Serie A is five games old and we can say that, despite having smaller squads, Napoli, Juventus and Roma have better prospects than the two Milan teams. Juventus have found in Conte their Dalglish [a man who lived the glory days and knows where to go and how to inspire fans and players]; Roma are trying to set up a new style with Luis Enrique and if Giallorossi click they could be the major surprise of the season; Napoli look the better equipped - last season Mazzarri's team competed in the league until the last day; they are more confident and with addition of Inler in midfield they are far more solid.
If Napoli, Juventus and Roma are Serie A's benchmark where do Inter lie? Above all of them if you consider each player’s CV. The same could be said of AC Milan. But football is a dynamic sport and Inter’s players [like AC Milan's] can't rest on their laurels for too long.
Inter played beautifully against Napoli for 25 minutes. One of the best spells of the last five years. The returning Maicon storming on the right and combining perfectly with Zanetti as they had done so many times in the past; Lucio supportive upfront as usual, without being chaotic; Cambiasso at ease between 'Saviero' and Obi; Forlan lively, sharp and very keen on passing and shooting. A team that was a pleasure to watch.
For his first game at San Siro as Nerazzurri new coach Claudio Ranieri made some changes. To face Napoli Ranieri opted for the Christmas tree formation: 4-3-2-1. A Maginot Line midfield with Zanetti, Cambiasso and Obi; Forlan and Alvarez wide behind the lone striker Pazzini. Well designed and effective. Ranieri knew only too well that Napoli invite opponents to attack, to create room for their counter-attack. So 4-3-2-1 looked the most plausible scheme to ensure a vigorous attacking game without leaving gaps between the lines. Despite Ranieri and Mazzarri's tactical awareness, it was almost normal that both teams looked capable of scoring at anytime.
The momentum of the game changed in the 41st minute when referee Rocchi showed Obi the second yellow card of the evening and awarded Napoli a penalty. It's hard to witness a worse piece of refereeing combined in few minutes: 1. the first yellow card wasn't even a foul [on the contrary Obi's tackle deserved a standing ovation for timing and composure]; 2. Obi's second foul, which led to the sending off and the penalty, was a yard or two outside the penalty area; 3. Campagnaro, the man who scored after Julio Cesar saved Hamsik penalty, was inside the box before his Slovak team-mate took the spot kick.
The referee's poor decisions spoiled Inter's game. Fact. But having one man less and going one goal down is a common occurrence in football and you can't give up straight away. So, did Inter cope with this situation in the best way? No. Julio Cesar, Lucio, Zanetti (yes, even him), Ranieri (sent off during half time) lost their temper. An overreaction typical of 'overcharged' teams. The go-to-war-and-fight mentality usually pays off but sometimes it backfires - see Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid when facing Barcelona. Referee's blunders can't hide players' errors. The penalty handling is emblematic: the penalty awarded was a wrong call but it was Inter lack of concentration that allowed Campagnaro to sprint first towards the goal, nullifying Julio Cesar' save.
Inter's overreaction to Rocchi's disgraceful decisions was a clear sign of weakness and fear. At the beginning of the second half Nagatomo gifted the second goal to Napoli, which effectively buried any residual hopes Inter had to snatch at least a draw. The Japanese's mistake was due to a mix of confusion and amateurish defending - you can cover the ball that way only close to the corner flag or in the last yard of the pitch, certainly not in the central corridor before the penalty box.
But this loss can't be explained only as a sum of individual mistakes. As soon as Obi was sent off Inter looked on the verge of crumbling. A feeling that reminded me of Gasperini's comments after the defeat in Novara: "This team at the moment is so frail that you can't alter anything otherwise, as I move a player forward, we lose balance. It's hard to accept but our current condition does not allow us to support one more forward". Not to mention, playing ten vs eleven.
With Inter panic is always around the corner. Under Moratti the rule is no steady building but sudden u-turns. In this environment, Ranieri must be clever to avoid disillusion creeping and disenchantment spoiling the whole season. The starting eleven vs Napoli was plausible and repaid Ranieri's faith for 40 minutes [with the exception of Alvarez, still trying to understand the Italian game]. The former Roma coach must start from there: putting the right pieces together and restoring normality to a team stranded by too many changes, too many ups and downs. Everyone likes players giving all they’ve got on the pitch, but football is a game not a war. If Inter just focus on playing, Nerazzurri can still easily beat most of their opponents. At least in Serie A.
Serie A 2011-12 / Day 6
Inter: Julio Cesar; Maicon, Lucio, Samuel, Chivu; Zanetti, Cambiasso, Obi; Alvarez (61' Stankovic); Pazzini, Forlan (68' Zarate). Coach: Ranieri
Napoli: De Sanctis; Campagnaro, Cannavaro, Aronica (87' Fernandez); Maggio, Inler, Gargano, Zuniga; Hamsik, Pandev (51' Mascara); Lavezzi (79' Chavez). Coach: Mazzarri
Goals: 43' Campagnaro, 56' Maggio, 75' Hamsik
Yellow cards: Obi, Chivu, Zanetti, J. Cesar; Zuniga
Red cards: Obi (41'); Claudio Ranieri (45')
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