After two months of agony Inter have finally ended their eight-game winless run by beating Bologna 2-1 at San Siro. Matt’s match recap is available for you here, but below you can read our five takeaways from Sunday afternoon’s match.
1 - Inter avoid making unwanted history
At last, 11 games and more than two months later, Inter are back to winning ways.
On Sunday afternoon, by hook or by crook, Luciano Spalletti and co. managed to bring an end to the inexplicable (and yet at the same time very explicable) drop in form that had seen them slip from 1st to 4th in the Serie A table, overcoming nine-man Bologna in a roller-coaster ride of a match at San Siro.
To call it a convincing win would be to give an entirely new dimension to the meaning of the word ‘overstatement’, but in a moment as awful as ours all that counted was the result. And we got it. Just. (Donadoni wasn’t wrong when he said ‘we almost ended up drawing with nine men at the end’...)
In getting it, the Nerazzurri gave their ailing campaign a much-needed shot in the arm after taking just 6 points from their previous 8 matches - albeit showcasing many of the same flaws that have derailed them since Christmas - but they also avoided making a very unwanted piece of club history.
Had Inter not beaten Bologna this weekend they would have extended their winless run in Serie A to 9 games, and had that happened they would have established a new all-time club record for consecutive league games without a win - never since Serie A became a single-tier tournament back in 1929 have Inter gone 9 games in a row without collecting maximum points. (It did occur on one occasion during the 1921-22 season, but when the league was still regionalised.)
And thankfully we still haven’t. As it is, the class of 2018’s winless streak has ended at 8 matches, which we’ve already managed on six different occasions in our history (the last of which was last season, in fact).
In the grand scheme of things it doesn’t really change that much either way, but given the negativity surrounding the team at this moment in time I’m more than a little relieved to have dodged this particular bullet. These players have already been struggling as it is to pick themselves back off the floor after recent setbacks - lord knows how they would have reacted to writing a chapter as grotesque as that in this club’s history books.
2 - Karamoh provides a breath of fresh air full debut
If Inter did ultimately avoid what would have been a ninth league game without a win - as well as a fifth consecutive 1-1 draw - then they had by far the youngest member of their starting XI to thank for it.
Before this weekend Yann Karamoh had only been afforded 58 minutes’ worth of playing time by Spalletti in Serie A (plus 68 minutes in the Coppa Italia against Pordenone), split between four substitute appearances which had never begun earlier than the 69th minute.
Against Bologna, however, he finally got his chance to show what he was made of from the start of a match, and it would be fair to say he grabbed the chance with both hands.
So far this season Spalletti has been unwilling to start Karamoh in the league due to his lack of tactical and defensive discipline - inevitable shortcomings in a player of his age (and of his kind) which he believed would cause us more problems in our own half than his indisputable talent would cause opposing sides in theirs.
However the alarming offensive sterility that has plagued the team since the 5-0 win over Chievo* persuaded him - belatedly, I think it’s fair to say - to invert his priorities here, in an attempt to revive what has become one of Europe’s most predictable front-lines. And it worked.
*Is it a coincidence that our first win since that game coincides with the first time we’ve scored more than one goal since that game?
#Karamoh: "Today was an unbelievable feeling, I have to thank the fans. I won't sleep tonight after scoring, I couldn't ask for anything more on my full debut. I've worked hard on my left foot in training and I'm happy to reap the rewards from that" #InterBologna ⚫️ pic.twitter.com/8SaRudJVTW— Serpents of Madonnina (@SerpentsOfInter) February 11, 2018
Speaking on Radio 24 shortly after the final whistle, Mirko Graziano from the Gazzetta dello Sport made the salient point that, along with some new tactical ideas from Spalletti (perhaps tactical ideas which aren’t a diamond system with Perisic in central midfield), Inter’s greatest need at this moment in time is players who are free of any type of mental baggage - players who aren’t scared of their own shadow and who don’t have the weight of the world on their shoulders.
It’s exactly this which made Karamoh (and, later on, Rafinha) stand out from the crowd in this match - unlike the others, he wasn’t struck down by an overwhelming need to farsela sotto the moment he stepped out onto the pitch. (In English that means this. Ahem.)
From the moment the game began it was clear for all to see that the 20 year-old was enjoying himself a lot more than everybody else, showcasing an exuberance and an irreverence that none of his teammates can relate to at this moment in time - almost as if, by not having seen the pitch at all during our winter debacle, he’s managed to avoid becoming contaminated with the same psychological bug that’s crippling everyone else so hideously.
His spectacular winning goal - and it really was spectacular (Inter’s goal of the season so far?) - was nothing but the logical consequence of that type of performance; a performance full of the enterprise and fearlessness that this team has been devoid of for weeks. Chapeau et merci, Yann.
The big question heading forward is whether or not the decision to play him from the start was a one-off call from Spalletti, induced by the critical nature of today’s game, or the first step in a changing of the guard up front, which will see Karamoh receive more game-time than he has so far and Antonio Candreva spend more time on the bench than he has so far.
Listening to Spalletti’s post-game interview with Sky Sport, which verged on being uncharitable towards Karamoh considering the performance he’d just put in (essentially this, but with a bit more emphasis on the negatives than the positives), my suspicion unfortunately is that Sunday was more a case of the former than the latter. But time will tell.
For now, let’s just enjoy an authentic golazo.
(An extra curiosity that’s worth bearing in mind - Karamoh’s goal today was the first goal that Inter have scored from outside the box since Roberto Gagliardini scored from distance against Cagliari on 5 March 2017 (Cagliari 1-5 Inter). A damning stat which tells you a heck of a lot about the lack of goal-scoring prowess amongst our midfielders.)
3 - Rafinha makes the difference off the bench again
After Karamoh, Inter’s next most encouraging individual performance on Sunday afternoon came from Rafinha, who once again made the difference for the Nerazzurri as a substitute when he replaced Marcelo Brozovic with half an hour left.
The Brazilian had already given his teammates a jolt from the bench during last weekend’s dismal draw at home to Crotone, but his second cameo appearance for the club was even more positive - not least because he provided his first assist in an Inter shirt, completing a give-and-go with Karamoh outside the Bologna box to set up the Frenchman for Inter’s second goal.
Rafinha only saw the pitch for 31 minutes - about as much as he can manage for now - but that was enough time for him to create more goal-scoring opportunities (2) and complete more successful dribbles (6)* than any other Inter player, giving us a glimpse of what is hopefully to come once he has fully recovered from his long-term injury problems. (And further putting into context just how lifeless everyone else is at the moment.)
It’s been clear since day one of this season that Inter have a desperate shortage of talent between the lines, and although Rafinha isn’t exactly the world’s most obvious trequartista (he himself described himself as a ‘no. 8’ in his Q&A session with Inter TV upon his arrival in Italy) he’ll do nicely in that position behind Mauro Icardi given the state our attacking play is currently in.
The hope is that he can recover enough fitness to permit him to start a match as soon as possible - either against Benevento or the derby against Milan on 4 March - but Spalletti reiterated after the game that the former Barcelona midfielder still doesn’t have anything like 90 minutes in his legs. We need him to get to that point ASAP.
*Stats according to Opta
4 - Eder stakes his claim for a fixed place in the starting XI
With Mauro Icardi unable to recover in time from the thigh injury sustained in training at the end of January, once again the task of spearheading Inter’s attack against Bologna fell to Eder.
And for the second week in succession, the Italo-Brazilian found the back of the net in Maurito’s absence, finding a way past Antonio Mirante after just 91 seconds from Brozovic’s cross (Inter’s fastest goal in Serie A since way back in 2007, when Adriano scored after 43 seconds against Chievo. Curiously enough that game also took place on 11 February.)
The upshot of these last two games is that Eder has now scored 5 goals (and provided 1 assist) in his last 4 starts for Inter, and so with that in mind it’s probably time to ask a question that no Interista would have wanted to ask themselves a couple of months ago - in a team that can’t score goals to save its life, should Eder be a regular starter?
After Karamoh and Rafinha, or The Uncontaminated as I may start calling them, the next strongest claim for a consistent starting berth in this match came from our stand-in centre-forward. The dilemma here, however is where Spalletti would be able to fit him in. Behind Icardi in the no. 10 role? Out wide in Candreva or Perisic’s position? Up front in a two-man attack with Rafinha in the hole, as the aforementioned Graziano suggested in an article of his during the week? (I’m taking it as read that no one thinks we should bench Icardi for him...)
When asked during his post-match press conference if Icardi and Eder could play together, Spalletti was open to the idea, if not overwhelmingly enthusiastic about it: “If you ask Icardi to make space for another forward in the penalty box then you’re limiting Mauro. But they can play together, it is possible - it depends on how you set the two strikers up.”
Personally I’m not sure what the best solution would be, but I think it’s at least worth thinking about. Anyone who scores in consecutive games in a team as bereft of attacking threat as this one is worth serious consideration.
5 - Inter are third in the Serie A table (wait, what?)
The last takeaway is short but sweet: Inter are 3rd in the table.
This may be stating the bleeding obvious, but it really is worth reiterating, because with recent performances and the poisonous atmosphere that’s currently engulfing both San Siro and social media it would be very easy to forget this.
If you’re looking for a silver lining to Inter’s hideous collapse over the last two months, then the fact that we’ve won 1 of our last 9 games in the league and are STILL ahead of both Lazio and Roma should do you nicely. It’s quite remarkable that that is the case given how awful we’ve been since Christmas, but numbers are numbers.
Up until the start of December there were five teams wiping the floor with everybody else in Serie A, but since then Napoli and Juventus have taken flight while Inter and the Roman clubs have gone into oxygen debt after running too fast in the opening months.
The fact all three Champions League contenders are struggling for form simultaneously in this phase of the season (after a lightning start to the campaign Inter, Lazio and Roma have only won 8 of the last 27 matches they’ve played!) means that we are still absolutely in line with our season objective, and I just hope the players take notice of this. In other seasons our rivals would already have sprinted off into the distance and left us for dead, but this year we keep being given second chances. We have to make the most of it.
If we can back-up Sunday’s win, as unconvincing as it was, with another success against Genoa at Marassi on Saturday evening, then nothing is lost yet. At the moment I’m very pessimistic about our chances of finishing in the top four, but it’s still all to play for with 14 games left.