Fire over flair, but Claudio Ranieri is slowly taking Inter back to the top

They've hardly blown away teams, but the Nerazzurri's recent upturn in results has been largely down to the hard work of their coach in his bid to see them through their crisis
By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Editor

Bit by bit, Inter are coming back. On Tuesday in Genoa their 1-0 victory made it four wins in five league games as the Nerazzurri begin to make up ground after a truly horrible opening to the season. And while the rescue job is still 24 games away from anything like completion, Claudio Ranieri should take a bow right now.

When Gian Piero Gasperini was sacked 12 weeks ago, the club was in utter disarray. In his five games in charge, the former Genoa boss gained just one draw and four defeats. More than that, he’d dragged the club into a state which would take more than just a change of coach to fix. With an ageing squad who had forgotten how to win, Appiano Gentile was nothing short of a shambles when Ranieri was handed the keys.

But the ex-Chelsea and Juventus trainer had a plan. It was one he’d used before just two seasons ago with his hometown club Roma in a very similar situation, and it’s now showing signs of working once more.

Defeats to the likes of Napoli, Catania and Juve have been endured in the league under the ‘Tinkerman’, but the long-term nature of the project has allowed for such setbacks. However, he knew that immediate results were needed in Europe. After the victory away to CSKA Moscow, their clashes with Lille were stark reminders of what Inter had to concentrate on.

In France they barely had the ball in the opposition half after taking the lead, and in the home leg Ranieri sent out the oldest team in Champions League history to secure a victory through the use of wily brains and sheer bloody-mindedness.

MATCH FACTS | Genoa 0-1 Inter

On Target
All the while he has been adjudging what is necessary to turn the ship around for good, and last night’s victory was just the latest in a string of increasingly positive displays. Yes, there was a defeat suffered against Udinese just 10 days prior, but on the whole there has been a marked improvement.

As much as their experience has been vital in Europe, their domestic campaign has clearly needed more than that, and their win in Liguria was a perfect example of how Ranieri is gradually fixing the cracks. With Lucio and Walter Samuel his most reliable centre-back partnership, there is simply no tinkering to be done at the moment, especially as Andrea Ranocchia – when fit – is about their best reserve.

But in midfield he has introduced a freshness which had been missing previously. While they may not be full of dynamism, Marco Faraoni and Andrea Poli last night added the legs and the youthful doggedness that has been evidently draining from the likes of Dejan Stankovic and Esteban Cambiasso. And in Ricky Alvarez, Ranieri has found a wildcard of sorts.

The Argentine came off the bench to fashion the game’s key moment, facing up to Dario Dainelli and sending in a cross from the left for Yuto Nagatomo to head home. He may not contribute for a full 90 minutes, but it was also as an impact sub where he caught the eye for former club Velez Sarsfield.

This Inter, as they are now, will not win one of those prized Champions League spots. And Ranieri knows that. For the moment he is rolling with the punches, all the while picking up the results that add much-needed confidence in the side’s ability to reach their longer-term goal.

Signings must be made in January. And added to the likes of Poli, whose debut showed a glimpse of what they brought him in for – energy, grit, doggedness and fire – the new Inter will gradually be formed. The one that will be used to make that push for the top three, and beyond that look to win back the silverware they’ve squandered in the past year and a half.

In that 2009-10 campaign with Roma, Ranieri’s side went 24 matches unbeaten after week 10, eight rounds on from his appointment, and it almost culminated in a title. Now, 12 league games into his tenure at San Siro, he is starting to mix Inter’s experience with youthful exuberance without tipping the scales too far in either direction.

Genoa didn’t exactly offer their toughest challenge of the campaign so far, and they’re still eight points off that magic third spot, but the ‘Tinkerman’ is showing signs of getting there. And as Inter find themselves entrenched in the top half of the table for the first time this season, things are finally looking up.

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