Within five minutes of the start of the game between Napoli and Inter, there was an inevitable sense that the match would throw up a fair few goals. Both teams started with a reckless abandon not seen very often in Serie A, resulting in an end-to-end game.
However, Inter were once again on the back-foot. Roberto Mancini’s team has struggled to get off to a good start against quality teams for a while now. They were under assault against the Partenopei, much like the previous week against Fiorentina. Similar dismal starts were also in evidence against Juventus, Lazio and Roma.
Since returning to the Inter bench, Mancini has had to change the style of a team that was set up to play three at the back. The recruitments in the winter were made with a view to allow him to more effectively impose his style and execute his ideas on the field.
The first step was a return to a four-man backline, with the second being the reintroduction of the midfield diamond that he used widely in his previous tenure. The defence has been limited though, by the quality of personnel at his disposal. The two goals shipped to Napoli exposed once more a lack of ability to deal with top players.
The diamond in midfield is one which needs more of a polish than a recut. The combination of Gary Medel, Marcelo Brozovic, Fredy Guarin and Xherdan Shaqiri failed to click for the Nerazzurri. It isn’t the first time that players have failed to gel in the middle of the park. Mateo Kovacic was similarly, ineffective against Fiorentina.
From the five players mentioned above, the two who can occupy their natural positions with an ease are Medel and Shaqiri at the defensive and attacking end of the midfield respectively. With such a narrow formation it becomes imperative for a team to have two central midfielders who are able to contribute in both areas of the pitch.
Despite Guarin’s current run of good form he isn’t the most accomplished at tracking back, this invariably leads to Medel getting outnumbered when the opposition breaks forward. However, it seems quite unlikely that Mancini will drop the Colombian anytime soon as he has been decisive on more than one occasion.
The Nerazzurri only managed to open the game up against Napoli when Hernanes was brought on for Brozovic. The Brazilian has not had as many outings under Mancini as he did under his predecessor. The former Lazio man at times looks far removed from his best days in the Aquile shirt, but every now and then shows glimpses of the talent he possesses.
And finally, there is Mateo Kovacic, who, as discussed last week, is struggling to find a role in this team. It was notable that Mancini chose to throw on Hernanes instead of the Croatian when going for broke this past weekend. The 20-year-old would do well to look at Marco Veratti’s performance last night against Chelsea for Paris Saint-Germain, and set it as a benchmark for himself.
The game tonight against Wolfsburg will certainly be interesting to see as a poor result could effectively end Inter’s season. The Serpenti will be desperate to make sure that they come away from Germany with more than a fighting chance of making it to the next round, and Mancini’s midfield selection will play a key part in determining that.