By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Writer
As astoundingly poor performances go, Inter’s showing in the 4-1 defeat to Fiorentina at the Artemio Franchi on Sunday evening was right up there with some of the worst that Serie A has seen this season. The scoreline could have been very different, but only in that it could have been even worse for the visitors.
Some Inter fans have tried to kid themselves that their current crop are actually not far off being a top side, but as the 2012-13 campaign has progressed, that has simply proven not to be the case. The truth is now clear for all to see. The opening 11 games were wonderful, but they have long since been banished to the memory bank. Now, as they prepare to face a derby clash with AC Milan, the league’s form team, the Nerazzurri are little short of a disaster zone.
Since beating Juventus at the beginning of November to move to within one point of the summit, Inter have been just one point above relegation form. But four wins – three of them against Palermo, Pescara, Chievo – in 14 fixtures tells only part of the story.
Their hero in Turin was Diego Milito, whose season is now over due to the anterior cruciate ligament injury he picked up against Cluj in midweek. If anybody ever questions again why most Italian clubs take the laissez-faire attitude they do to the Europa League, then the pictures of Milito’s knee giving way on Thursday should be used as exhibits A through Z. The Nerazzurri’s final hope of regaining a Champions League spot for next season left on a stretcher in the competition’s ugly sister event.
Without Milito in Florence, Inter were left with no direction in attack, no ability to hold onto the ball in the right areas, no structure in defending from the front, and no real hope of stemming the tide of Fiorentina pressure. The Viola have been one of Serie A’s shining lights this term, but few sides have allowed them to sparkle of late. One of the greatest feathers in the cap of Italian football is that clubs quickly wise up to the qualities of opponents and address their side accordingly, but there was simply no evidence of that from Inter.
|INTER'S PHENOMENAL FREEFALL
|UP TO NOVEMBER 3
||SINCE NOVEMBER 3
|28 Juventus||12 Atalanta||30 Milan||19 Sampdoria|
||12 Catania||29 Napoli||19 Chievo|
|22 Napoli||10 Torino||27 Juventus||17 Parma|
|19 Lazio||10 Sampdoria||27 Catania||17 Cagliari|
|18 Fiorentina||10 Chievo||25 Lazio||16 INTER|
|15 Parma||9 Genoa||24 Fiorentina||16 Genoa|
|14 Milan||8 Palermo||23 Roma||15 Siena|
|14 Roma||8 Pescara||23 Udinese||15 Atalanta|
|14 Cagliari||7 Bologna||21 Torino||13 Pescara|
|13 Udinese||3 Siena||19 Bologna||11 Palermo|
The side with the most goals scored from crosses and with the most fluid use of wing-backs in Serie A were basically given free rein to do their thing. Andrea Stramaccioni has added many things to the Beneamata since taking charge last March, but organisational structure on the field has not really been one of them. Every goal Fiorentina scored came thanks to shambolic defending, and one can hardly call it a surprise. There are a bewildering number of people who seem to think that Andrea Ranocchia has had an outstanding season when the opposite is true. He has certainly had some stand-out games, but a top class defender that does not make him.
Last week’s 3-1 win over Chievo came despite a few moments of fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants stuff from the former Bari man at the back, yet many lauded him for the goal he scored. Goals from defenders are meant to be a bonus, not an act of redemption. His Coppa Italia winner against Bologna fell under the same category, while other ridiculous gaffes are too often glossed over. His tendency to go running well out of position to chase the ball, turning his back as crosses come in (which led to two Fiorentina goals on Sunday), having the turning circle of the Titanic and being clumsy in possession when put under pressure make him an easy target for opponents to exploit.
|Poor Mateo Kovacic looks a decent talent, but at 18, he has been thrown in at the deep end of one of the most unforgiving of swimming pools
He wasn’t the only one at fault in Tuscany though. Juan Jesus has had a positive Inter career so far, but remains a young man learning the ropes as a defender. Whereas he has looked assured in the presence of Walter Samuel, the Argentine’s absence has helped to expose some of the 21-year-old’s flaws. He has time to make them good, but they are still costing Inter in the short term.
Ahead of them there were very few positives either. Poor Mateo Kovacic looks a decent talent, but at 18, he has been thrown in at the deep end of one of the most unforgiving of swimming pools. Zdravko Kuzmanovic was a reasonable addition, but little more. Esteban Cambiasso can’t do everything himself and is not the player he was three years ago. Fredy Guarin remains an enigma. Antonio Cassano scored a marvellous consolation, but is the right man for some situations and the wrong one for others, while Rodrigo Palacio is a good second striker, but is no Diego Milito.
And when they needed to mix things up, what did they have? Ricardo Alvarez, Alvaro Pereira and Ezequiel Schelotto. One just needs to be shown onto his right foot to become completely ineffective, another cannot seem to defend any player with an ability to either cross or sidestep, while the other has little other than the knack of being able to hug the touchline in his locker. Stramaccioni has his weaknesses, and his squad’s lack of depth is not helping.
On current form, Inter will finish with a similar number of points to last season, and that simply will not do. Last term there was the qualifier of them having used three coaches. This campaign was meant to be about regaining stability and heading in the right direction, but instead they have lurched into another crisis.
Now, with no Milito to call upon, there is talk of Inter beckoning 36-year-old Ruud van Nistelrooy to bail them out of their stupor. What next? Tommaso Rocchi …? With options as low as confidence, which itself is as low as current performance levels, Inter’s season is fast heading for the knacker’s yard.
- While Inter's shortcomings were stark, Fiorentina's return to form should also be mentioned. The Viola have been a delight to watch at times this season, but had been struggling of late. Still, their next nine fixtures are the mirror image of their lengthy unbeaten run earlier in the campaign that had them dreaming of Champions League football. With Stevan Jovetic showing again why he loves playing alongside Adem Ljajic, and the Serbian himself delivering on his great potential, there were plenty of reasons for Tuscans to be cheerful on Sunday. And now that they are back to within one point of third place, another good run could well see the league's most impressive footballing outfit push close for the Champions League play-off spot come the business-end of the season.
- Napoli blew their biggest chance yet to send the frighteners up Juventus by recording a 0-0 draw at home to Sampdoria on Sunday afternoon. Following the Bianconeri's loss to Roma on Saturday, the Partenopei could have moved to within two points of top spot but instead failed to trouble the scoreboard at San Paolo. It was the second time this term that the Blucerchiati had given them a rough ride, but whereas Edinson Cavani's penalty winner bailed them out in September there was to be no let-off this time. Cavani and Paolo Cannavaro both missed great chances late on, while Sergio Romero made a string of important saves in the Samp goal. With Napoli continuing to throw away opportunities, it would take a massive collapse by Juve now for them not to win the title.
- Juraj Kucka scored perhaps the most important goal of the weekend in Serie A, with his effort earning Genoa a 1-0 win over Udinese. That strike gave the Grifone a four-point cushion ahead of the relegation spots and has isolated Pescara, Palermo and Siena in the bottom three. Now sitting four, six and seven points off safety respectively, the league's bottom trio are each in their own version of a crisis right now, leaving one to wonder if there is any way back for even one of them. Hapless Palermo squandered an early lead at Chievo on Saturday, while directionless Pescara lost 2-0 at home to Cagliari, leaving both staring down the barrel. And it doesn't get any easier for Siena, who on Monday host fourth-placed Lazio.