If you had only seen the score you may have imagined that Antonio Conte’s swashbuckling Inter had returned to push aside Torino at San Siro. The fact that the home side came back to win 4-2 was a credit to them but in context after 62 minutes they were 2-0 down and they looked ragged. The issue this season has been conceding goals and the level to which the defence are operating at. Last season and this, they have not struggled to score goals but when the coach cannot play his preferred back three, the problems set in.
The COVID pandemic has effected all teams and Inter are certainly included in this. Injuries and quarantine have meant that Inter’s preferred back three of Milan Skriniar, Alessandro Bastoni and Stefan De Vrij, have not played together as often as they may like. Last season they conceded only 36, it was the best in the division and Lazio came the closest conceding 42. This season, after only eight games, they have conceded 13 times and this is certainly a huge drop in performance. Conte has certainly identified this as an issue and is quick to try to explain that this is a mental issue and not a tactical or organisational one.
“Organisation is all well and good, but if there’s nothing personal in there, none of your determination and human values, it’s not going to be enough.” The coach was making it clear for himself at least. It does not matter how much you drill the players but if they do not play with determination and belief then what more can he do? Whilst this looks to be a valid point, there are reasons that confidence can be effected and this comes down to many different events that have taken place.
Last season, the back three were more solid but especially near the end of the season when the pandemic hit, rotation was needed. What was interesting here was that we saw Bastoni become tired and perhaps lose a little bit of confidence towards the end. This allowed the veteran defender, Diego Godin to come in and deputise. A man of his experience, one of the best defenders of the last 20 years, allowed calm to stay in the back line and they were arguably as solid in with him in as they were with Bastoni. Godin was admittedly lacking in pace and the back three played a little deeper but it was Godin who controlled the line and the team only needed to tweak their game.
When Conte stood on his barrel and addressed the crowd as he did all summer, he called for experience. As the likes of Sandro Tonali slipped away to Milan, the likes of Aleksandar Kolarov arrived and this was excusable if the veterans he brought in helped Inter progress. With the focus turning to minds over bodies it was a huge shock to see Godin disappear to Cagliari. The first game arrived and the likes of Danilo D’Ambrosio and Kolarov started in a make shift back line. From here on in the goals rained in.
Fast forward to Torino and once again, D’Ambrosio and Andrea Ranocchia lined up with Bastoni, it was a line-up that would have been stronger with Godin in it. What happened against the Granata mirrored what happened in the opening game against Fiorentina. The back line's lack of pace meant it had to play deep and allowed Torino to have more of the ball in dangerous areas. The knock on effect of this was that it forced Inter to try to play out deeper from the back. This type of tight passing exposes Samir Handanovic and it does not suit D’Ambrosio or Ranocchia and also then puts pressure on the midfield. Quite simply, the reserve defenders at Inter lack the confidence to play this sort of game. When they tried to play higher on the coaches orders, Torino exposed them on the counter attack.
The January window now looks as important as the tie in the Champions League looks dangerous. Inter may be able to turn on the after burner and out gun the likes of Torino but they will not be able to do this to Real or the top Italian sides. There is a huge issue for Conte and before the window; all he can possibly do is pray that his preferred three are fit and ready. Other than that, perhaps the other option is to move to a back four but let us face it; he is not going to do that is he?