Another away win. Since Ranieri's arrival Inter have lost two games at home and won three, all away. In the Champions League the coach who replaced Gian Piero Gasperini has a 100% winning record - two games, two wins, both away, both by a one goal margin, both defeating two average teams.
These CL wins, which came after a home defeat against Trabzonspor (under Gasperini), put Inter at the top of the group D with six points, two more than CSKA Moscow and Trabzonspor, four more than Lille. Their place at the top is not really in danger due to a shortage of decent opponents.
Lille lack the depth and international experience to be a real threat; CSKA have a strong attacking potential but their defensive skills are amateurish; Trabzonspor, before replacing Fenerbahce, were designed to play Europa League football and that's the maximum they can aim for. So Ranieri knows that reaching the next stage in Champions League is one of the few certainties at the moment - Inter will be in the last sixteen elite even this year.
Anyway, at Lille it wasn't plain sailing. The French side, who won Ligue 1 and the Coup de France last season [an historical double for a club who had never won anything in the past], is struggling to replace Gervinho, after selling their most effective forward to Arsenal. Gervinho was a key player, even more important than the still erratic Eden Hazard for the effectiveness of Rudi Garcia's schemes. Despite the great commitment, both Cole and Payet don't look capable of having the same impact in terms of dribbling, assists and scoring. Lille still play flashes of quick football but when it's time to find the net you see their limits.
Knowing only too well that these days there are no easy opponents for Inter, Ranieri confirmed the now established 4-3-1-2. Same scheme adopted against Catania but with different players. And players, some players, make the difference. The team received a boost from the returns of Julio Cesar and Thiago Motta [low playmaker in the diamond, between Zanetti and Cambiasso, behind the also returning Wesley Sneijder], and from Ranieri's choice to pair Zarate with Pazzini upfront [the most dynamic combination among Inter's forwards], and to replace Samuel with Chivu as centre-back [the former Ajax sweeper last week expressed his views on his favourite position: "I am a centre-back but at Inter I've been used as left-back for four years. I did enjoy working for Gasperini as he asked me to play as centre-back and I started enjoying football again" - his positive display against Lille was a good way to prove those words had some substance.
Designed to play counterattack the starting eleven chosen by Ranieri, reached perfection at the minute 21, when Sneijder, Zarate and Pazzini broke Lille's defence with a series of quick and very precise touches that led to Pazzo's goal. A true gem. This is counterattack at the highest level - a mix of individual and collective skills combined in few seconds. Brilliant, to say the least. Then in the second half, with nearly half an hour remaining, Ranieri replaced Zarate and Sneijder with Obi and Stankovic in a very defensive 4-4-2. The message was plain: 1-0 is OK, let's defend it. Clear but risky, as it freed Lille's fullbacks, who were now able to attack with far less defensive worries. A move supposed to engulf the midfield that added pressure on Inter, who managed to defend the lead until the end and leave the pitch with the win they were looking for. But it's easy to predict that today's applause for Ranieri will be tomorrow's boo the day Nerazzurri waste a goal advantage because of similar tactical choices.
UEFA Champions League 2011-12 / Group stage / day 3
Lille: Enyeama; Debuchy, Basa, Chedjou, Beria; Balmont (81' Gueye), Mavuba, Pedretti (63' Payet); J.Cole (75' Obraniak), Sow, Hazard. Coach: Garcia
Inter: Julio Cesar; Maicon, Lucio, Chivu, Nagatomo; J.Zanetti, Thiago Motta, Cambiasso; Sneijder (67' Stankovic); Zarate (63' Obi), Pazzini (81' Milito). Coach: Ranieri
Referee: Webb (England)
Goal: Pazzini 21'
Yellow cards: Chedjou, Pedretti; Chivu