Sunday, September 14th will be the first home league game of the 2014/15 season under Walter Mazzarri. Despite it only being the start of the season the match is of vital importance to the Nerazzurri manager who must reclaim the San Siro as a cauldron of Inter dominance if the team is to have any chance of qualifying for the Champions League next season.
15-4-0. That was the enviable home record for Inter Milan in the 2009/10 league season under Jose Mourinho. That Inter won the league that season, alongside the Champions League and Coppa Italia, is etched into the minds of fans worldwide; that they won by only 2 points over a resilient Roma, is perhaps not so well remembered. The season was a dog fight the entire way through as Inter struggled to hold on whilst competing on three fronts, but they eventually made it, largely on the back of their incredible home form.
That form dipped slightly in the following season to 15-3-1 as Inter fell short of a sixth straight title by six points to resurgent neighbours Milan, a credible result considering the amount of football played the previous season and during the World Cup which followed. 2010/11 would prove to be the definitive end to Inter’s period of dominance in Italian football, the beginning of the never-ending ‘year zero’ which saw Inter plummet down the table to sixth position. The team found themselves a full 18 points short of their previous season’s total and the San Siro, long the bastion of Inter’s dominance, was stormed repeatedly with no less than five teams walking away with maximum points in their pocket.
The trend would only get worse over the 2012/13 and 2013/14 seasons as Inter recorded scarcely believable home records of 8-4-7 and 8-9-2 respectively, the San Siro turning from a place of dreams to nightmares for the home players and fans. Last season you would need to go right down to 12th place to find a team with a worse home record in terms of wins, clearly indicating a key area where the team must improve on if they are to progress. If Inter are to challenge for the Champions League places, let alone the Scudetto, they will need to turn the San Siro back into the fortress it was five seasons ago, back into a place where visiting teams come expecting to lose; where they are overawed by the occasion, and where Inter go out as if they know they will be finishing the match with three points, not one.
This last point was one of the big problem areas for Mazzarri last season. With nine draws in 19 home matches Mazzarri clearly set his team up not to be beaten in home matches, caution won the day. The problem was the most visiting teams did the same, leaving two teams, jousting it out in midfield, looking for counter attacking opportunities which rarely arrived. To return to the upper tier Inter need to be more aggressive at home, taking the game to their opponents and looking to dominate on their own track. They need the pomp and belief perhaps best typified during Mourinho’s time in the wonderful 4-3 victory over Siena in January 2010. Siena had threatened to hand Mourinho his first home league defeat since 2002 after holding a 3-2 lead with 87 minutes on the clock, only for Sneijder and Samuel to pop up with two goals in the dying minutes. The message was clear: Inter do not lose at home.
This leads us back to the upcoming match with Sassuolo, a team coming off a credible home draw with Cagliari. They will no doubt arrive at the San Siro looking to play on the counter, maybe snatch a goal and play a very deep defensive line, restricting the space for Inter to work in. It is a tactic that has caught Inter out on numerous occasions in recent seasons but at home at least Mazzarri must be careful of too much caution. During the dour 0-0 draw with Torino, Mauro Icardi often seemed like the only one aware that Inter were also allowed to score goals such was the lack of support he received up front. It wasn’t uncommon to see him working away against three opposition players himself as the midfield refused to make forward runs for fear of leaving space in behind. It wasn’t until a second striker was introduced that Torino’s defenders needed to awaken from their slumber and start tracking runners. At the San Siro Inter need players making runs into the box, they need runs off the ball and more positivity because to leave the San Siro with anything but a good win will risk setting a tone for the season with may be hard to break. In Inter’s case it is obvious that all good things start at home.