In Round 11, Inter traveled to Udine to face Udinese. It was important for the Nerazzurri to reestablish a winning form as they had only won one out of their last five matches to date. Another important focal point for the men clad in black and blue was to close down on the point differential as Serie A leaders, Roma, Napoli, and Juventus seemed to be pulling away from the rest of the league . Inter still possess high hopes of finishing in the top three for a highly coveted Champions League spot. Tempting as it may be to look ahead at the fixture schedule, it was all that Mazzarri could do to have his men focus on the task at hand and prepare for an offensive minded Udinese as they played at home at the Friuli.
Important factors prior to the match:
- Will injury ridden Inter be susceptible in defense? Who will be available for Mazzarri's black and blue clad men? Would Handanovic feature or would he be sidelined with the injury he sustained midweek versus Atalanta?
- If Inter score first, can the team show enough discipline to keep a clean sheet? Could Mazzarri get his men to continue the pressure in attack or would the pattern of the past few matches resurface resulting in a concession of an Udinese goal?
- As Udinese's Antonio Di Natale always presents a threat around goal, would he and strike partner Muriel get the better out of the Inter defense or would a Palacio, Guarin, and Alvarez attack represent more black and blue goals?
The Inter squad has been ravaged by injuries thus far and they are only playing in their 11th league game of the season. Campagnaro was still sidelined by an injury sustained when playing for the Argentine National Team. Kovacic had picked up a slight knock midweek in Bergamo that sent him to the bench for this match. Diego Milito, although making his comeback in October, was reinjured and is still projected to be out for another few weeks. Chivu is nurturing a long term foot injury that he is still recuperating from. Fortunately, Handanovic recovered from his midweek abdominal area injury to face his former side in goal. Amongst the walking injured was a ray of hope, the team talisman and Captain, Javier "Pupi" Zanetti, was called up for the squad and bench for the first time since that horrid Achilles' tendon injury last April. Speculation as to whether Zanetti was ready or if this was a motivational move circulated but regardless of the motive, it sent an inspirational message not only to the players but to the larger Nerazzurri family.
While much talk centered on managing injuries prior to the match, what resulted during the Udinese-Inter match was astounding as all three substitutions were utilized to sub injured defenders. Walter Samuel was subbed in the 37th minute, Jonathan in the 68th minute, and Ranocchia in the 81st minute. Mazzarri substituted Rolando for Samuel, Pereira for Jonathan, and Andreolli for Ranocchia. The Nerazzurri still played with the three man backline of Rolando in the center, flanked with Andreolli on his right, and Juan Jesus on his left. Nagatomo switched from the left to the right attacking wingback position and Pereira his counterpart on the left. While there were immediate substitutions available in defense once again, injuries continue to be a problem for the Nerazzurri side.
A huge question hovering like a dark cloud above the Inter camp was whether the Nerazzurri could keep a clean sheet if they were fortunate enough to take the lead. The Inter attack came out strongly in the first half with a high pressure offense that eventually led to two goals scored within the span of minutes (25th and 29th) by respective goals scorers Palacio and Ranocchia. Once the Nerazzurri took the lead their defense almost leaked a goal within minutes following their away side goals scored. Di Natale was dangerous as he seemed to slip unnoticed behind the Inter defenders which presented a few opportunities that both he and strike partner Muriel were unable to convert.
The Nerazzurri despite their waning intensity in defense were able to hold onto their two goal lead at the end of the first half although Udinese would attempt to remedy this with a strong attack in the second half. Walter Mazzarri needed that half time break to speak with his players as he tried to get them to reorganize both in attack and in defense.
As predicted, Udinese came out attacking in the second half. As Udinese made two substitutions (Ranegie for Di Natale in the 57th minute and Nico Lopez for Muriel in the 70th minute), it seemed to awaken the Inter players from their midgame slumber and they began to show signs of organized offensive attack and high pressure that worked so well for them in the first half.
A collective defensive effort where midfielders were tracking back to help in defense facilitated in keeping a clean sheet even though starting defenders, Samuel, Jonathan, and Ranocchia were injured and subsequently subbed in the match. Fortunately for Inter their patchwork defense (due to injury) was able to stave off the opposition's onslaught to walk away with three points and the victory.
Despite facing the two-time Capocannoniere, Di Natale, the Inter defense was able to neutralize the dangerous Udinese attack. While there were rumors that suggested the potent striker would not play due to injury, the Udinese captain was available to play close to 60 minutes of the match. As Di Natale always presents a threat around goal, there were many chances by the black and white home side which the Nerazzurri defense readily dealt with despite a hastily put together defense and help from midfielder Cambiasso. Cuchu helped pick up the stray Udinese man that would try to slip in behind Inter defenders to catch them off guard. Although Mazzarri's defensive formation relied on a three man backline, with Cambiasso's help at times it would switch to four in the back.
The lead up into the match questioned which offensive attack would best the other. While Di Natale and Muriel presented a few opportunities on goal, the Palacio, Guarin, and Alvarez triad seemed to play a larger threat on goal. Alvarez was once again instrumental to the Nerazzurri attack and while his assignment in the first half was to play in a deeper midfield role strengthening Inter defense in the second half he played in a more advanced role, higher up the pitch with more of an offensive presence. This seemed to pay off as the attack on the left was more pronounced and it eventually led to an Alvarez goal in the waning minutes of the game to seal an important away victory.
In addition to Alvarez's presence in both defense and attack, Palacio opened up the score sheet with a beautifully headed ball from a perfectly taken Taider free kick.
Areas of Improvement:
- Silly fouls and yellow cards easily given away will prove to be more dangerous when facing a side with more clinical offensive finishing. The Nerazzurri players need more discipline especially when tired legs and mental fatigue sets in at the later stages of the game where goals are more easily conceded.
[Note: Juan Jesus was issued a yellow card in the 45th minute of the second half due to a delay of game. He will miss the upcoming match against Livorno.]
- Inter once again seem content to sit back deep in their defensive third after they took the lead which is a worrisome sign. The Nerazzurri need to keep up their intensity and pressure in attack and defense throughout the entirety of the match. This letdown is where the Inter defense is most susceptible and where more experienced and clinical sides can make the black and blue side pay.
- Despite losing three defenders in the match (Samuel, Jonathan, and Ranocchia), the Inter players reacted well and in a collective effort covered for each other and played selflessly as they placed the team above individual efforts.
- Cambiasso was the midfield maestro that solidified the defense when needed. He picked up the stray Udinese attacker when they would slip in behind the Inter defenders which seems to be a vulnerability of the Inter defense.
- Palacio continues his hot streak with nine goals scored and four assists. He has taken the task of leading this offense with ease and readily provides his services both on offense and defense.
- Alvarez continues to blossom under Mazzarri's tutelage. He continues to be a force to be reckoned with in the Inter attack as well as tracking back to help out on defense. He is Inter's most consistent midfielder this season and another solid performance was witnessed by all.
- Lastly, Javier "Pupi" Zanetti was called up to the team squad and sat on the bench. His unwavering belief in his recovery is an inspiration to us all.
Although it was far from Inter's best performance the Nerazzurri showed some heart, character, and "grinta" that was missing last season. Mazzarri has instilled belief and confidence in his men which shows when they play. The players rarely show signs of defeat and this positive reaction will ensure that regardless of the score line that the players will always be in the game. If Inter can win by converting offensive opportunities and grinding out results by holding their defensive line, then when all of the Inter players are healthy and available, Mazzarri can lead his men to march up the league leaderboard and hopefully into a Champions League spot.