“Even my 80-year-old mother knows Inter need a centre-back.” Luciano Spalletti’s plaintive cry at being asked yet again whether the Nerazzurri were a little short in defence made it obvious who the first January reinforcement would be. Step forward Lisandro Lopez, who arrives on loan with option to buy from Benfica.
A decade ago, Inter were the reigning Argentinean Serie A champions, with Javier Zanetti and Walter Samuel forming the team's backbone in defence, Esteban Cambiasso composing in the middle of the park, while Hernan Crespo and Julio Cruz damaged every opposition.
The Argentine contingent has been whittled down considerably nowadays, with Mauro Icardi feeling a little lonely in that locker room. Perhaps Lisandro can bring some more of that gritty South American approach that so many of his predecessors had.
A man who won the Primera Division in his home country and triumphed with three Portuguese league titles at Benfica could give you the impression of a new champion calling the shots at the back next to Milan Skriniar.
Conversely, Lopez never made it regularly to the Benfica starting line-up in all three seasons and started only six games this season in all competitions, failing to claim any clean sheets.
In today's market a player loaned from the Primeira Liga for €500,000 says a lot about what he can contribute, and the fact Inter turned down the chance to sign him in the summer says even more.
Even Julio Cesar, who played alongside Lopez and was the shot-stopper behind the Treble-winning Inter, recognised the difference between his former club's needs and the quality of the new Beneamata signing, only praising the defender's love to laugh in the dressing room and their hugs when he celebrated scoring.
Following their win against Chievo on December 3, Inter turned their unbeaten record to a five-game winless streak, also getting knocked out of Coppa Italia by Gennaro Gattuso's Milan.
Once centre-back Joao Miranda was forced off injured against Sassuolo, the lack of strength in depth became painfully evident. As Andrea Ranocchia also had a knock, Spalletti ended up using Davide Santon in the middle with Skriniar. It’s a sad state of affairs for a potential Scudetto contender to be so short in key areas.
Lisandro Lopez brings cover, but what else? Does he have the same warrior’s spirit as Miranda, the calm under pressure of Skriniar or the ability to dictate play with the ball at his feet?
What Lisandro does bring is height and power. He’s very tall and bulky, practically impossible to beat in the air and on set plays. Pace is his weakness and he can struggle when opponents run at him, so counter-attacks could be potentially disastrous. In other words, he’s an Argentinean Ranocchia.
Is that what Inter really needed? In a way, yes, because the issue was not one of finding different characteristics, but purely of numbers. You can’t get a Skriniar or Miranda clone on loan with option to buy, so the only alternative was to find another Ranocchia.