Coppa Italia: Round of 16 / Team rating: 6 / Top scorer: Palacio (17)
As the final whistle rang out to signal the end of the game at Stadio Bentegodi in Verona, a sense of finality descended upon the Nerazzurri fans. After 19 years of relentless service, Javier Zanetti stepped off the field for the very last time.
But, it wasn't just Il Capitano's career that was coming to an end, it was a true end of era moment, writes Varun Mathure.
Change - that one word would be best to describe the season that Inter had. It was change from the start right to the very end. Victor Obinna's late goal that saw Chievo come from behind to beat Inter was an apt representation too of the type of year that the Serpenti had just been through. Missed opportunities and plenty of them.
Walter Mazzarri's arrival at the club last summer was seen as the right move to establish some continuity and set the groundwork for the team to return to competing for Champions League places. At the back end of this season, however, there are quite a few doubts whether he is the right man and more pressingly if he himself wants to continue at the club.
It hadn't always been quite this difficult for Mazzarri. The season had gotten off to a good start and Inter's lack of European involvement meant that they could solely concentrate on the League season. A 7-0 away win over Sassuolo and a come from behind win over Fiorentina at home seemed to indicate that the team was indeed on the right path.
Soon after though, a pattern started to emerge and it wasn't a pretty one. Inter were simply unable to string together a run of results, but not just that, they also seemed unable to deliver the same level of performance over the course of 90 minutes. The first four draws of the season came in situations where the team had gone ahead.
The inability to convert a point into three was one which the Nerazzurri were unable to overcome for the entire season as they ended the campaign with 15 draws, the highest number since Roberto Mancini's first year in charge back in 2004-05. The team also failed to ever register three straight wins for the length of the season in another example of the lack of continuity.
Inter went into the winter break in fifth place on 31 points, but the common feeling was that the team should have been at least five-to-six points better off given the number of times they had been unable to convert their chances. Things only were to get more difficult in the New Year though, as the team had to wait till February 9 to pick up their first win of 2014.
During that period, the Serpenti picked up just one win in 10 games - that against city rivals Milan. The winter transfer window saw Danilo D'Ambrosio and Hernanes arrive at the club, but it was the Fredy Guarin-Mirko Vucinic swap saga that would make for the biggest story of them all. And yet again it wasn't for the right reasons.
‘The Change’ had started off with that in the board room as Indonesian businessman Erick Thohir became the first Asian President of a Serie A club as a group headed by him bought the majority shares at Inter to bring an end to Massimo Moratti's reign at the club. The Italian has remained involved within the club, though, as he was named the Honorary President.
Thohir's first major involvement came in January when he stepped in and personally vetoed the mooted Guarin-Vucinic swap at the very last minute following angry reactions from fans. Juventus weren't happy and issued a club statement regarding the situation, while Inter's Technical Director Marco Branca lost his job over the debacle.
Inter did manage to return to winning ways and even built up some form in February and March, as they came out victorious from tough trips to Fiorentina and Verona, and even held Roma on their own patch. But, the consistency and the home form were still a cause of major disappointment and another poor run against lesser opposition like Atalanta, Livorno and Bologna meant the team was left fighting for Europa League spots.
One of the worst displays of the season came against Milan where the team were fully impotent for the entire 90 minutes. Luckily for the fans, in the next game against Lazio, which was the final one for Zanetti at San Siro, the team delivered an emphatic performance to give the Inter legend a nice farewell.
As it turned out, it wasn’t just Zanetti’s final home game either, as the remaining Argentine stalwarts Esteban Cambiasso, Diego Milito and Walter Samuel were also confirmed to be leaving the club this coming summer. Next season, Inter will start anew as these four icons were the last surviving members of the treble winning squad.
Some groundwork for 2014-15 has already been laid as Nemanja Vidic is on his way after seeing out his contract at Manchester United. It will be interesting to see how the Serbian adapts to a new league, and whether his advanced years serve as experience or hindrance. There have also been talks about Fernando Torres making his way to the black and blue half of Milan, but he is another name that can be hit or miss.
Walter Mazzarri described the season as one of transition, and that is about the best assessment that can be made. The team has under-performed at various points, and under different circumstances could have challenged for a top three finish.
The summer ahead will be a crucial one for Thohir. If he makes the right moves and gets results, he will find himself being feted by fans, but after three years of dismal returns, any missteps could turn them against him rather quickly. Change is in the air indeed.
The Iron Sergeant started off in great fashion and was being hailed for turning around the careers of Jonathan and Ricky Alvarez. However, the inconsistent displays from his side turned up the heat on him. His continued omission of Mateo Kovacic irked fans and confounded experts, as did is his insistence to stick with an out of sorts Fredy Guarin. If he were being graded, not many would go beyond a B-.
It is difficult to name a single player who really stood out for the entirety of the campaign, as the team’s inconsistency extended to their personnel too. Palacio, however, did distinguish himself the effort he put in on a weekly basis. His 17 goals in the League helped push Inter over the line in a bid to qualify for Europe, while his cheeky back-heel against Milan was one to remember.
- Inter’s 15 wins this year is the fewest number of victories that the team has managed since 1998 when in a 34-game League season they picked up only 13 wins.
- Conversely, the eight losses suffered by the team are the lowest since the 2010-11 season when they had the same number of defeats.
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