Stodgy. That’s the only word you can use to describe Inter’s performance last week, and recent weeks for the club in general.
Something just seems off. There’s a lack of rhythm and cohesion. There’s fatigue. The lack of squad depth that was so obvious heading into the season has bitten the club with a vengeance.
Inter started out well against Fiorentina, particularly the first eight minutes. La Viola came into the game having lost four straight. They sat in a deep defensive block and preached to Inter go ‘ed, break us down.
Inter knocked the ball around fairly comfortably at the back, controlling the tempo of the game. But as has become custom in recent weeks, there was a notable lack of dynamism. They showed little guile or craft to pass through the middle of Fiorentina’s defense.
They took the lead. Then, blah.
A lack of squad depth is robbing the club of a genuine tilt at a title push.
You cannot win a league title with a starting XI that features Biraghi, D’Ambrosio, Vecino and Valero for ten-plus games. It’s good, but not good enough. You will get good performances in drips and drabs. Valero in particular has shown he can still get to a quality level. But you cannot rely on those guys to be the midfield engine and creative fulcrums of a title challenge. So much of Inter’s set-plays revolve around a midfield overload, before the ball is tipped and tapped out wide, where a wide-open wingback can deliver a backbreaking cross.
That is missing without Sensi. Inevitably, Inter’s defence tries to bypass the midfield, a tried and tested tactic – Inter’s punts the ball forward, the opposing defence nods it back. Everyone is static. Defending becomes easy.
There was such a lack of fluidity last weekend. You have a real problem when your 20-year-old centre back proves to be one of the best on the field at breaking the lines, only to be left stranded, demanding forward players to show some imagination and movement.
It didn’t always pay off, but Bastoni deserves some credit for trying to inject life into a limp performance.
Another week, another game where Lukaku was forced to come deep to fetch the ball. Lukaku with a head of steam is a legitimately scary. Why, then, is he consistently being asked to drop off and play the role of linked up man?
Playing the ball into Lukaku’s feet and asking him to play an intricate style isn’t his game:
Get him on the half turn. Get him bulldozing defenders out of the way. Get him coming back to his own goal before bending and running the arc, a skill he has mastered -- legitimately – as well as any of Europe’s top striker, sans Lewandowski.
(this, of course, is harder against a deeper block, which is where more intricate play is required — which is why teams have been playing with such preposterously deep blocks against Inter in recent weeks.)
Inter controlled the game, but they were unable to kill it off – the hallmark of champions. They left a door open for Fiorentina to hit them on the break, and they did.
There was room for Inter to exploit up 1-0. Gaps were left as Fiorentina pushed for the equalizer. But Inter lacked that final bit of skill, that little touch, that know-how (the legs?) to see the game out.
This, on the road, is not good enough if you want to be a champion:
The question reverts to the very same it has been for the past few weeks: who’s to blame? Did the club not acquire adequate squad depth? Did Conte’s infamous fitness regime run the team into the ground too early? Is it all sheer damn luck? Perhaps if Barella and Sensi (though with his injury record, him missing some kind of time was fairly predictable) didn’t pick up knocks we wouldn’t be having these chats.
Whatever the explanation, it is frustrating and unacceptable. Trying to see the game out on the road, Conte brought on Lucien Agoume – presumably to add some legs to midfield. He took off Borja Valero, one of the few bright spots from the game, who looked gassed by the end.
Agoume is a fine talent. He will probably go on to have a good career, but he shouldn’t need to relied on to play a box-to-box role in a one-goal game on the road, particularly in such a fragmented game. Conte has to sense the flow of the game and understand that. Or perhaps he was trying to make a point to those upstairs before the January window opens?
What makes this so frustrating is that Juventus are there for the taking. A real, genuine, actual title bid is right there. Yet squad depth is going to sabotage everything: if anyone drops out of the starting XI the dip in quality is startling; nobody can rotate to preserve energy like those guys in Turin.
Under Sarri, Juventus have yet to really get going. Sunday against Udinese was the first time we saw signs of Sarriball – he’s never settled on a full side, what to do with Ronaldo, or who best works as a fluid front three. That will might come. And if it does Juve will go on a long, long unbeaten run and seal the title. Even if they don’t, they have the depth and individual talent, even if the coach and team never quite get in sync, to backdoor their way to another championship.
But the door has been open for Inter, and it might remain so if the Sarri-Ronaldo stylistic clash never gets resolved. For Inter not to put the pedal down in January and replenish the squad with signings and depths would be a dereliction of duty. Juventus will re-fresh, trim the fat, and go again next season, with a far superior budget. The time for Inter to make a move is now. Suning must recognize that, and back Conte and his team while they can.
Who do you blame for Inter’s fatiguing / lack of squad depth?
This poll is closed
Conte’s fitness regime
Lack of signings