Claudio Ranieri seemed misty-eyed as Inter managed to end their nine match winless run in all competitions on Friday night versus Chievo. Following the emotional toil of a six-week spell in which Inter’s domestic dreams evaporated, their win in Verona offered hope ahead of their Champions League return contest with Marseille. Unfortunately for Ranieri there would be tears of a different kind on Wednesday as the Nerazzurri succumbed to a 2-2 aggregate, away goals rule elimination.
The tactician was able to fight through the disappointment to note he could have done more, but felt his side deserved to advance. “The Coach always takes the blame and we are paid for that, so it’s fair enough. I have to admit we could not have done any more, partly because of that bit of luck that this season just won’t come to Inter.”
Trailing by one goal after the first leg, Inter needed to take the momentum gathered by the Chievo revival and generate a storm of fury on Marseille. That forecast barely lasted 10 minutes, as other than early chances for Wesley Sneijder and Diego Milito, they hardly threatened the French outfit in the first half.
It was more of the same after the break until expert poacher Milito stole in behind the defence to poke home the aggregate equaliser. However, Inter’s recent defensive deficiencies – 19 goals conceded during their barren run – were on show again as Brandao shrugged off Lucio to fire past Julio Cesar in injury time and give Didier Deschamps yet another triumph over Ranieri, eight seasons after Monaco knocked out Chelsea. That Giampaolo Pazzini netted a penalty to win the match on the night mattered little.
So where to now for club and Coach? Out of the Scudetto reckoning and a long way from securing third place, eliminated from the Coppa Italia and Champions League, this season has become nothing short of a disaster. The short-term Ranieri reign will likely be over in the summer. Perhaps nothing short of a fourth European crown would have kept the Tinkerman in the job, but now his position looks untenable. Andre Villas-Boas, Fabio Capello, Laurent Blanc and Luciano Spalletti have been linked with Ranieri’s post.
Again struggling to rectify the Sneijder issue, Ranieri claims the Dutchman picked up a knock and so was substituted, but the 4-4-2 has provided greater balance rather than utilising a trequartista and it was almost as if Ranieri wanted his tried and trusted system in the hour of need as he brought on Joel Obi.
Do Inter now focus on one last tilt at Champions League qualification, which may generate little more than a place in the undesired Europa League? Should they use the remaining fixtures to further integrate the youngsters in preparation for another cycle? And how will Inter rectify the Sneijder situation, an issue which will have a bearing on the direction the club takes next season?
There is certainly plenty ahead for Massimo Moratti to concern himself with in the upcoming months. And a near guarantee of more tears on the horizon for Claudio Ranieri.