Inter 2 - Cagliari 2

via Inter.it

In a game that was fraught with controversy and old feuds we learned some things in the 2-2 home draw with Cagliari.

We Learned That the Back 2/3rds of the Inter Squad Is Thin.

Ranocchia, Walter Samuel and JJ were all banged up this week but Strama played them anyway eschewing using Silvestre or any of the Primavera options. Chivu is still not 100%, or so we are being told, and with Matias they are it as far as "safe" options in the back. Since the switch to a 3 man backline wasn’t really planned for in the offseason, the team isn’t really ready to handle the wear and tear on 3 players at that position at the same time. Yes, Cambiasso can fit in as an emergency. But there should be more than 1 Plan B option. Basically, Silvestre is it. And frankly, we wouldn’t even have JJ as an option if we weren’t so hard up for center backs that we started him as a desperation move all those games ago and discovered how good he was.

We were so lucky with JJ’s quality; it seems like pushing that luck to hope we get lucky again with Mbaye or Silvestre.

As I was saying, the back 2/3rds of the team is being exposed as thin and the play of the defense in particular was spotty throughout the day. The second goal of Cagliari was a panic driven mess. The reason it was a mess is that’s what happens when you start fresh twice in 3 months. When it hits the fan, no one is really sure what the other folks are going to do in an emergency. If there’s time enough, it can be trained – if Batmanovic does x, you do y – but one has to plan for that emergency. There were some extenuating circumstances, and I’ll get into that later, but the bottom line is that Batman, Froggy, Walter, and JJ need to see that emergency scramble more often to know that everyone can’t end up on their asses with no one left standing to defend the actual people who are trying to score against them.

The midfield is another place that the strain of the games is taking a toll. At any given time we seem to be shuffling in or shuffling out players so much that continuity or stability in form seems a dream. Back when this season started there was concern I voiced in the comments at one point that the EL would be a task too far for a team that was trying to rebuild and that the team should either use it to play backups or to dump it completely. Right now, the position is suffering the injurious results from EL, National Team obligations and Serie A congestion.

In addition to the lack of bodies who are in top shape, there is still the problem of a suitable player as the midfield director – or as I would like to call him, Thiago Motta. I understand the reason we let him go last winter, but we still haven’t replaced him. Until we do, we are going to have to suffer the ups and downs of players who don’t have that combination of skills that include extending possession and defensive positioning.

Gargano, for all his effort and willingness to run isn’t that person and we felt that lack. Gargano is well suited to Strama’s style playing NEXT to the guy making the passes and sitting back. Cagliari had no trouble taking the ball away from Inter in the midfield and launching counter attacks. Cagliari, no matter how much pressure they were suffering, were able to intercept bad passes and keep themselves in the game until mistakes in the back were made.

While I would have a hard time saying that any of the midfielders had a bad game, I also wouldn’t say that any of them had a great game either. There just seemed to be tired legs out there and the fighting spirit that we have been accustomed to in Strama’s reign took a little too long to generate itself.

The hard part of watching this team is that despite the tiredness, the thinness of the squad and the lack of at least one suitable midfielder to play in the center and be the general - there is something magical about watching them play under the current coach. It's hard to define it, but there is a feeling that this can be something really special if all the right pieces and enough of them come in at some point. It's such a strong feeling that it's almost too easy to know which piece is missing... is this too weird or is anyone else feeling this too?

We Learned That It’s Okay to Trust Ricky and Coutinho

If Inter has forgotten that little nugget, it’s rather understandable. Palacio and Cassano are so much more than we thought that we were going to have to work with when August rolled around. No one – okay there were a few people in the comments section who saw Palacio coming, go ahead and take your bow – thought that Palacio was going to be this effective. Useful, yes. Efficient, probably not. And getting Cassano with the 7 million for Pazzini wasn’t even on the Hubble Telescope, let alone radar. So I think it’s understandable for Strama to "better deal" Alvarez and Coutinho for his new honeys.

But even I forgot the adage about dancing with who brung you (or with who you brung). And we wouldn’t have even been in a position for Europe if it weren’t for Alvarez and Sneijder working together last season when Strama took over for Ranieri.

Alvarez, when fit can play in this league and Coutinho has shown that he can too. What’s more is that both are better at keeping possession – both are more passers than shooters in my book – than Palacio, who I think of as a highly technical shooter who can pass, or Cassano, who seems more the last pass guy than the keeping possession guy.

So did Strama make a mistake in not trusting his younger guys in trying to make up ground on Juve’s draw to Lazio? Yeah, probably, considering how things worked out, looking in hindsight there could have been a better option – maybe Palacio and Milito with either Coutinho or Ric. But is that the way you would have gone in this game? Was anyone thinking when they saw the lineups, "Aw damn, the same team that has been stacking points for us?" or was it, "Whew!" Having said that, I don’t want to be put in the position of having to defend every single wrong decision that Strama makes. The man is only human and he’s going to make his fair share of wrong turns just like the rest of us. So far, in conceding that in hindsight he could have gone another way in this game, I think that he’s been more right than wrong thus far in his management of this team. We has fans tend to either damn or worship the coaches without visiting that middle ground. I am trying very hard to work that middle ground here.

The point here is that with the team down – for whatever reason – Strama putting in Coutinho and Ricky didn’t hurt us. On the contrary, late in the game, around 60-75 minutes, I couldn’t see where the goals were going to come from because we couldn’t hold on to the ball or make a pass worth a damn. These young guys come in and we get some movement, we got some possession, we make the Cagliari backline stretch itself a bit and boom they give one up through some panicked defending of their own from a pass/shot by Ricky that stressed their defense to defend. He actually did it twice, and he was unlucky not to score from the other one, too.

I am, down the stretch run from here to the winter break, looking to see if Strama will be willing to have enough courage to sit one or two of Milito, Cassano, or Palacio to make room for either Coutinho or Alvarez.

Silence Is Probably the Best Way to Go Here For the Team

I am going to preface this piece in the hope that the Inter supporters who frequent here understand something – I know that the supporters of other *ahem* select teams will completely gloss over this as they have in other blogs I have written. There is nothing that I have written here that has said or implied that I thought Cagliari played a poor game. Mostly, because I don’t think that’s the case. On the contrary I thought that this was a great game to watch as a neutral, assuming such a thing existed in this world if one eliminated the game changing "mistakes" – and that’s in quotes because in at least two of the three most damaging incidents the ref didn’t characterize the incorrect call as a mistake. The first 20 minutes of players flying up and down the field was very exciting and the game settled into a midfield battle until flurries at the end for both teams.

Having said that, there were incidents that were hard to ignore and focus on the episodes of the game. I don’t know who made the decision that the team would give a media embargo, but I think it was the correct decision. If journalists are the only method of change in calcio, as they were in 2006, even if it was only through shame in a public forum, for the teams of Serie A, then we can surmise that the poor refereeing will only change when suitably shamed through the same public forum. So I am content that Inter will not give the 3 daily newspapers anything to write about BUT the refereeing decisions and not any inflammatory copy afterwards.

There is a huge contingent of Inter supporters who would like to think that the poor refereeing of this season, and I am including the whole season because I am certain that Inter have gotten far less favor than they have received, is nothing more than circumstance and that it will "even out" in the end. I am not so certain only because recently published books suggest otherwise, but I am hesitant to lend my vocal support to "evening out". What I want is fair and honest, not someone with a scale reading several fanatics versions of reality. If someone misses something I can rationally assume – I have never been an official in a Serie A game, so assuming is all I have – is hard to see or determine, I have no problem with the call, one way or another. The problem I have is with the really obvious mistakes for which there can’t be any rational explanation. If there is a repetition of obvious mistakes than there is something wrong. An acknowledgment of that wrong would go a long way to making some amends. In an NFL game there is some review and then an explanation of the rule by an official. I don’t need video review on the spot, but an explanation by the head official of all the refs would be nice. Just something, even if it’s a "We messed it up." I would be happy.

TV Money Distribution Sorted This Week, Sorta

On to something completely different: the distribution method that Serie A uses is a complete joke and the final method of distribution was voted on today. Money from the TV rights is a huge part, like 70% and higher, of the money that any Serie A team makes in the course of a season. Not too long ago – without going too deeply into the whole thing – Serie A teams went from an individual rights package, where each team negotiates and pockets its own TV deal, to a collective TV rights deal where money is split into 6 pots and each of those pots are divvied up according to different criteria.

Don’t get me wrong here; I love the idea of a collective TV deal that makes each team have to actually win to get the lion’s share of their money from the TV deals. I love that there’s a smaller team that could work their way up the socio-economic ladder to challenge the big teams. But that’s not exactly the case here. Despite the smaller teams getting a significant bump up in TV money, the big clubs still get a significantly, disappointingly larger piece of the pie.

For ghits and siggles I’ll talk briefly about the 6 Money Pots. The (1) first is the fixed amount in which each Serie A team receives 40% of the money right off the top. Sounds good so far, but it goes rapidly downhill from there. (2) Secondly there is the Supporter Index, which we can rename Juventus, Inter and Milan (in that order on the index) Fix the Till To Get 25% Of The TV Rights. The calculation isn’t transparent at all and it basically shoots a middle finger to the smaller 17 teams in Serie A. Juventus makes out with the most money and Inter get the second most with Milan a close third. The actual amounts will change but the drop off from Milan to Napoli at fourth is significant. Like 10s of millions of Euros significant. Next (3) is Region Population in which Roma and Lazio get the most but it’s of the smallest pot – only 5% of the overall TV money. Last Season’s Standing (4) is only worth 5% as well. But, (5) The Last Five Season’s Standing is worth 15%. Currently, Inter win this pot, but I think we can all see how slanted this pot is to teams with bigger payroll. Lastly, (6) there is "Historical Performance" – quotes mine because this is such a meaningless, terribly transparent money grab. Basically if you’re Juve, Inter and Milan… possibly Torino by accident… you get the lion’s share of this pot worth 10% of the overall TV money.

So basically in the short term, a good season here or there is going to give you nothing in monetary reward. If you are a team that has only gotten recent success like a Palermo who, when I was a kid, was basically a Serie B and C bouncing team, then you are really not rewarded for your recent, relative success.

I get where the big clubs are coming from in all this. Most of the money that is coming into the league is from the fan base of teams like Inter. Also it’s the bigger club that send players out on loans populating the smaller clubs teams and paying transfer fees to bring young players up the competitive ladder. Further, the big clubs are taking a small hit whereas the smaller clubs are making more than they did before. However, we get Champions League and Europa money – which most others won’t get.

It’s certainly not egalitarian, and I have a real problem with that. But it’s also very pragmatic: there’s no incentive for the big teams to take a financial hit if they can’t retain some competitive imbalance. The issue I take away from all this is that it’s a step in the right direction. Slowly and surely, the league – all the teams, that is – will discover that as much as they might hate each other, they are dependent on each other to survive. They are dependent on each other and the accompanying offices like the referees to thrive, really – just to relate all the topics discussed here. This is really true if you have taken a look at how much more money the Spanish, German, and English leagues are making compared to the Italian teams. How close this unique brand of football is to slowly collapsing like a flan in the cupboard. I would hate to never see my Inter again…

About a million trillion years after the realization of how vital that symbiotic relationship between teams really is becomes realized by the presidents it will be made by the fans, if it ever is. Long after I'm gone, thank goodness.

FORZA INTER

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