Inter's happy hour was hailed as magnificent by many pundits - which says a lot about the very low rating Inter have at the moment. In that "splendid hour" Inter simply succeeded in their game plan, which implied 1. blocking Juventus' real threat (Pirlo) with a man-marking tactic (Poli); 2. defend deep; 3. counter-attack. All very basic, all quite well applied.
Unfortunately for Ranieri, playing on the counter effectively means that your forwards must be very keen on exploiting the rare chances. And, as usual, that wasn't the case. Milito on 14 and 31 minutes was denied by Buffon; Juventus' goalkeeper was at his best even against Forlan, Obi and Stankovic. Five good attempts but no goal. Rarely even games can be decided by a genius act (not considering the Camp Nou, where wonders are part of the forniture), more often a mistake or a free-kick is decisive. Inter managed to repeat the same mistake that cost the game in Marseille: Chivu forgot Ayew there, Maicon lost Caceres in Turin. No scoring + bad defending + good corner kick + better header = 1-0 opponents. Easy.
Caceres' goal was preceeded by Antonio Conte's decision to replace Pepe and Matri with Bonucci and Del Piero to reshape his team from the initial 4-3-3 to a more mobile 3-5-2. The double change-goal package was enough to kill Inter for good, with Del Piero able to score the definitive second goal in the 71st minute. But the whole final 30 minutes was one way traffic, with Julio Cesar avoiding a bigger defeat and matching Buffon's first half accomplishments - only the Brazilian's fantastic save on 85 minutes denied Chiellini a third.
The Juventus game left no goals and no points for Inter but at least sent five messages:
1. Goal drought. Four goals out of the last nine league games. Last season one-goal-per game Samuel Eto'o hid many of Nerazzurri's defensive problems. Without the Cameroon striker's incredible goal ratio (and workrate) Inter are very weak up front.
2. Too many goals on set-pieces. Turin like Marseille, Maicon like Chivu. When you are tired free-kicks give you the chance to recover energy, and tension goes away for a second or two. More than enough to lose your guy. It's no coincidence that older players tend to be more exposed in these (apparently) more reassuring and stable situations than in open play. Corners are a welcome pause for too many players at Inter.
3. The vicious circle. The choice to use Poli to mark Pirlo was correct. But only from a defensive point of view, as Poli was almost useless upfront as trequartista (apart from one backheel for Maicon on 63). And Inter, struggling to find the net with eleven players, are not in the condition to give a one man advantage to anyone. Trying to fix the defense, Ranieri, game after game, depleted the attack and left an ineffective strike force, you'll be attacked more (even by full-backs) and your defence will be tested more and more.
4. The right man. A good choice can do wonders. Antonio Conte's great impact at Juventus is undeniable. He's doing for Juventus what Mourinho did for Inter, instilling a fighting mentality. Conte did even more restoring a winning mentality in a club who won nothing for years. Ranieri did well at many teams but certanly was not the ideal coach for Inter. To sign the right man and plan with him must be Moratti's first goal. Two routes: pick among former Inter players (apart from the eternal candidate Walter Zenga there are others like Diego Simeone and Aron Winter who are doing very well at Atletico Madrid and Toronto); try to lure the best (and for Inter it wouldn't be Guardiola but Capello).
5. Next Gen. A few hours before the seniors lost against Juventus, Inter had defeated Ajax on penalties to clinch the first edition of the NextGen Series (a sort of under-18 Champions League). Andrea Stramaccioni's boys managed to play the second half and extra-time with 10 men. Unless something changes, you can bet that there won't be any "young Inter" that will find step by step its place in the first team à la Barcelona or à la Ajax. Despite the achievements Appiano Gentile is no la Masia yet.
Serie A 2011-12 / Day 29
Juventus: Buffon; Caceres, Barzagli, Chiellini, De Ceglie; Vidal, Pirlo, Marchisio; Pepe (53' Bonucci), Matri (53' Del Piero), Vucinic (74' Quagliarella). Coach: Conte
Inter: Julio Cesar; Maicon, Lucio, Samuel, Nagatomo; Zanetti, Poli (67' Faraoni), Stankovic, Obi (67' Pazzini); Milito, Forlan. Coach: Ranieri
Referee: De Marco
Goals: Caceres 57’, Del Piero 71'
Yellow cards: Nagatomo, Poli, De Ceglie; Nagatomo, Poli