To so many, Inter’s last-gasp turnaround from a 3-2 deficit to that spectacular 4-3 victory was typical of the Nerazzurri’s ability to pull a victory out from the jaws of despair. They’ve done it against so many sides over the last four seasons that it’s almost become second nature.
But, despite such a record, I have to admit that with 10 minutes to go I was starting to believe that Serie A’s bottom side would take three points away from the leaders for the first time since who knows when. Because Siena had wrestled themselves into a winning position by taking Inter on in their own back yard, which has happened so rarely since the Beneamata broke their 17-year duck and started winning titles again.
Alberto Malesani’s charges were led by the outstanding Albin Ekdal in midfield as they decided to cast off the underdogs tag and give the game their all. The Juventus loanee was everywhere, breaking up play in the middle, giving support to winger Jajalo on his breaks forward, and even causing trouble in the box… best summed up by his goal in the first half which brought Siena quickly back onto level terms after Wesley Sneijder's first of two free-kick goals.
Ekdal was ably supported by Jajalo on the left and Reginaldo on the right, who gave first Javier Zanetti and then Walter Samuel a torrid evening. He repeated the trick of Bari’s Edgar Alvarez on the opening day of the season by running hard at the Inter skipper and getting real rewards. Zanetti’s legs don’t move quite as quickly these days, and left back is not the position for ‘El Tractor’ to be plying his trade if he’s to extend his career beyond the end of this season with any real success. Lucio also looked vulnerable when put under pressure, whilst Maicon is undoubtedly more ill at ease when pushed backwards than he is when rampaging down the right flank.
But this was not just a poor performance by the home side, though they undoubtedly underperformed by a drastic amount. This was also about the visitors having the guts to take the game to them. Not since that week one draw for Bari have Inter looked so exposed.
Even when Udinese very nearly stole a point from the San Siro in October, before being pick-pocketed by Sneijder in the last minute, your correspondent left the ground feeling short-changed by the Friulani. For, despite having caused Inter notable problems for reasonably long spells, they had decided to sit back and protect the point long before the 75 minute mark and got their just reward: Nothing.
I am not just picking on Udinese here, because it is a common script. One which Siena could easily have stuck to, but instead were adventurous enough to throw out of the window in search of an altogether more compelling chapter.
Their inability to see it through in those final six minutes should not deter others. Sure, they may have held on for one point, maybe even all three, had they taken a step back late on, but they were sitting on a lead they never expected to have in the first place. And the league table tells us that there are 18 teams better equipped than Siena to try to take on the champions right now. Indeed, Inter’s opponents this coming weekend are the same Bari side who had much success against the champions back in August. If the Galletti are as bold on Saturday as they were back then, there may well be a surprise result in store.
There are undoubtedly chinks in Inter’s armour, especially at a time when they are missing the likes of Eto’o, Muntari, Chivu, Santon and now Stankovic, so now is the time for them to be attacked. After Saturday’s trip to Puglia and the following week’s Milan derby come a trip to Parma, who have hopefully learnt their lesson from their last game against Inter in which they tried to defend for 90 minutes and inevitably lost, and a visit from Cagliari, a very dangerous side who have already roughed up Milan and beaten Juventus this term. Next up after that is a trip to the notoriously difficult arena that is Napoli’s San Paolo.
So the next five games will not only tell us something about Inter’s resolve and their title credentials, but also something about Serie A. For now is the time for Bari’s and Siena’s examples to be followed if this season is not to fade out into the one-horse race which has become common in recent years. Inter must be attacked… or the integrity of the league will face the consequences.
Kris Voakes, Goal.com