Inter 2 – Genoa 0

Claudio Villa

The Word of the Day: Solid

Weeks before the season started people were either ecstatic or despondent about the beginning of Inter’s season, depending on whether you loved the team or hated it. The haters were ready to start their hooting the minute the final whistle blew on this game. If the blogs were to believed, Inter supporters were griping about the lineup and Mazzarri himself right up to kickoff.

While watching the game with an eye to the comments on several Inter fansites – before the goals, of course - the news during the game was overwhelmingly negative. Many thought that this team reminded them of Strama’s Inter. I had only one thought:

Am I watching the same game as these people?

And I can’t believe that there are people – Inter supporters, mind you – who were making those same comments this summer. This team looked different yesterday, as it looked different all summer. The weight of Mazzarri’s experience showed much more forcefully than Strama’s. Last season I thought that there was an exuberance that Strama brought to the club that unfortunately didn’t last past January when fortune turned. This season the team is starting with more determination and perhaps a more jaded, businesslike attitude.

Anyway, by the end of the game, the attitudes of both groups that I described in the opening paragraph switched. The haters probably turned the TV off at the first goal as Genoa up to that point only had one real chance in 70 minutes and the Inter supporters probably started booking Champions League vacations. Both sets of fans were wrong at the beginning and both sets are likely overreacting now. Inter is a better team than thought of this summer, and surely not as good as people are now prophesying.

I am sure that there will be much more on this topic later, but for now, some thoughts – good, bad and ugly.

THE UGLY

Crossing. There was a lot of crossing in this game. A lot. It was largely speculative – see also, blind – and there was no one in the box for 55 minutes who could possibly take advantage of it. Palacio is a player who is nifty with his feet and quick off the standstill but he’s not strong enough to hold position all by his onesy and his height suggests that his positioning needs to be perfect to compete for a cross to begin with.

I understand where Mazzarri was coming from in running this tactic with Palacio up front. It’s obvious that he sees Icardi, Milito or Belfodil up top much more often and he would rather the team get used to running the cross than to change things up just this game and confuse the whole summers worth of training. I get it. But it wasn’t pretty.

Special consideration in this category goes to Jonathan who had a marvelous game for his recent multi-year standards. It didn’t stop him from falling asleep on Kucka causing the only hiccup in the game for what was a very promising defensive showing. And it isn’t like Kucka is a speed demon or anything; in fact I think that the best adjective that describes his pace is: "slow". It was a mental error, and very nearly a costly one. If it wasn’t for Ranocchia pulling our/his fat out of the fryer this would have been a very different game.

Balls rather than brains. Being in the ugly column isn’t always an indictment of "badness". This wasn’t a pretty game for over an hour. Even after that I might argue against beauty. But the team outran, outhustled and outlasted the other team – I don’t think it was a coincidence that this stalemate of a game turned only after about an hour of play. It’s been a long time since I could say that. The quality deficiencies of this team are pretty apparent. You could say that there were missed passes, bad dribbles and bad shots. But in the same breath you would have to acknowledge the won balls in midfield, the strict shape maintained all game long and the running that continued even at 90+ - see also, Guarin sprinting half the field to feed Palacio. Whatever problems Mazzarri might have with the team’s level of talent that is available to him – and everyone can debate how much he has – he has made sure that for this game, fitness is not an excuse.

THE BAD

The midfield combination of Kuzmanovic and Cambiasso gets the star for this. Again, I get why it was done, and I probably agree with it. But these two together are the antithesis of what Mazzarri is trying to establish in the midfield. There needs to be movement forward, to the sides and back – and these two cannot be dynamic. There needs to be passing – frequently with equal parts accuracy and pace – and these two can only do one at a time.

Again I get it and I am with it. However, the performance was not there, and I don’t think that there was any expectation that there would be. Reading the comments beforehand the general consensus was that these two together wouldn’t work out. And depending on how you look at things, it didn’t. I mean, the team didn’t concede – which is very much a positive, considering. On the other hand, nothing was really created either, and the midfield should do both jobs… unless you have an Eto’o in his prime or something.

I’ll say it here and I am sure I will repeat myself as is my wont – this team will not improve on last season unless we find a way for the midfield to create and defend. If you want a slogan for the year, that’s mine. There must be a balance.

THE GOOD

Compactness. Everytime the camera shot this game from distance I couldn’t but notice how compact the team was. For those who don’t understand what I am talking about I am referring to the distance between the last Inter defender and the farthest forward Inter attacker. The smaller that distance is, the better it is for the defense. Remember that defense operates best when it constricts space. It can be said that since The Treble under Benitez/Gasperini/Leo/Strama that distance has always been too large and the defense had been left alone. Only under Ranieri since Mourinho had the team been considered compact.

Yesterday, that distance was small, which is why there were so many Inter passes over the top. When the Genoa defense pushed up too far there was a gap to drop the ball in and hopefully exploit for an advantage. It worked when the ball was dropped wide, but not when the ball went to the middle, as Palacio just couldn’t fight his way past two defenders.

When Icardi came on, the compact nature of Mazzarri’s tactics paid off. Getting the ball to the deep wing was already working, but now there was someone who could fight for a cross. Genoa’s backline had to play him deeper because of this threat and this opened space behind him for Palacio, Kovacic and Guarin. On the last goal, check out the space between the Genoa midfielder who lost the ball to Guarin – who was doing a marvelous job in attacking space - and the Genoa backline where Palacio was hanging out. That’s a team that had lost its shape. That was us last season.

Am I saying those days are behind us now? No, but it’s interesting to see that juxtaposition. We lost games last season because of that gap. How many more points can we preserve by being more disciplined?

Defense. Part and parcel with the team’s compactness is the apparent improvement of the defense. I say apparent because it’s obviously only been one game and against what seems like a reasonably weak attack. But those conditions didn’t stop this team from conceding last season, so why should I quibble? Anyhoo, having the midfield actually chip in defensively appears to be helpful, who knew? Also, having Ranocchia in the middle of the back three as a sweeper also helped. Looking back, one could make a case that he’s a better player when allowed to read the play and go forward to intercept, rather than race backward or out wide. The more athletic Campagnaro and JJ were very effective picking up a lot of the garbage and allowing Ranocchia to operate as a free agent. Handanovic didn’t look harried at all which was a nice change for him considering how busy he was all of last season. Again the one problem that there was all game long was caused by Jonathan and it was the defense scrambling that dealt with it.

New Signings. Campagnaro, Taider and Icardi all made positive contributions to the game and considering how much we complain about the transfer market for this team, it’s worth mentioning when something goes right. Campagnaro, for one game, was amazing as a free and Icardi made an instant difference with is inclusion.

Again; it’s only the first game, it’s not a very good team, no one is at their best right now… but, Icardi looked like he could belong. He certainly didn’t look – in his first game yadda yadda - like the Meazza stage was too big, you know? We’ll see when he makes a mistake and the crowd gets on him a bit. Then we’ll know for sure, right Ricky?

Taider did look like he added quite a bit of energy to his inclusion for Cambiasso, but that’s like saying that water flowing is faster than molasses. Everything is going to be faster than molasses. Still it’s promising and comforting that there wasn’t a misstep in his limited first team action.

This could be said for the game in general. There wasn’t a misstep, especially at a time when everyone seemed to be expecting one. It was a solid game played by a team that has a solid talent level. There were a lot of people expecting a lot worse, but what they got was competence. Next game there will be people who are going to expect championship form, but what they get - I am willing to bet - is competence. Competent management with the current talent level of Inter should net us fans modest improvement, perhaps Europa League more likely than Champions League. For the first game I would say mission accomplished.

FORZA INTER

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