1. Tactics/Mentality. Before the match kicked off, I was quite disappointed to see our lineup and formation, yet I understood the thinking. In past seasons, the two things that have killed this team most frequently on the pitch were the tendency to panic and revert to headless-chicken formations as soon as anything went wrong, and our ability to rack up injuries like it was going out of style. With that in mind, anyone whose fitness was even remotely in question started from the bench yesterday, and we began the match with an extremely conservative 3-5-1-1 formation. It worked, however, to give us long stretches of down time to get our bearings, and by the 45-minute mark we had started to get into a decent rhythm with our wing play. (It wasn’t a bad first half, it was just really, really dull.) Once we added a second forward with Icardi, the match started up in earnest. The entrance of Kovacic opened things up even further, and once we can start matches with this kind of mentality from minute one, we’ll be looking much better.
2. Ricky Alvarez. I’ve been down on this guy since the minute he joined the team, but he's been looking better and better all through preseason, and this might have been his most complete match in an Inter kit. He was everywhere – coming within inches of tapping in a goal, and also backpedaling all the way back to fullback position when the situation required it. His passing was excellent, his dribbling was pretty good, and his tenacity was top-notch. (The highlight of the latter quality coming in the second half, when he whipped in a good looking corner that Genoa cleared out to a winger, and before that winger even had time to look up for a pass, Ricky was already on top of him, winning the ball back.) If he can play like this with any sort of consistency, I’ll happily beg his forgiveness for all my earlier criticism.
3. Hugo Campagnaro. He may only have a couple seasons left, but holy cow, what a great free transfer. During the lackluster first half, he was not only our best centerback, he was also our best winger and our best midfield regista. (According to WhoScored.com, he completed more passes than anyone on the pitch – 63, with an 87% success rate.) Very impressive that a man his age could spend 90 minutes all over the pitch like that without ever falling off the cliff, energy-wise.
4. Fredy Guarin. We’ve all had plenty of time to get to know Fredy, and it’s not hard to imagine he’ll always be a frustrating player from time to time. Yet he’s also the best all-around midfielder we have by a substantial margin (hopefully Kovacic will start to challenge him on this account soon enough), and he had a very strong match. Fantastic assist for the second goal, good thinking to set up Jonathan for the assist on the first, some decent shots, and that half-field run he went on before coming within inches of providing Palacio with a perfect assist was hugely encouraging.
5. Defense. Campagnaro aside, our defense was very solid against a largely impotent Genoa attack. Except for 4 or 5 seconds of madness in the box that one time, Genoa never looked likely to score, and I was glad to see Ranocchia finally making the most of his size, winning nearly every header that came his way. JJ looked like he wanted to continue his part of the match out in the parking lot afterward, leaving Gilardino on the carpet pleading to the heavens for justice on more than one occasion. (And to be fair, I think is how Gila usually wakes up in the morning.) This is a good thing in theory – we’ve been without a good tactical bruiser for a while, and Rano has too much of the abatino in him to really manhandle his markers – but it’s something Mazzarri has to stay on top of, lest he turn into the team’s booking magnet.
6. The wings. Our wingers combined for the first goal, and it went like this: Jonathan swings a cross directly into a Genoa defender, it takes a lucky deflection, and Nagatomo heads it home from two inches away while nearly getting tangled up in Palacio’s run. In other words, it was a perfect encapsulation of our wingers’ play in general – unpretty and messy, yet effective. Neither Naga nor Jonathan are great players (and Naga is unquestionably the better of the two), however they both run their hearts out and spend the match doing exactly what Mazzarri has instructed them to do. If we had a real quality player manning the wings, our team would look far more threatening, but given our resources, our wings have looked better than I would have expected, and it could be so much worse. Which leads us to…
7. Crossing. Inter attempted 39 crosses yesterday. I have neither the time nor the energy to scour through last season’s statistics, but I’d be shocked if we exceeded that number last season very often. While this is a welcome tactical change, most of our crosses were speculative at best, either in terms of the accuracy of the crosser or the communication with the recipient. Obviously a more skillful winger would make a huge difference here, but for now, I hope Mazzarri has some intensive crossing drills planned for this week. Which brings up the next point…
8. Icardi. Mauro is a big boy. He’s ripped, his neck is the size of my thigh, he was able to run around freely in the box, and he appeared to be taller than the entire Genoa backline. These are very good qualities for a forward to have if a team is going to attempt 40 crosses per match, and both times he got his head to the ball yesterday, the goal was under imminent threat. If we get the ball into the air in the general vicinity of Icardi, he really ought to knock in a good number of goals for us, and I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing more of him. Yet I worry about him. If Samuel Eto’o really is available at a price we can manage, it would be absurd to turn him down, though it really would be unfortunate if this potentially great forward were to sit around on the bench twiddling his thumbs while we relive our Mil-Eto’o memories of yore.
9. The Dreaded Kuzbiasso (Cambanovic?). The primary reason I swore a blue streak when I first saw our starting XI was the presence of both Kuzmanovic and Cambiasso in our lineup. To be fair, both of them looked noticeably better than they did in pre-season, but I still hope to never see these two on the pitch together again. Cuchu was mostly his old terrier self, flailing around the pitch and getting in Genoa’s way well, but his passing and decision-making were poor at times. On the flip side, Kuzmanovic distributed the ball quite accurately, but his commitment levels and attitude really started to piss me off. At one point in the first half, Cuchu hit a long lob pass toward Kuz on the wings – as usual, his accuracy was off, and the pass was underhit. Yet Kuz should have had plenty of time to hurry back to retrieve it, but instead he just sort of watched it as it dribbled out of bounds, and shot a petulant look at his teammates. Inaccurate older man plus callow younger man – that’s a potentially toxic pairing to have at the spine of your midfield.
10. Grande Deki. What a great man, and what a great Interista.