Why the blue half of Milan is truly feeling the blues

The Nerazzurri face elimination from the Europa League after Tottenham condemned the 2010 European Champions to a 3-0 defeat. Goal.com attempts to see it all went wrong...
When Internazionale won the Champions League in 2010 under Jose Mourinho, it seemed that the glory days associated with the 60's had finally returned to the club. The blue half of Milan had dominated proceedings in Serie A for nearly half a decade, but it was the failure to put up dominant shows in Europe that prompted owner Massimo Morratti to entice Jose Mourinho to the managerial hotseat. Agreeably it was a time when the other Italian giants were weakened due to Calciopoli but nonetheless the Nerazzuri took their chances with both hands.

Mourinho's magic was there to be seen as he used his first year at the San Siro to gauge the quality of the squad at his disposal. With a few minor changes to the roster, Inter looked a potential force to topple the best in Europe. In the 2009-10 season 'The Special One' managed to squeeze a historic treble out of a clearly ageing squad who were in dire need of a transition just like their neighbours AC Milan.

Four managers have come and gone attempting to keep up with the increasing expectations of fans post the treble winning season of 2010. Like many of his former clubs Jose Mourinho's legacy is one that is extremely hard to live up to.

In came Andrea Stramaccioni who was formerly handling the Inter Youth team leading them to a creditable victory at the Next Gen competition. The former Roma youth coach led the Nerazzurri to a respectable sixth place finish which included a win over their bitter cross town rivals Milan which was a significant blow to the Rossoneri's hopes of retaining their Scudetto.

However with the team now in dire straits after a heavy defeat to Tottenham in the Europa League Round of 16, questions are no doubt being raised. How did a side that was once the king of Europe fall down from that pedestal so quickly. Goal.com lists out some reasons why Inter now have a mammoth task ahead of them to salvage their season.

Team in the middle of a much-needed transition

AC Milan and Inter Milan are two of the biggest clubs not only in Italy but in Europe. However recently at least they were  known for having squads whose average ages were some of the highest in the entire competition. AC Milan's squad for the 2007 Champions League final against Liverpool was the oldest squad to ever start a European cup final with an average age of 31 years, 34 days. Paolo Maldini was the oldest outfield player to play in a Champions League final at the age of 38.

Inter were not too far behind as their Champions League starting XI in the 2010 Final against Bayern Munich had an average age of 29 years with 36-year old Javier Zanetti making his 700th game appearance for Inter.

Inter need to dream of life without their veterans

With a financial crunch hitting Europe, Serie A saw many of its top talents being sold by clubs in an attempt to balance the books. Inter like their neighbours AC Milan realised that they had to start focusing on youth players, something which they had conveniently ignored.

While Milan were significantly affected after the departures of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva in addition to a fire sale of their veterans, Inter adopted a more cautious approach as they sold Julio Cesar, Maicon, Giampaolo Pazzini and Lucio. Ivan Cordoba's retirement freed up another spot on the Inter roster.

With Morratti in a more financially sound situation than Silvio Berlusconi, Inter were a busy lot in the summer transfer window as they brought in Walter Gargano, Alvaro Pereira, Gabriel Mudingayi, Rodrigo Palacio, Samir Handanovic, Matias Silvestre and Antonio Cassano.

With such a host of newcomers into the squad, it was always going to be hard for Inter to ease them into the team's style of play. Inter's decisive run which saw them going 10 games unbeaten in all competitions from the end of September to the start of November gave an impression that Stramaccioni had finally found a winning formula.

However a 3-2 loss to Atalanta was the catalyst to a series of unfavourable results for the Nerazzurri who now sit in fourth place and face a daunting task ahead of them in the return leg of the Europa League against Tottenham.

Having lost their way yet again, the knives are out for Stramaccioni's head. However Morratti, unlike Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, must realise that transition needs time to materialise and blaming or sacking the manager will not help the cause.

Diego Milito's injury and Wesley Sneijder's exit

As it has been revealed in numerous articles before this, Jose Mourinho's teams have always been built around a core group of players. At Inter, he had formed a spine of Julio Cesar, Lucio, Javier Zanetti, Wesley Sneijder and Diego Milito.

Sneijder and Milito have never really hit the heights that they had achieved in the treble winning season of 2010 after Mourinho departed to Madrid. A combination of Rafael Benitez's war with the team, Leonardo's departure to PSG, Gian Piero Gasperini's experimentation with a new formation, and Claudio Ranieri's constant tinkering saw two of Inter's greatest ever players failing to live up to their massive reputations.

Milito however found his feet under Stramaccioni and is second to Rodrigo Palacio in the club's scoring charts with 9 goals. However a season-ending injury in a Europa League game against CFR Cluj sees Inter lose out on a striker who has the ability to change games on his own.

Inter's Dynamic Duo

The striker who was once linked with a move to Real Madrid now faces a lengthy stint on the sidelines. With Antonio Cassano in the news again for all the wrong reasons, winter signing Tomasso Rocchi nearing the end of his career as a footballer and Palacio being the only recognizable senior striker, Inter would have a real problem on their hands if the Argentine lost form or worse suffer an injury.

Sneijder's tussle with the club is a story that Inter would like to forget. The Dutchman who was at the peak of his powers in 2010 for both club and country was deemed expendable by the club hierarchy after he refused to take a pay-cut in his contract.

His subsequent move to Galatasaray left the team without their creative lycnhpin. Ricardo Alvarez still has a long way to go before he can be seen as an adequate replacement to the Dutchman, who like Milito, is a game-changer. With the team drafting in highly rated Serbian midfielder Zdravko Kuzmanovic from VFB Stuttgart, one can only hope that he settles in his new surroundings quickly and fills the massive hole left by Sneijder.

Defensive woes plague the once-solid team

A defence that once had dominant performers like Lucio and Maicon is now facing a defensive crisis. Andrea Ranocchia and Juan Jesus were seen as the defensive pairing of the future, but they have failed to live up to expectations. With Stramaccioni shifting to a three-man backline, more often than not Walter Samuel has had to bail the team out with his experience and physique.

Season Goals Conceded
2009-10 40
Current Season 49

                                           A comparison between Inter's defensive records

Ranocchia was brought by Leonardo from Genoa and destined for greatness both for club and country. But his inability to read the game, aerial weakness and lapses in concentration have seen his stock drop considerably. Stramaccioni, though has kept faith in the Italian and Juan hoping that they will regain the form that saw them concede only 8 goals during their 10 game unbeaten run this season.

The Nerazzurri have been leaky at the back to say the least conceding 10 goals in their last five games, three of which came against Spurs at London. The ease with which Gareth Bale and Jan Vertonghen placed their headers past the hapless Samir Handanovic would have made Stramaccioni squirm in his seat with agony. The defense must not be ignored at any cost as Stramaccioni would do well to remember that Inter's most successful period in Italy and Europe came when they employed the dreaded Catenaccio system under Helenio Herrera in the 60's.

Neighbour's success in Italy and Europe

AC Milan started the season on a forgettable note. Having signed a handful of relatively unknown players on loan in addition to a supposedly washed up striker in Giampaolo Pazzini from Inter, the Rossoneri were even being tipped for relegation after they had won only one among their first five games.

However Massimiliano Allegri's men regained their composure and pieced together results that eventually saw the seven-time European Champions leapfrog Inter into third place. With former Inter man Mario Balotelli opting to wear the famous Red and Black of Milan, it would have only added to the woes of the Interista to see one of their players play for their bitter rivals.

Milan defied the odds to beat Barcelona and are on the verge of progress

Milan's against-the-odds victory over Barcelona in the Champions League was a sign of just how much progress the Rossoneri had made over their rivals despite the latter having more squad depth and financial muscle at their disposal.

Having been under the shadow of AC Milan in Europe for so many years, it is completely natural for the pressure to be back on Stramaccioni to replicate their illustrious neighbour's precedent to ensure that they have something to cheer about in Curva Nord at the San Siro.

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