COMMENT By Seye Omidiora Follow on Twitter
When the clock hit the 80-minute mark in Inter Milan’s Champions League encounter against Tottenham Hotspur at the San Siro with the home side still trailing 1-0, you could feel the frustration within the crowd as they seemed destined for a second successive home loss in all competitions.
However, the mood changed five minutes from time when summer signing Kwadwo Asamoah sent a smart cross from the left-hand side to the free Mauro Icardi at the edge of box.
The Argentinian forward expertly volleyed home to pull the Nerazzurri level. They went one better in stoppage time courtesy of Matias Vecino’s winner in stoppage time, which subjected Spurs to a third defeat on the spin in all competitions.
The success was a welcome reprieve for Luciano Spalletti and Asamoah following the side’s underwhelming start to the season.
Following a summer in which Inter seemed to have recruited reasonably well with a number of signings – the Ghanaian inclusive – in key positions, many were tipping them as the side most capable of wresting the Serie A title from Juventus – who have won seven straight titles.
However, after four games, the Black and Blues sit in 15th, eight points adrift of the Old Lady, and are already facing the prospect of seeing their run without a top-flight title extend to eight years.
Ideally, one wouldn’t want to make absolute declarations just yet, given momentum can swing several ways over the course of the season.
However, when the margins are so slim, and the side you’re predicted to slug it out with are one as formidable as Juventus, dropping so many points so early could be a hammer blow.
The manager tends to bear the brunt of his team’s failings, and Spalletti will probably have a lot to answer for owing to their meek start.
Bar the comfortable 3-0 win in gameweek three against Bologna, they suffered a 1-0 opening day defeat at Sassuolo, blew a 2-0 half-time lead at home to Torino to draw 2-2, and fell to an unexpected 1-0 home loss to new boys Parma last time out. Subsequently, quite a few of his decisions have been questioned.
Irrespective of the fact that the giants have a poor record against Sassuolo, Spalletti’s decision to deploy Dalbert at left-back, when he had a better option in Asamoah, was questionable (something he duly fixed at the break when Ivan Perisic was introduced), his instruction to the side against Torino to drop deeper and play on the counter attack – something they aren’t suited to – seemed bizarre given they were in control against the Bull.
Similarly, his decision to rest key players like Icardi and Asamoah against Parma proved costly.
In all honesty, the former Roma boss hasn’t been helped by his players at times, either.
Samir Handanovic’s huge error played a huge part in the Maroons’ comeback, while his strikers, before Icardi’s volley against Spurs, have been firing blanks all season. It’s up to the manager to look for solutions, and Tuesday's victory offers him a route to success.
For Asamoah, even at this early stage, you feel he might already be entertaining mildly negative thoughts about his decision to move to Inter. Having been mostly confined to roles on the left during his days with the Old Lady, he left for a fresh start at Inter probably hoping he’d finally be able to feature in his preferred role in central midfield.
However, the subsequent purchase of Radja Nainggolan and the unsuccessful chase of Luka Modric gave the impression he could be set for roles on the left berth yet again. He went on to feature in central midfield in preseason games, but hasn’t done so since the commencement of the season, with his appearances coming in multiple roles on the left flank.
Unfortunately, the versatile Kojo’s performances have been Jekyll and Hyde – which, in all fairness, can be attributed to Inter’s stuttering start – but it appears he’s Spalletti’s first pick at left back, and that is an improvement, given he was basically second choice for large periods in Turin.
Like Spalletti, Asamoah would have been buoyed by their dramatic turnaround against Mauricio Pochettino’s side, and the pair will hope that things can finally fit together.
The manager had called on his players to make the most of the emotion and beautiful sensations the Champions League brought, and they did just that – in heart-stopping circumstances.
Now he’ll hope they carry the same desire into their bid to turn around a poor domestic start, starting with trip to Sampdoria this weekend.