Season Review: Midfielders

Stankovic and Sneijder

In continuing march down memory lane, we now find ourselves at Midfielders.

Just to remind you, MAD's comments are in black, Johonna's are in blue.


If there was one section of the team that I thought let the rest of the unit down it was the midfielders. Three fourths of the problem I thought was that we needed a different type of midfielder to do the job that we wanted them to do. One fourth of the problem is that I don’t think that the coaches utilized the skills that the midfielders that we actually have very well, but rather tried to make them fit a mold that the coaches wanted. Both coaches that we used this season wanted a more attacking, technical midfielder and that isn’t what largely populates our bench.

Why is it so hard to find a half-way decent midfielder? It seems like Inter has been scrambling to find midfielders then scraping up whatever they can just to plug the holes for a few years now (remember the great midfielder drought of '07?). Things were starting look up with the inclusion of Thiago Motta and Wes Sneijder, but it turns out they are human so once again, back to the drawing board. Unfortunately for Inter, that means we have an odd mishmash of experience and youth, promise and decline, with a sprinkling of WTF thrown in just to keep us on our toes. And midfielders are important. From a purely goal scoring aspect, roughly a third of Inter's goals this season came from the midfield. I really wish the team would pin down this area once and for all.

Joel Obi, One for the Future
Joel Obi, one for the future?

Joel Obi

Joel had 13 appearances for the team but none of them went for a full 90 and only one went for more than 49 minutes and those 49 were on the high end of minutes on the pitch. I think that it’s a certainty that Joel will be loaned out next season and I really hope it’s to a Serie A team. As far as his performance on the field goes, I think Joel usually did a fine job – I certainly can’t remember a really terrible mistake or anything. Definitely one of the major failures of this season is the failure to discover exactly what we had in Obi. I don’t think there is anyone who could tell you what his strengths were or where he really liked to play.

Joel is an enigma. As I wrack my brain, all I can come up with for him is that is a bit short and he looks like he is about 14 years old when he is on the pitch (he is 20 by the way). A quick check of the games he has played this season (because clearly, I dont remember), shows that the fans thought he was generally better than average (average score of 6.38) and we won most of the game he played in. Besides that, though, who can say. Obi is an Inter youth product who has been promoted through the ranks. As such, he seems dedicated to the cause, certainly I dont remember thinking he was slacking at all, but I just dont have much feel for him personally. We haven't bonded yet. Still, my impression is that he is a good kid with a admirable work ethic. That is at least a good place to start from. He is co-owned with Parma right now (they bought half last winter) so his future with Inter is not certain.

Score:

N/A Just not enough to go on. But I will be paying attention to wherever he goes in the future to see just what it was we had in him.

6.0 I mean, sure, he didn't play a lot, but he didn't play poorly either. Give the kid his due.

Obiora Nwankwo

If there was yet one more thing that Benitez could be pilloried for it was when he played Nwankwo – Werder Bremen (L 3-0), Tottenham (L 3-1), Chievo (L 1-2), Parma (W 5-2), Twente (W 1-0). Nwankwo had 5 appearances for Inter two of them were the infamous Werder Bremen game and the Tottenham away game. Neither of these games would have been a good time to play the young defensive midfielder. Obviously there wasn’t enough time to get a good read on what Nwankwo could or couldn’t do well, but I think I know where I would play him: defensive midfielder. He went on loan to Parma in January and I think he’ll be sent out again this summer. I don’t think that he’ll ever be back.

Remember how I was saying that Inter's midfield was a mix that included a couple WTF people? Well, this is what I was thinking of. Nwankwo came to Inter for the youth team in the winter of 2010. One assumes that Benitez decided he was ready for the big boys, but I cant be sure. What I do know is that he failed to make any positive impression with the first team. He is another who is half owned by Parma, only he went while Obi stayed. You cant miss what you never knew so I am just fine with Parma buying the rest of his card.

Score:

N/A

Me too. Five appearances just dont rate a score.

Philippe Coutinho

The young Coutinho was used in 20 games this season, only 5 of which were after Christmas but he managed to play 7 complete games. He scored a single goal, it was against Fiorentina and he had 2 assists – one in Serie A against Sampdoria and one in the Champions League against Tottenham.

Coutinho’s game is a lot of movement and precision passing and I like his effort in defense. However, he suffers from the same problems that Brazilian players suffer from when they move to play in Europe, they have a lot less time on the ball here and the ref won’t simply make a call for you when you fall over. Did he move when he was too young? I don’t think so, as he seems to have his head screwed on right and you never hear about him staying out and partying. Otherwise, I thought that considering the fact that he was played all over the place in his first year in Europe I thought that this was a promising season, if a not incredibly successful one.

I think it is fair to say that Coutinho has suffered a few growing pains this season. Figuratively and literally. For me, that's not such a big deal - he is very young and brought more for his potential than the contribution he would make this season. He had some injury problems and coaches wisely thought it better to ease him into the Italian game than throw him into the deep end and risk him sinking like a stone.

The fans were quite excited for him to finally come to Inter - we had been waiting a year already - and the hype surrounding him was huge. And the kid stood up pretty well to the pressure. True, he didn't explode onto the scene the way many hoped, but the kid is only 18 years old - give him a break. Overall, I think he legitimately shows the promise we all hoped he would. I am willing to give him time to grow and learn. I just hope the club doesn't cut and run.

Score:

5.5 but he gets a lot of consideration for showing a lot of promise, effort and desire to play. I don’t see him with Inter next season as he will probably be out on loan.

6 for me. His performance wasn't stellar but I see a glimmer. Plus, he gets an extra half a point for being cute as a bug's ear.

Mariga we hardly knew ye
I mean, just look at those legs!

MacDonald Mariga

Another unfortunate story about a player not getting the time he needs to show his stuff. I really liked what little I saw from Mariga this season. I mean, I really did. He was given 21 opportunities to play this season. An incredible 4 times he was only given in the single digit minutes on the field. On the other hand, he was given 6 full games. The other 11 games he played were across the spectrum in minutes played from 11 minutes in one game to 84 minutes in another.

And you know what? I don’t recall a really bad game that he had in those 21 appearances. I recall a thunderous header that he scored in a Coppa game that turned into a game winner against Genoa. I recall that he and Cambiasso made a terrorizing duo in the Coppa game against Roma that pushed us into the finals. He’s a good, young player that is willing to play off the bench and do it cheaply. I understand what Branca and Leo want from the midfielders, I just don’t understand why they can’t adapt him into it since he’s such a resource.

Anyway, he’s gone next season – it’s all but a formality and I don’t blame him one little bit. If I was treated this poorly I might wish to leave, too.

Poor Mariga. He played well - consistently so. And what does he get? Nothing. Nada. Zip. Well, 794 minutes and his name on the transfer list. I think this may be one who got away. He is like 90% legs and he knows exactly how to use them. He always looks focused on the pitch and ready to work. I just dont see why the powers that be dont like him enough to play him more (what does Kharja have that he doesn't?). I wish him well in whatever he does next but I cant help feeling a little wistful over what might have been.

Score:

6.0 For those few opportunities that he had, I thought that he really made the most of them for us.

7 I really dont remember him putting a foot wrong. Truthfully, I dont know why he didn't play more. It fairly boggles.

Sulley Muntari

Muntari played a single complete game this season, you got it, it was the Werder Bremen game.

The single goal that he scored was the game winner against Genoa in the first half of the season. Muntari didn’t really have enough time on the field to throw his seasonal fit at anyone, but I think it’s suffice to say that no one really missed it either. I don’t know what happened to Sully, but it looks like his best days are past him right now and that’s a little sad for a 27 year old.

Sure, Muntari only had one goal, but it was the winning goal so earned the team three precious points (nothing to sneeze at). I know, he was sort of known for his random acts of violence (and resulting sendings off), but he also provided a bit of muscle in the midfield. Still, we always knew he was on the way out. He is coming back to Inter this summer - I doubt very much to stay. I have to say, I didn't have much of a problem with him last year. This year, I dont really remember him. I do wonder if he wasn't another victim of Rafa.

Score:

4.0 He had few opportunities but as a vet he should know how to make the most of them and he didn’t.

5 -for the three points.

Houssine Kharja
Like Muntari, Kharja got a goal. Unfortunately, it didn't come with any points.

Houssine Kharja

Kharja filled a role of utility man and a talent of being able to play in just about every midfield role we had. He wasn’t really great in any of them, but at times, he was good. Having Kharja on the field was like having Javier on the field in flexibility. If you needed to make a change or a formation shift, you didn’t need to use up all your substitutes to do it, just move Kharja to where you want him to play and then let him go.

Kharja played in 19 games, all but a few for substantial time on the field and he scored a goal and had 4 assists. He had a couple of stinkers, though. The JuBe game comes to mind and the loss against Parma, in which the whole team stank in fairness.

Ok, I get it, he is versatile. But what does that matter if you are mediocre at everything. It seems you either like Kharja or really really dont. I am on the dont side. I think he takes a slot that could be filled by someone really good. The idea that we may be giving up Natalino to bring down the cost of this guy actually makes me angry. When it comes to football, my biggest memory of him is of someone who loses possession a lot. Too much. I remember shouting at my tv over this (which is not good for my blood pressure or our relationship). I have a sinking feeling that the likes will outweigh the dislikes and we will be saddled with this guy. Millstone meet neck.

Score:

5.5 Kharja is a useful utility player who – hopefully - is cheap and won’t mind being on the bench for the majority of the time.

4.5 I dont like him - not personally, just as a football player. I am sure he is a perfectly nice person and I would just love him once I got to know him. But... Just because he was the best option last winter doesn't mean he is the best option going forward. Ugh.

Thiago Motta

If there was a player who epitomized Pazza Inter this season it was Thiago Motta. Motta had 29 appearances this season all but 5 coming after Christmas. His up and down health issues nicely paralleled his up and down form. When he’s on, Thiago is an amazing player. However, he does have his challenges to overcome as a player. He’s fragile, yes, and with those problems – especially with his knees – he doesn’t move very well or fast. When Motta is playing at his very best, he gets a lot of people involved in the game and the whole team picks up. I am really curious to see if he’s with us next season.

Thiago Motta has the ability to be a seriously good player. Unfortunately, his body just doesn't allow him to live up to his talent. It is sad. The problem is, those flashes of brilliance have me hooked. It is like heroine or something - you convince yourself that the high is worth whatever the consequences, whatever the down. I mean, what is not to love over performances like Inter v Napoli or Inter v Roma? The three million euro question (which is what he makes, I think) is, though, are these performances worth the lows of a Juventus-Inter? There is much speculation that he is on the way out this summer - he says no but the rumor mill continues to churn (Roma and Napoli are mentioned). I cant decide if this is good or bad.

Score:

6.0 He had more up than down this season with us, but I can’t help but think that we need midfielders that can run up and down more than he can. We would dearly miss his passing foot though.

6 for me as well. If he can just work out his health problems, I bet he would be an 8. I am inclined to think I will miss him if he goes - unless we get someone way better, that is.

Dejan Stankovic black and blue to the core
Deki loves Inter and that makes me happy.

Dejan Stankovic

I had a lot of problems with Dejan this season. I was never his biggest fan and I would have been happy to see him leave to JuBentus in Mourinho’s first summer with Inter. I appreciate his passion for the team however, but I just didn’t see what Leo saw in him this season. I thought that Dejan was used too much. I thought that Dejan – especially late in the year – lost a lot, maybe too much, of what he had when he was at his very best.

Dejan played in 7 Champions League games and I thought that he really shined in those games. In fact those would be the time that I would like to see Deki, games in Europe when he could push himself on a big stage. He also had 26 Serie A games (all told Deki played in 40 games and scored 9 goals in all competitions) and I thought that was probably 6 to 10 games too many for Serie A for the fitness levels he was showing. I didn’t think that he played defense very well, I didn’t think that he passed very well and I thought that he missed a lot of shots for the few goals that probability declared should go in from the range that he usually shot from.

It's true, Deki is getting older. It happens to the best of us. As such, he is just not as good as he was (not everyone is Zanetti). Even so, he got 9 goals this season which is his highest scoring year ever at Inter. Ever. He struggled with some injuries this season, but he worked like hell to make himself available for the team. He did what was asked, and he did it with heart and passion. I wont lie, I like Stankovic. I like is goofy ears and the fact that he wears his heart on his sleeve. Everyone seems to like him on the team and you can tell he genuinely loves being at Inter. If that doesn't endear him to a fan, I dont know what would. I dont know how many games are left in his legs but I still think he has a lot to give to the team - in experience and sportsmanship and general muppetry. His passion is infectious on the field and he has the power to pull the team up with him, maybe not as well as Zanetti, but still an admirable (and useful) skill.

Score:

5.0 I thought that Deki played too many games for his fitness levels and that this should be his last season as a real contributor.

7 for me. Nine goals is nothing to sneeze at. Sure, he may not be the best defensively, but that was what the 2010/2011 Inter was all about. It seems unfair to single him out for a team-wide shortcoming. Oh, and I love him.

Esteban Cambiasso

Along with Wesley Sneijder, Cambiasso is one of the only two midfielders to play more than 3000 minutes this season. Those 3000 minutes translate to 45 games, 30 of which were Serie A and 7 of which were Champions League. Cambiasso’s most memorable game of the season was probably against Catania where he put in 2 of his 8 goals on the season. I thought that Cuchu played very poorly in the Champions League as a whole - despite his goal against Twente - and the game against Schalke was a personal low for him as he completely fell down as the supposed screen in front of the defense.

I thought that when Leo moved Cambiasso at first it was a nice idea to get Cuchu up the field and playing more as a CM. However as time went by, it became very obvious that Cuchu was desperately needed in front of the defense. Rightly, I think that Cuchu was considered one of the worst players in the Milan return game and the Parma game two weeks after that. Is it possible that the engine with legs that is Cuchu is wearing down some? We better hope not. If we get rid of Mariga there won’t be another defensive minded midfielder on the roster. As I said earlier, I thought that Cuchu had one of his best games along side Mariga who he seemed to play off of very well.

Ok. The team had a bad season. As such, so did Cuchu. Whether that is because of Rafa or the fact that he was asked to play in a new way, I just dont know. Attack wise, this has been his best Serie A year ever (7 goals) and with the one CL goal he got, he has equaled his scoring record from the 2007/8 season. This is probably a product of Leo and Rafa playing him further up than Mou or Mancini did (another result could well be some of those goals the team leaked).

Personally, I think Cambiasso excels when playing right in front of the defense, in a position where he can direct the whole defense. When he is on, he is practically a brick wall allowing no ball to penetrate into our third. When he isn't, then we see those clown-car scrambles in front of our goal as we desperately try to defend without conceding a penalty or a free kick (btw, I call them clown cars because it looks like the squad is trying cram as many people as possible into our tiny little penalty box - just like a clown car). I dont know why our coaches this season moved him forward - maybe Cuchu was getting a little board. Whatever it is, I want him back in defense, running the show, stopping the ball, winning back possession, basically getting the job done. I will cut him a little slack this season. The fact that he was not always his best may not be entirely his fault. Oh, and MAD, bite your fingers! He is not slowing down. I wont have it.

Score:

7.0 Cambiasso had a lot more highs than lows, but the lows were abysmal. He’s still the engine in the middle.

8.0 If I gave Deki a 7 then Cuchu gets an 8 - simple as that. Besides, I really think he struggled with the change in coaching and everything that went along with it. None of that was his fault.

Wesley Sneijder

Despite his diminutive frame, Wes has proved to be one of the most reliable players on the squad. That reliability unfortunately means that he only played in 25 Serie A games. However he made all but one Champions League game – you got it, the Werder Bremen away game. By the way, he scored in 3 out of 9 Champions League games, too.

When Wes plays, it means that he generally plays all game long. I think that most of his bad games this season – coinciding nicely with the rest of the team – came from the first half of the season. In fact, I think that all his goals in Serie A came in the second half. Honestly I don’t know what Benitez did to this team, but he needs to be boiled in oil. Wes continues to be a heavy contributor in the offense, even when missing so many games, with 7 goals and 6 assists on the season.

Wes did a good job now stop all this talk about transfers!
Wes, you are not making me happy with all this "God only knows" junk. Stop it!

It is difficult for me to be impartial about Wes right now. He has gone from "I love Inter" to "I love Inter but I could love you too" in the space of about 2 days and it is sort of pissing me off. As such, I sort of want to rip him a new one. Or at least shake him until his teeth rattle. Anyway, in footballing terms, an interested, on point Wes almost always equals a win. Sometimes, though, I notice him getting either frustrated (and taking useless shots to nowhere) or disheartened (the last derby comes to mind) and he simple checks out. For a team that is practically defined by the ability to come back (at least for this last season), that can be very dangerous. In the grand scheme of things, though, I think Wes is (and was) one of our best and most effective midfielders. Even having an off day he is better than most. And that is pretty impressive. Now, if he could just get his priorities straight and his head out of his ass, we could all settle down and be happy together.

Score:

7.0 Inter with Sneijder is a much more lethal force than Inter without. Our second half surge nicely coincides with Sneijder’s improving form even if we played slightly less games without him.

8 What can I say, he is good... awesome even. And I dont want to share (I will so scratch your eyes out Chelsea).


Whew. That was a lot. Stay tuned for our next installment: Defenders (woof).

FORZA INTER

How about a bit of my (Johonna's) favorite game from last season: Inter Napoli.

Dont forget to follow the blog on Twitter: @InterOffside All Inter, All the time.

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