Win over Sassuolo vital for Nerazzurri season

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.

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Five things we can take from the 2013/14 season

The curtain has come down on the ultimate Nerazurri rollercoaster which saw tremendous highs, such as the 0-7 demolition of Sassuolo which promised so much, and the electrifying 3-1 send off for Javier Zanetti, and dismal lows, like the appalling 0-1 loss to Milan in what must go down as one of the poorest derbys in recent memory. The season, like the previous one under Stramaccioni, offered so much in the beginning as the Nerazzurri flew out of the blocks and gave the fans hopes of fighting it out for the title only for it all to collapse, like the season earlier, into a series of poor performances and lifeless displays. Coach Walter Mazzarri has watched his value plummet over the course of the last year as he has struggled, in a manner uncannily similar to David Moyes’ struggles at Manchester United, to deal with a club the size and scope of Internazionale. By the time the final whistle was blown after a dismal but strangely apt loss to Chievo Verona, he was surely already thinking about getting away for a break to clear the head and refresh himself for what will be a do or die season. We also saw the final changing of the guard, as those legends of the treble said their last goodbyes, their era is over at the club and fans now look toward the strange prospect of seeing at least some of these men taking the field in uniforms other than the blue and black of Inter. But with all the drama now over on the pitch, it is time for reflection of a season gone by. Here are five thoughts related to the season that was 2013/2014 with perspective of building toward next season.

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The off season of uncertainty

The big man himself, Sir Alex, has bid farewell and will be replaced by Everton’s David Moyes. Talk about big shoes….

‘Tis the summer of discontent’, words made famous by William Shakesphere many a year ago. These words could easily be applied to this summers European football off season as many of the world’s top clubs find themselves either searching for a new manager or adjusting themselves to a new appointee to their respective hotseat. The list itself is impressive. In England we see Manchester City, Chelsea and Everton all on the lookout for someone to lead them while Manchester United has famously bid farewell to longterm king Sir Alex Ferguson, appointing another angry Scotsman in Everton’s longterm manager David Moyes. In Spain Real Madrid have said both a fond and somewhat bitter goodbye to Jose Mourinho after an eventful but ultimately disappointing few years and are rumoured to have set their sights on the eminently reliable Carlos Anchelotti to replace him. Should this occur the position at PSG will become available for someone who prefers to take care of a club with virtually limitless transfer funds and a wealth of world class talent. Just down the road on the peninsula Italian runner up Napoli are confirmed to be on the lookout for a new manager (Rafa Benitez has been signed up) while perennial underachievers Roma currently only have confirmed theirs as interim undoubtebly leaving them to scour the market for someone more permament. Then there was Serie A disaster package Inter who in classic fashion confirmed the security of their manager Andrea Stramaccioni over and over and over before getting cold feet and sacking him, but only after signing several players at his behest. Finally, in Germany, Bayern Munich will be changing manager, drawing in the much desired Pep Guardiola who must have thought his Christmas’ had come twice after managing a team containing Lionel Messi for several seasons then taking over perhaps the most complete squad on world football. Surprisingly enough Bayern had told all who would listen that current manager Jupp Heynckes would be retiring only for the man himself to advise the world that he was actually only retiring from German football and he would be available should Real Madrid come knocking. One almost feels that despite having the best squad in the world Pep might be in for a rough ride trying to replicate the most successful season in Bayern’s history. Continue reading

The struggles of Strama

At the start of the season everything appeared so easy for the youngster.

Prior to Sunday’s 0-0 bore draw against Genoa, a match about as interesting as the incessant ego driven controversies and scandals that litter the Italian game,  Inter coach Andrea Stramaccioni outlined a number of points relating to the clubs future transfer policy and tactics. It was almost as if the Nerazzurri coach realises that, after setting the all time record number of single season losses with the club, in only his first full season, he really needed to convince the fans that he can provide more than strange team selections, off the cuff tactics that change more than Silvio Burlesconi’s stripper selection, and the oft-repeated line that he is young and hey, he is still learning! While the novelty of having a young whipper snapper as the coach allowed the fans to dream that they had unveiled their own Pep, a man who would suddenly reveal that Inter’s youth department, unlike every other department in the club, is actually well run and contained a plethora of world-class talent just waiting to be released on the world stage, the reality stung a little harder. Where previous managers relied on the tried on true, the so-called ‘senators’ of the club, Stramaccioni, the blinding light of youth promotion went for……well the senators, but don’t forget he did blood a host of new talent in the, wait for it, Europa League, Europe’s version of the Coppa Italia where most clubs either send out lineups chock full of young blood or come from countries such as Hungary and have awesome names such as Videoton. Continue reading

It is the inevitability that hurts the most.

Fiorentina’s players celebrate another goal in their 1-5 win over Pescara, it would not be enough

As the Fiorentina players finished off their stunning 5-1 win over Pescara which gave them the best possible opportunity to secure third place and the elusive final Champions League spot, word came through that Milan, in the 84th minute of their match against Siena, had scored to tie the game 1-1. Fiorentina were still in the final spot but there was a sense of resignation about the turn of events. Moments later and Milan scored the winner to secure a remarkable, almost unbelievable turnaround to secure the final cherished spot. For Fiorentina’s players there was an obvious disappointment but also a strange resignation. When word of how the first Milan goal was scored it was even more pronounced. The first vital goal had come from a foul on Mario Balotelli. A ball had been floated into the box from the left. It was a poor ball some ten metres too far in front of the Milan strikers and clearly going out for a goal kick. Balotelli was entering the box under some pressure from the Siena defender, the pressure was no more than you would see on virtually every other occasion with this type of cross, a little tussling as one man moved forward while the other tried to stay with him. Seeing he had absolutely no chance to get to the ball, Balotelli took a chance, falling rather theatrically to the floor. There was no way, NO WAY, that it was a penalty. He was nowhere near the ball, the contact was nothing more than two players tussling through close marking, it was just ridiculous. But it was given, Milan scored and they went on to win. Continue reading

Martinez to Man City?

Pellegrini is the media’s big favourite to take the City roll, but their are doubters within the club.

It seems that there will be some rather important clubs looking for managers at the end of this season with Chelsea, Man City, Everton from England all confirmed as manager less at this point in time in England; Inter Milan, Milan and Napoli in Italy all appearing to have managers whose positions are in some doubt; and Real Madrid, Barcelona and Malaga in Spain all having question marks over the men who will lead them next season. With this state of affairs it is not surprising that virtually every manager who has ever won anything is being link with not just one but several clubs across the continent.  Personally I cannot recall a time when so many of the continents biggest clubs have been searching for a manager at the same time. With these names flying around it is easy enough to throw wild speculation around and watch to see if anything comes of it. My contribution to this is an interesting piece of information I garnered from two of my sources (who unfortunately must remain anonymous as they have been sworn to secrecy on threat of legal action) inside Man City. Continue reading

Real fail to repair the damage done

It is highly unlikely that Mourinho will grace the Madrid bench next season.

Despite scoring two late goals to give themselves a 2-0 win on the night it was not enough for Mourinho’s men to steal the tie from a tenacious, vibrant young Dortmund team who now proceed to the Champions League final 4-3 on aggregate. On the basis of the two legs it was undoubtably the German side who deserved to go through after dominating the first leg and spurning several good opportunities in the second. That is not to say that Real Madrid did not have their chances. Had their misfiring strikers been a little more accurate or actually offered anything more than a few lazy runs and sloppy passes things might have been different. In the end it was a Benzema tap in and a Sergio Ramos beauty that won them the game but several tactical and personnel errors that cost them the tie. Continue reading

Good Luck El Capitano!

El Capitano grasps his heel, the wince of pain clearly visible on his face.

I like all Inter fans, most Serie A fans and a lot of general football fans across the world drew in an anxious gulp of air as Javier Zanetti fell to the floor in apparent agony at Palermo’s by-line. The captain is Inter’s titan. The solid mass that the rest of the team and indeed the club is built around and seeing this half man, half machine, fingers drawn over his face shielding his personal pain from the thousands of peering eyes,  sent a shiver down my spine. In a season that has jumped from debacle to humiliation to disgrace to dispair for Inter, including a season long injury to the top striker, a spate of injuries of varying degree to virtually every other member of the squad, a transfer policy that not only saw our brightest youth product leave but also a number of other dumbfounding moves both in and out, and a run of results that have seen Inter go from title challenger to laughing stock, Zanetti has stood out as the one positive in the whole mess, the one symbol that not all at Inter is wrong. But now, after fifteen minutes against Palermo, even that light has been extinguished, Inter’s last symbol of resistance against a season of catastrophe has fallen. All there is to do now is for those few fit to fight, to  do the best they can until the season’s end and to ignore the shattered wreckage that lies cast about them. Continue reading