In the club’s final match of the 2017 calendar year, Inter Milan drew with Lazio 0-0 at the San Siro on Saturday. The Nerazzurri didn’t find the back of the net, but kept a clean sheet to earn a point, which was good enough to end a three-match losing streak. While the result was ultimately positive for Inter, there are plenty of reasons to be concerned.
Here’s what we learned from the 0-0 draw with Lazio:
Inter were second best for most of the match
Objectively speaking, it’s no secret that Lazio looked to be the more dangerous side for large portions of the match. It wasn’t until about the 82nd minute mark, when the Nerazzurri were really able to put pressure on the Lazio defense for a sustained period of time. While Inter ended up having more possession of the ball (53%), Lucianno Spalletti’s side often found themselves on the back foot. The shot totals for both sides may have been even, but Lazio seemed to come closer to scoring than Inter, especially in the 79th minute when Felipe Anderson wasted the best chance of the match.
Given the Nerazzurri’s recent form, and the fact that they played 120 minutes on Wednesday, Saturday’s performance wasn’t surprising, but it’s nonetheless disappointing to see a visiting team come to the San Siro and dictate play for the majority of a match. If Inter are going to achieve the club’s goal of qualifying for next season’s Champions League, they’ll need to win their home matches. On Saturday, Inter were rather fortunate to walk away with a point, and that reality should be frustrating for everyone associated with the club.
The inability to score is a worrisome trend
Inter were once again held goalless on Saturday, making it the fifth time in six all-competition matches where the Nerazzurri were unable to break through an opponent’s defense. At this point, that stat can no longer be viewed as a bad run of luck that occasionally happens during a season. Instead, it’s a very worrisome trend given some of the porous defenses Inter have faced this month.
The club’s inability to build-up play from the back is a glaring weakness, and their two best offensive players, Ivan Perisic and Mauro Icardi, have been virtually invisible since the 5-0 trashing of Chievo Verona on December 3rd, Inter’s last win.
To borrow a stat from Torin’s player ratings, Icardi “managed fewer touches than any starter on the pitch (27) and failed to record a shot on target. When Mauro isn’t firing, Inter aren’t firing. It’s as simple as that.”
Saturday’s performance did little to alleviate the concerns Inter supporters have over the state of the club’s attack. One goal in six matches is unacceptable for a side with as much talent as Inter’s. At this point, I’m not sure even Spalletti knows what to do to get this team scoring again, but he and his players need to figure it out soon because if the club want to qualify for he Champions League, they need to start winning matches. If winning is the goal, the status quo cannot continue.
Joao Cancelo should be Spalletti’s first-choice right back
The performance of Joao Cancelo was one of the few bright spots for Inter on Saturday. The Portuguese right back was a key player for Inter in both defense and attack. With Antonio Candreva having a rough match, Cancelo’s speed and passing ensued that the Nerazzurri weren’t forced to abandon playing the ball out wide on the right altogether. It was by far and away Cancelo’s best match in an Inter shirt, and the young defender showed why many football pundits view the Valencia loanee as one of the most promising fullbacks in Europe.
Keeping in mind Spalletti’s recent willingness to play both Cancelo and Danilo D’Ambrosio in the same XI, the Portuguese’s performance should earn him an extended stay in the starting lineup.
While fielding both Cancelo and D’Ambrosio would force Spalletti to play one of the two right backs out-of-position on the left, both players have been far more effective and consistent than Nagatomo, Santon, and Dalbert this season. The pair should be Inter’s first choice fullbacks moving forward.
Inter desperately need to sign a center back in January
With Miranda and D’Ambrosio missing Saturday’s match to injury, Inter’s backline was noticeably thin, and featured Andrea Ranocchia alongside Milan Skriniar at the heart of the defense. Things got hairy when the Italian went down with an apparent injury right before the stroke of halftime. Thankfully, Ranocchia was able to carry on and play the full 90 minutes, but Spalletti’s reaction to the potential injury was telling, as Inter’s manager sent Dalbert out to warm up.
This meant, that if Ranocchia were unable to play in the second half, Inter’s four man backline would’ve been: Dalbert, Santon, Skriniar, and Cancelo. That’s troublesome against even the weakest of opponents, let alone against Lazio, the second-highest scoring team in Italy.
Inter desperately need to sign a center back when the January transfer window opens. Even without European or Coppa Italia matches, the lack of depth at the position is glaring. Inter’s top-four rivals each have several serviceable player able to step in at center back... Inter have three, and keeping in mind that injury and suspension are both part of the modern game, that likely won’t be enough for another 19 matches.
The Champions League race is now wide open
Results on the weekend proved what we’ve expected all season long; this year’s Scudetto battle is a two-horse race between Napoli and Juventus. With the two frontrunners now seven and six points ahead of the pack respectively, the real question for Inter in the second half of the season if whether or not they can finish ahead of either AS Roma or Lazio to qualify for the 2018/19 Champions League.
Saturday’s draw saw Inter maintain their two-point lead over Roma and their four-point lead over Lazio, but both Rome sides have a game in hand (Roma against Sampdoria and Lazio against Udinese). With that in mind, the race for a Champions League place could hardly be tighter — and Inter’s January clash with Roma after the break now has even more significance.
Inter are going to have to finish above one of the two Rome clubs to achieve their qualification goal. Doing so is going to be quite the challenge, and Spalletti’s side are going to need to find away to recapture their scintillating early-season form. If they don’t, this season may end up becoming yet another disappointing campaign.
Do you have any other takeaways from Saturday’s match? If so, share in the comments below.