Stefano Pioli’s arrival at Inter may have been underwhelming to some, but the calm that came with it was badly needed and he’s starting to steady the ship.
Frank de Boer had departed after his extremely brief and chaotic tenure and the club were comically bouncing from one PR disaster to another. If the Dutchman was meant to succeed at Inter, he would have needed two or three years to get his vision through to this side. To sack him so early was folly and perhaps indicated he had been employed for all the wrong reasons. The arrival of Pioli offered stability, but will it bring success?
Mauro Icardi perhaps hit the nail on the head when talking about the possibility of Pioli being employed by Inter, as he spoke after the Crotone game. He stated that the former Lazio Coach would be a safe bet, being Italian and knowing the league. This was the view taken by Inter director of sport Pier Ausilio too, as he recognised the talent Pioli had at taking clubs in difficulty and turning them around. Bologna and Lazio (his last two clubs) are testament to his abilities, as he saved the first from relegation and took the latter into the Champions League’s preliminary rounds.
This is the 51-year old’s 11th senior club and his experience is starting to show through. Inter certainly have an incredible squad of players, yet they have painfully underperformed again this season. The Europa League campaign was an unmitigated disaster and in Serie A, whilst they had beaten Juventus, the defeats to Chievo, Cagliari, Atalanta, Roma and Sampdoria were simply not good enough. Since Pioli has arrived he managed to hold an in-form Milan in the Derby Della Madonnina in his first game and has beaten Fiorentina, Genoa and Sassuolo. The 3-0 thumping by Napoli at the San Paolo is the only blot on his league form thus far.
Now he faces his heir on the Lazio bench, the man who stepped in during an emergency situation after Pioli was sacked in April and turned into a key figure in rebuilding an era. Simone Inzaghi was the unglamorous option after failing to get international star name Marcelo Bielsa. Pioli will be hoping Inzaghi's career path can reflect his own, as before he'd even taken charge of his first game, Inter were already being linked with Diego Simeone.
What the Coach has done on the field ironically is similar to what Roberto Mancini tried to do. He is attempting to make the defensive four (or three) as solid as possible and build from the back. This has not been easy, as the Nerazzurri’s full-backs are a problem area and have underperformed on the whole this year. This is why moving to three at the back made perfect sense – Inter must play to their strengths and move to hide their weaknesses. It’s ironic considering how much Gian Piero Gasperini was criticised for doing the same in his tenure.
Pioli is aware that he has an excellent goalkeeper who is capable of more this term and his centre-backs also fall into the latter category. He has one of the league’s most lethal forwards and is currently working in the best way to supply him through his wealth of midfield options. Like Mancini however, this is a bit of a stumbling block.
Whilst Pioli may be still looking for his best line up and the correct tactics, he is getting to know the players as individuals and seeing how they differ from training to match day. Only when he has this figured out will he really be able to employ the correct tactics.
This approach is out of the ‘Helenio Herrera hand book’ and has also been evident on the pitch, as Pioli has bemoaned Inter’s game management early on in his tenure. Against Sassuolo there was evidence that he was desperately trying to get his players to see out the game in a professional manner. It was something the Nerazzurri managed to do, but only just. They got the result, but they were clinging on for dear life in the process.
The new Coach stated they are learning more and more about themselves as the games go by and this emphasis on the players understanding their own mentality is key. Inter have some extremely talented individuals, but at the moment they are just that.
Pioli is giving them a sense of identity as a team and right know that is what they need. Is Pioli the right man to win the Nerazzurri as Scudetto? Who knows? He certainly has his limitations, that is for sure, but right now he is a savvy appointment, as he seems to be doing the basics right and turning this squad into a cohesive unit. For a club with Inter’s history and reputation, that’s a huge achievement in and of itself.
Pioli may be simply Mancini without the drama, but perhaps the Nerazzurri should just be happy with the lack of traditional Inter Madness.