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November had started so well for the Nerazzurri, but their coach's inability to deal with his players' deficiencies is threatening their hopes of challenging Juventus for the title

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By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Writer

Just 23 days earlier, Inter were busy making a statement as to their Scudetto ambitions, but on Monday night they ended a poor month with another defeat. Having flown so high so recently, it is hard to believe they have let Juventus off the hook for a similarly wayward few weeks, but Andrea Stramaccioni's men now look like the work in progress of pre-season rather than the challengers they threatened to be after beating the champions in Turin.

The young coach, who has rightly received plaudits for the positive aspects of Inter’s play this season, must also now be questioned after his side went down to a 1-0 defeat at Parma to compound the misery which has followed the intense high of victory over Juve at the beginning of the month. And his decision to start with Ricardo Alvarez behind the front two with Fredy Guarin in midfield demands further analysis.

With Antonio Cassano sat in the stands due to his suspension, Stramaccioni had a decision to make, but it was the 36-year-old's choice to bring in the Argentine to accompany Diego Milito and Rodrigo Palacio in the attacking third rather than play the Colombian in a more advanced position. And boy, did he pay for it.

MATCH FACTS | Parma 1-0 Inter

PARMA INTER
Shots 16 11
On Target 5 5
Possession 45% 55%
Corners 8 7
Bookings 3 1

While Guarin clearly has talent, and has been at the hub of many positive moments on the ball for the Nerazzurri since making his debut in Stramaccioni's first game as Inter boss against Genoa in April, his defensive contribution has been negligible at best. His better performances have undoubtedly come when he has been allowed more freedom, with the Europa League win away to Neftci a Guarin masterclass as he had a hand in all three goals.

However, when he has been employed in a more orthodox midfield role, he has invariably come up short when the Beneamata have been without the ball, too often looking unsure when to press, when to drop, when to tackle and when to jockey. The signs were there at the Stadio Ennio Tardini that Inter could be punished for their inadequacies long before Nicola Sansone ran through a non-existent Guarin challenge to fire home the only goal of the game 15 minutes from time.

Top clubs simply cannot allow players to make runs right through the heart of their side, and Sansone's goal was not the first such failure on a very unconvincing night for the Nerazzurri, which topped off a difficult few weeks for the club. Now Stramaccioni has to show he is willing to make tough decisions.

Already without Wesley Sneijder for the foreseeable future due to the behind-the-scenes wrangling over his contractual situation, Stramaccioni needs to make the best of what is available to him. Yet the use of Alvarez in a position which, on current evidence, would be more in keeping with Guarin's qualities, was not exactly an inspired move.

The Argentine has spent his 18 months at the club flattering to deceive, and he fell short once again in Parma as he failed to have a real influence in the final third and was often too slow to make decisions on the ball. Meanwhile Guarin was positive and effective for the large part when in possession, but his failures off the ball spoke of a player not contributing fully as a central midfielder. If anything, his positive moments were wasted due to the fact they largely came further away from goal than they might have done had he started higher up the pitch.

DEFENDING THE DEFENCE | Inter with and without Guarin
WITH GUARIN SINCE APRIL 1, 2012
WITHOUT GUARIN SINCE APRIL 1, 2012
Goals conceded Minutes Mins per goal Goals conceded Minutes Mins per goal
19 1094 57.58 14 976 69.71

With Guarin in the centre of midfield, Inter are more vulnerable, conceding a goal every 57-and-a-half minutes rather than one every 70 when he has not been involved, and that is no coincidence. Now is the time for Stramaccioni to move the Colombian further up the field on a full-time basis or continue to find his side exploited through the centre of the park.

Just as he was quick to spot the positives of switching to a back three, he must also show that he has the foresight to fix issues further up the field which are having an impact on the Nerazzurri defensively, otherwise the hard work achieved in their recent 10-game winning run could be completely undone.

ELSEWHERE...

  • Napoli succeeded where Inter failed, negotiating a tough away trip to Cagliari with a 1-0 win which reduced Juventus' lead at the top to two points. They too were without a key forward, with Edinson Cavani forced to sit the game out, but Lorenzo Insigne was in excellent form as the Partenopei made light of the task against Ivo Pulga's men. Marek Hamsik's second-half strike settled the clash, but Insigne and Eduardo Vargas had both gone close to scoring prior to that, as Walter Mazzarri's men went about their task like challengers in waiting. This is a side who have fallen short in the past, and their squad depth is not what it could be, but the Bianconeri can certainly not take them lightly.

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