This weekend’s game against SPAL should have have given Luciano Spalletti’s men the ideal opportunity to break their winless streak and get back on the Champions League train. After all, SPAL, currently in 18th place, had only beaten Serie A whipping boys Benevento in their previous six matches. What should have been an afternoon to get back to form and winning ways turned out to be the very definition of an abject performance and the 90 minutes were one of the most painful to sit through in recent memory.
Here are the takeaways from today’s match:
1. Disjointed and tentative in attack: This Inter performance was riddled with disjointed attacks pretty much from start to finish. There was barely a move where the team went from back to front without making an erroneous pass. What’s more, the mistakes seemed to come from all over the park. The midfield trio of Valero, Vecino, and Brozovic seemed to struggle a lot in this game and at some points seemed completely incapable of finding a teammate. Unfortunately, their teammates were not far behind and were collectively underwhelming. As a group, Inter’s midfield is severely lacking in confidence.
In addition to being disjointed in attack, Inter were also extremely tentative in this game. The lack of movement up front was chief to blame here. The number of backward and lateral passes would almost have you think Inter were playing a game of rugby today! Inter barely shaded the possession stat and that is further proof of a very lackluster performance against a team that Spalletti’s men must handily beat or at the very least dominate.
2. Anonymous Icardi: While it is unfair to blame Icardi as his game depends on receiving decent (or even half-decent) service and then doing his magic in the box, he has to bear some responsibility for this result. Over the first half of the season Icardi was able to add a different dimension to his game by bringing others into play with movement, but that has been lacking in recent weeks and particularly today. Overall this was one of Icardi’s quietest games, and he seemed to have very little impact on proceedings. For a team that is so very dependent (over 50% of Inter’s goals) on their lead striker and captain, these are worrying times indeed. Even when Inter were flying high, questions were always being asked about how Inter would play when Icardi would be injured or out of form. It is not too much of a stretch to say that Icardi seems somewhat out of form, and so far the signs are not good for Inter. Spalletti could start the next game with Eder alongside Icardi so that he is not so isolated up top as in recent games.
3. Dearth of options: Other than Eder, there are simply no credible options on the bench at the current moment that Spalletti can call upon to add some spark to an insipid performance. Some might point to Rafinha, who did come on for Valero at the tail-end of this game. However, it would be expecting a lot of him to make an instant impact after coming into a new league and without a preseason with the squad. Maybe one might get too see more of Yann Karamoh or even the young Andrea Pinamonti. At the end of the day, with Inter’s current squad, the diminished options mean that there is very little room for creativity with both personnel and formations. Spalletti would have known this was always going to be a tough job, but this is a scenario that is really going to test his mettle.
4. Cancelo lone bright spot: The lone bright spark in this Inter performance was Joao Cancelo. The Portugese winger has really blossomed in recent weeks and excelled in both the defensive and attacking aspects of his game. SPAL’s own goal came from his cross, and even before that his crosses seemed to be much more threatening than Candreva’s. Given his current form and lack of options elsewhere, perhaps Spalletti can move Cancelo to the right wing and free him from his defensive responsibilities. This would also give a break to Candreva who really seems to be struggling of late.
5. Race for third and fourth: On a weekend like this, one would surely expect the two Roman clubs to extend their lead and/or make up ground on Inter by punishing the Nerazzurri for their poor result. Inexplicably, both Roman clubs lost and Inter miraculously find themselves a point better at the end of this matchday. Perhaps the clearest sign of the gulf in class between the top two and the rest is the race for third and fourth. It currently looks like a race that none of the protagonists want to win. Both Lazio and Roma have weaknesses of their own and the gap that Inter built over Sampdoria and Milan in the first half of the season is a lot smaller but not yet insignificant. Surely Suning have to look at this and realize that there is never going to be a better opportunity to get into the top four than this season and act on it until January 31st.
Inter’s next game is on February 3rd at home against Crotone, another team that is struggling near the bottom. That game represents another golden opportunity to turn this current situation around before some sterner tests. Until then, and as always, Forza Inter!