 70% of the possession which is staggering but had very little to show in the attacking third for all that. Crotone had more attempts on target than Inter. Too often in this game, passes from Inter's attackers would not find the intended runner as the recipient either held or made a different run. Some of this is to be expected as this is only the fourth game of the season under a new coach and players will need time to have that telepathic understanding. No doubt Spalletti will be working the midifield and wingers hard on the training ground. While on the subject of our attacking display, the likes of Joao Mario, Borja Valero, and Roberto Gagliardini need to find their shooting boots quickly as we cannot rely on Icardi and Perisic to bail us out all the time.
3. Inter's crossing from wings and wide areas is terrible
Anyone with an Inter connection watching today's game would be left pulling their hair out (except Spalletti of course!) seeing how inept our crossing from wide areas has been. Candreva is one of the biggest culprits here and the former Lazio man needs to dribble at opponents more as that is where he is most dangerous and pick his crosses more judiciously. The likes of D'Ambrosio and Dalbert are equally culpable here and calling their attempts as crosses is giving far too much praise. More often than not they are just hopeful lumps into the area, hoping Icardi and Co. find a way to do extract something useful from these scraps. The fact that our play from the wide areas improved after Nagatomo came on for Dalbert says a lot, doesn't it? There was an interesting statistic last season that Inter had more crosses than any other team across Europe's top five leagues. However, it is not quantity but quality that counts here and based on today's display we would be close to the bottom third if we were counting number of accurate crosses. This is an area that definitely needs improvement going forward.
4. This season is quickly becoming the Ivan Perisic show
Perisic put in a great performance in yet another game this season. In the context of our overall attacking display, he was one of our more potent weapons. Even if you take away the goal he scored, his overall work rate and tracking back were top notch. Inter's attacks looked more threatening every time he was involved in the play. His link up play with Nagatomo, once the Japanese full back came on, had the biggest impact on the game's result.
5. Masters of the late goal
Both of Inter's goals came in the final ten minutes of play this season has seen more than 60% of goals scored in the final quarter of games. This shows that the team does not throw in the towel and is fighting till the very end. As a fan, all I really ask of the players is they put in their shift for the entire match and the result is often something I can look past, if I know the lads are giving it their all. This might be overplaying it to some extent but one has to think that this never say die attitude has something to do with how Spalletti is preparing his team for these games. Given that the squad lacks the utmost quality in some areas, grit and determination will be needed to make up the balance. I put today's win down to grit, more than anything else.
6. Gagliardini needs to find his old self again
The former Atalanta youth product burst onto the scene when Inter signed him in the January transfer window. He quickly became a fan favorite and even opened his scoring account. However, then he got injured and even upon his return did not look as sharp as before. Perhaps he was not fully fit or the overall malaise in the squad impacted his individual performances. That was last season but unfortunately, this season has not begun as well as he would have liked. He was taken off against Roma and the same happened today. We have all seen glimpses of what he can bring to Inter's midfield and let us hope that he can regain confidence and boss the middle of the park again soon.
So, there you have it – Inter (Inter Milan)will spend the night alone at the top of Serie A. Sometimes the result is all that matters and as long as the team can build on the lessons learnt, we can look forward to more eye-catching performances in future weeks.