“At times we don’t think. I have good players but we need to stay concentrated at all times. Using your brain is fundamental.” It is not often you hear such comments from a winning manager, but Roberto Mancini was left frustrated as his side limped over the line against a nine-man Udinese.
The victory brought the Nerazzurri within a point of sixth-place Fiorentina who lost to Juventus the following evening. La Viola will be forgiven for having their attentions focused on other matters as they find themselves in the semi-finals of the Europa League.
Thanks to results going their way of late, Inter now could realistically aim to finish in a European spot and secure qualification to next year’s Europa League. However, they will need a slice of luck and some good fortune going by Tuesday’s performance against the Fruilani.
The defence, which has been chastised time and again, was shown up once more, and it has to be a priority area to address when the summer comes rolling in. It will be Mission Impossible for Mancini to get his team to deliver consistent results if they continue to be so unsteady at the back.
On a more positive note, the team’s attack has certainly looked better with players like Hernanes and Mateo Kovacic getting back into form. The Croatian’s future has been under a fair bit of speculation, but he is once again showing the talent that made him so widely coveted around Europe last summer. If he can keep delivering at this level game in and game out, Mancini will have to play him all the time.
Inter’s last five fixtures are as follows – Chievo [home], Lazio [away], Juventus [home], Genoa [away] and Empoli [home]. Given the team’s performances this season, one just cannot begin to speculate on how they will do in the coming matches. But, if they can get to the 60-point mark not only would it match last season’s haul, but will likely get them fifth or sixth place.
The two teams closest to the Nerazzurri right now are Sampdoria and Fiorentina. As mentioned earlier, la Viola are likely to concentrate more on the Europa League, as they could potentially nab a Champions League spot if they were to win it. While, the Blucerchiati have a run-in similar to Inter’s with tough games against Juventus, Lazio and Udinese to come.
Mancini said before the Udinese game that Europe was out of the team’s hands, and as things stand that still very much rings true. Given the way qualification for UEFA’s competitions works for next year, the only way of getting an assured spot in the Europa League will be by finishing fifth in the table. But, there is an argument to be made on whether the club would be better off without having to compete on Thursdays.
There is a good chance that Inter move quite a few players over the summer once more, and try to build a team more suited for Mancini’s needs. Thursday night football has never really suited clubs trying to compete for a top three spot, particularly as it often means long trips across and Europe back culminating on a Friday afternoon.
In fact, barring Chelsea’s victory in 2013 – when they dropped down from the Champions League, no winner of the Europa League from Spain, England, Germany or Italy has managed to secure a top three domestic finish since Sevilla back in 2006-07. This just goes to show how difficult it is to do well in the top leagues and be successful in the Europe’s secondary competition.
On the flipside, European football would bring with it some revenue and the potential for more gate receipts with the higher number of games. Regardless, for this debate to become meaningful, as Mancini said, Inter’s players will need to start using their brains on the pitch.