Back in November last year, there was seemingly only one team who could realistically challenge Juventus for the Scudetto. As one journalist wrote in La Repubblica at the time, “Inter ought to make a monument to Stramaccioni.”
The Nerazzurri had just beaten their old rivals in devastating fashion, and brought to an end their 49-game unbeaten run in the League. The derby of Italy had cemented supporters’ thoughts – that this Beneamata team, with their young, idealistic Coach, could go all the way to the top.
The 37-year-old had named an ultra-attacking XI that day, with Rodrigo Palacio, Antonio Cassano and Diego Milito leading the line – the boss younger than his captain had gone toe-to-toe with Antonio Conte. And won.
Javier Zanetti insisted that with Strama in charge, Inter could “reach the very top”. President Massimo Moratti meanwhile claimed that his team could go all the way. “Are we Juve's main challengers? We're just focused on ourselves,” he said. “Saying that, of course we'd love to challenge for the title, we naturally want to perform well and I feel that we're improving with every match we play.
“I like the fact we've found consistency and we're able to make tactical switches during games to adapt to our opponents, so we can best counter their strengths. This is the most positive aspect, along with the unity between the Coach and the players. We've got great team spirit.”
Just five months later, however, and things have never really progressed from that night in Turin. What was meant to be the springboard for a historic campaign has turned into a flash-in-the-pan – unlikely to be repeated.
Their win on Wednesday evening over Sampdoria was their first since they defeated Catania on March 4. Since the turn of the year, the Nerazzurri have only picked up 15 points out of a possible 36. Losses to Siena and Bologna have derailed their season – draws with Milan, Roma and Torino have rubbed salt into the wounds.
From being in second place in Serie A in November, four points behind Juve, they are now fifth, and trail the leaders by 18 points. With eight games of the campaign left, there is a genuine possibility of the Nerazzurri not competing in Europe next year. Tough matches against Lazio, Napoli and Udinese await.
But how has this happened in such a short space of time?
Of course, injuries have helped unsettle the San Siro side. Losing Milito to a long-term knee knock has seen the front-line become a blunt imitation of what they once were. And a lack of options up front has seen them score more than two goals in a League game just three times since Christmas.
The defence has become increasingly shaky post-break, with Juan Jesus and Andrea Ranocchia prone to lapses in concentration. And when Samir Handanovic is consistently your best player, something is surely a miss.
Perhaps the biggest criticism though, is reserved for Stramaccioni himself. The tactician has been, at the same time, predictable and erratic in his line-ups. The reverse fixture with Juve last week saw a back-three of Ranocchia, Walter Samuel and Cristian Chivu. Trying to match-up with Old Lady didn’t work, and they effortlessly swatted the Nerazzurri aside.
At 37, the Coach still has plenty of time to hone his style and reading of the game. It has been an up-and-down season for Inter, but with a lack of European football staring them in the face – will President Moratti stick or twist with his youthful tactician come the end of the campaign?
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