When i glanced over our roster during of the pre-season I remember shaking my head in disappointment. After all we only had four attackers, two of which are young prospects and the third is a 34 veteran who's nursing a long term injury. it seemed like the heavy burden of the attack will once more be on the shoulders of Palacio, and losing him to injury, even for a short period, could mean that our slight chance of CL qualification would evaporate. The dire pre-season didn’t help either as we struggled to score against any team that could be described as decent. Talks of Eto'o's arrival were certainly welcomed by all of us, but that didn’t materialize, and I’m glad it didn’t, because right now, looking at the same roster, I can only wonder how we're going to fit all this talent we have to insure short term results without sacrificing the future and the investments we made this summer.
The most important factor that changed my outlook is the emergence of Alvarez. For two years Alvarez was something of a disappointment. Bought in 2011 as a replacement for the Man Utd bound Sniejder, Alvarez was forced to play out of position during his first season to accommodate the misfiring Dutch, and when he did play he was ineffective to say the least. Lucky for us Alvarez survived that summer as the love affair between Inter and Sniejder was coming to an ugly conclusion. During the first half of that season Alvarez resumed his disappointing display, but just when the injury crises hit Inter's forward line Alvarez had to be recruited as a make shift second striker and suddenly he started looking like the player Inter thought they were getting.
With the signing of Mazzari as a head coach it was another summer of speculations for Alvarez. This time the exit door was closer than ever and rumors of a straight swap with Milan's Nocerino were gaining momentum. Mazzazri however had other plans and Alvarez was ever present in his line ups during the preseason. Alvarez was making a good impression, but he wasn’t the only one. After the completion of his move from Parma, Belfodil hit the ground running, and soon what seemed like an expensive transfer started looking like a great investment. The competition to play next to Palacio was intensifying, or so it seemed.
Soon as the season started Alvarez cemented his position as a starter with one great display after the other. Belfodil was left to watch from the bench, but he had company. Icardi, a completely different player from Alvarez and Belfodil, was recruited as a long term replacement for Milito, but Palacio's versatility means that the three of them will be competing for the minutes this season. So far it has been no contest thanks to Alvarez, but Icardi's goal against Juventus last week sent a strong statement across to Mazzari, a coach who only sees results and hard work.
With no European football this season there isn’t a big need for rotation. Coppa Italia might be a good chance for the second choice players to prove their worth but these games are scarce and far in between. Any hope of seeing Belfodil and/or icardi play regularly depends solely on Mazzari and honestly I don’t see him risking results in Serie A for the sake of youth development. One might argue that if the young strikers make the best of out their minutes Mazzari might consider a tactical change, but how realistic is that?
Well if it's any other coach I might see this as a possibility but Mazzari will have none of that. Mazzari earned his "anti youth" reputation for better or worse, and if he plays Taider and Kovacic he does it based on ability not potential. That doesn’t completely rule out the possibility of seeing a 3 man attack when we're pressing for a result (we did against juvi, didn’t we), but seeing how we only used one tactical system during the preseason i dont see us venturing too far from it. Mazzari has played 4-3-3 in Napoli with Pandev, Lavazzi and Cavani up front but the difference in experience (and class) might be enough to discourage him from such an approach.
The curious case of Inter's attack is a headache that Mazzari will welcome with open arms. Our directors however might have other ideas. The return of Milito will complicate things even more. He might not start every game but he will sure be competing for minutes with Belfodil and icardi. If Inter wants to protect the rather expensive investments we made this summer the young players need to see more minutes. With such a schedule this year the only plausible solution I can see is for one of Icardi or Belfodil to go out in loan in January. One of them will have to join another young and talented Inter due that is struggling for minutes on loan. Things might not turn to be that bad for us, but with Longo and Livaja warming the bench in Verona and Atalanta I could only wonder why we had to make future investments up front when our home grown products are not short of promise.
Of course no one saw Alvarez starting every game, and no one can guarantee that his great form will continue, but for now he’s doing what we need him to do so no complaints.