‘Crisis’ may be a big word used to describe Inter’s latest slump. But reaction to Thursday’s draw with Udinese, leaving Walter Mazzarri’s men with a solitary point from two home games, certainly pronounced it as much. No sooner had the Inter faithful thought they had turned a corner, then they were down in the dumps again.
It began with Atalanta. The Nerazzurri had gathered a compelling 14 points out of a possible 18 before the date with their bogey team last Sunday. Compelling because, streaking back after a 3-1 Derby d’Italia mauling by Juventus, Inter embarked on a real ruthless streak that comprised the conquests of European qualification rivals Torino and Verona. Their season looked back on track, Erick Thohir’s regime in full effect. Yet all those semi-significant successes would set them up for a greater fall.
An incredulous San Siro looked on in disbelief as the side succumbed to Stefano Colantuono’s troops, an opportunistic Giacomo Bonaventura double giving the home side a lesson in clinical finishing. Inter trudged off after more than an hour of superiority, four woodworks and just Mauro Icardi’s consolation to show for it. The stalemate versus Udinese followed the exact same blueprint, Simone Scuffet’s physics-defying saves giving a strong notion the Meazza’s goalmouths were placed under a curse.
Of course the Inter contingent would hope to dismiss these two fixtures as mere flukes, just days that Lady Luck did not smile too kindly on them. Still, the dejection of witnessing their side go the month of January netting just once in the League is much too near. Alarming too has been Inter’s frequent propensity to soar high one day, but plough the troughs the next. Just when the subsequent match with Udinese should have produced a natural inclination to right the wrong, their soulless performance left behind many more questions than answers.
And yet, Mazzarri has not appeared unduly troubled by a lack of end-product. “The record of
hitting the frame of the goal shows that at least the team is playing well. As a Coach I evaluate, absurdly, that it’s positive we rattled the woodwork that many times because those are almost-goals,” the 52-year-old remarked offhand about the situation.
Some days, the ex-Napoli boss makes to look like a hopeless optimist, deluded in evaluating a failed performance, the biggest contradiction of an already-wayward campaign. This time though, he puts across a fine point. Yes, the Inter of this past week, possibly even this entire season save for a few bright spells, has lacked showmanship, precision, intent and punch till too late. But there are progressive signs arriving too, recent indications the Coach is willing to be more diverse and enterprising in approaching ties hence the ability to keep opponents under sustained pressure.
Frailty displayed in the final stretches against Atalanta aside, Inter have shown to be learning to keep opponents at arm’s length - a definite step in the right direction. They may not yet be commanding, but they have looked increasingly secure, an important trait to acquire in a fledgling project. Hernanes has hitherto not influenced games single-handedly as he was bestowed to do, but managing to always stay a step ahead of the action has nevertheless brought cohesion to the side’s engine room. Meanwhile, Andrea Ranocchia and Fredy Guarin, whose careers at La Pinetina many expected to be over before the winter transfer window shut, have been reborn into cornerstones. There is always room for improvement, but the duo have resembled infinitely more channelled, focused and composed outlets for their teammates.
Now Inter are only missing the clinical edge to be restored as giants of the game, but that can be honed in training. Every woodwork struck does signify one step closer to goal, and the way they have peppered opponent targets to no avail in a given match could well have lead to an avalanche of scorers in another clash. And after enduring so much misfortune, their luck is surely owed a swift upturn. “How many opportunities hit the woodwork, were saved or went close? All season we have had moments like this, so eventually we might have one shot on goal and score,” Mazzarri trusts. The lowest point touched, the only way left certainly is up.