Is Inter's recent run of poor form due to the selection and tactics of Andrea Stramaccioni? Or is there more to the story of the nerazzurri slide?
After Fiorentina demolished Inter Milan last week, many thought nerazzurri manager Andrea Stramaccioni would be shown the door. His side had looked as though they could challenge for the scudetto, but over the last two months, Inter have won just two of their eight league matches. Dropping points to Genoa, Torino, and Siena has left the side in fifth, a point behind crosstown rivals AC Milan, who they face on Sunday in the second Derby della Madonnina of the season.
So does the fault lie with the manager? Or is there some other reason for Inter's recent poor run of form? SB Nation Italia writers Jack Sargeant and Kirsten Schlewitz sat down to discuss.
Kirsten: After Inter ended the Juventus unbeaten run, Stramaccioni became the latest hipster coach du jour. How did he do it?
Jack: Probably by getting everyone excited by finally toppling the mighty Juventus, and being under the age of 55
Kirsten: So nothing to do with spectacular or innovative tactics?
Jack: I reckon tactically the 3-4-3 he used is pretty good for the team he has available, e.g. Antonio Cassano and Rodrigo Palacio both suited to the kinds of wide roles they can play in there, with El Principe in the middle, but now he's lost a few players through injury, the tactical flaws/holes in the squad are really showing
I do think he does make some boneheaded decisions sometimes though
Kirsten: please, continue...
Jack: Ezequiel Schelotto, for one. Leaving him on the bench when he really needed to change the game against Fiorentina, not really giving him a chance when he's one of the most offensively talented players in the squad.
And picking a full strength team in the Europa League. Which has seen Andrea Ranocchia pick up an injury, I have noticed (though that might be a work of tactical genius, given Ranocchia's tendency to make errors).
Kirsten: I don't think Ranocchia's injury is a genius move on Strama's part. I think his move in Europa was a sign of his paranoia -- The team are in freefall in the league, even though they've only slid to fifth. So even though Inter had a 2-0 lead going into the second leg, Strama had to prove himself. He didn't trust any side but his full strength side to maintain that lead
Jack: To play devil's advocate, does he really have a non full strength team to field? Perhaps the freefall is the result of some woeful management from above, rather than purely a result of Strama's coaching -- e.g. a complete absence of an experienced creative midfielder. Francesco Lodi or even Jaime Valdes from Parma would have been good short-term buys, but despite the rumours they didn't get anyone to fill that gap
They needed a vice-Diego Milito (this was even before he got injured, I think). Who did they get? Tommaso Rocchi!!!
Kirsten: You bring up Rocchi, and I think that makes an excellent point about what Strama is comfortable working with. He gives Marko Livaja, age 19, one match. He's great in the first half, but then Strama benches him, and he's stuck on the bench for the next two, before being sent to Atalanta. Who comes in? Rocchi, age 35
He sells Philippe Coutinho without actually giving him a chance to play. Against Fiorentina, he gives Mateo Kovacic a shot, but pulls him at the break, even though he was certainly not the one having the poorest of days. Why is he so afraid of youth?
Jack: It's a good point. Even players like Schelotto and Ricardo Alvarez haven't been given a chance, and they're 23 and 24 respectively. Tactically, these are players who could make a difference, and ease the creative pressure on Fredy 'shoot on sight' Guarin, who looks good in flashes, but isn't consistent and isn't a true playmaker
Kirsten: Alvarez has had two starts in Serie A, and he got injured in one of them. Otherwise he's relied upon to make a difference from the bench. But is he really a playmaker, the sort that they need, the one to be the next Sneijder?
Jack: No, I think he hasn't realised the potential people thought he had, but regardless, he offers an alternative, and how will we know if he isn't ever given a proper chance?
Kirsten: I think it all goes back to Strama being scared. He's young, he wasn't prepared for this chance when he got it, and now he doesn't know how to make the changes necessary to get his side back on track
Jack: I do wonder how quickly Moratti's backing would evaporate. Would it be as quick as their slide down the table?
This feels a bit like a transition period for Inter - they're all pretty old, looks like Cassano might be going at the end of the season, Milito (hopefully this is completely wrong) might never be back to his best, Palacio's knocking on a bit and they don't have much great young talent. I wonder whether he's someone for the long-term
Kirsten: Ok, let's say Milan roll out 6-0 winners on Sunday, and Strama is shoved out the back door. Who comes in?
Jack: Well, there's that annoying rule that says coaches in italy can't coach two clubs in one season, but Stefano Pioli is the answer to everything
In an ideal world, they'd get Diego Simeone, who wants the job (he's said so), did a great job with Catania, and is doing so with Atletico Madrid now. I really like him. But, not sure he'd jump ship now.
If not, then get someone else at the end of the season. Stefano Pioli's a good coach, so's Giuseppe Sannino. Even Rolando Maran. But, ultimately, this problem transcends coaches at the moment. Even if Stramaccioni isn't that great, they need to strengthen and restructure the squad properly
Kirsten: Obviously Strama will be at the helm for the Derby. How can he save his job?
I reckon he'll survive any result in this derby, ultimately. But it's the next few games which could swing it, and I suppose we're getting quite near the end of the season now.
(n.b., if Inter are smashed 6-0 then he won't survive)
Kirsten: I meant what specifically he could do, silly. Selection / tactics wise.
Jack: It all depends on how Milan are going to play. They might sit deep and look to counter again, or they'll try to take the game to Inter
Kirsten: We saw what happened when Fior took the game to Inter: Inter had seven shots. One was on target. Only two of those were after Fior's fourth, when they pretty much stopped trying.
Jack: Milan aren't as creative in the midfield as Fiorentina. Mario Balotelli is the key -- most of their attacking play will go through him.
Formation wise, I wonder if he'll stick with 3-4-3
Kirsten: Strama didn't go with that last week. He had Yuto Nagatomo at the back. That didn't work so well
Jack: Nagatomo reminds me of an ewok
Kirsten: I think he needs to drop Zdravko Kuzmanovic...ok, how am I meant to respond to that? I'm being all intensely tactical here and you go with an ewok?
Jack: Sorry. Carry on with Kuzmanovic while I think of something insightful
Kirsten: I lost my perfect wording. The gist of the matter is that Kuz was pretty much crap last week, although Strama chose to keep him on for the entire match
For this match, bring in Walter Gargano, move Nagatomo forward, leave three at the back. Which I'd guess would be Javier Zanetti, Cristian Chivu and Juan Jesus. That's what I'd do, but he might choose Esteban Cambiasso. I'm not sure Strama knows where to play Zanetti and Cambiasso all the time. Perhaps he thinks they are one person.
Jack: Are they not?!
Kirsten: One has hair
Jack: Oh yeah.
I'd probably go 4-2-3-1, with Kovacic and Cambiasso in midfield. Cassano left, Alvarez central and Schelotto right, with Palacio the lone striker
Kirsten: That is revolutionary and...not what Strama would ever do
Jack: Of course not but, Schelotto would test Kevin Constant who has played reasonably well, but isn't great. He could track him down the flank. Ok, I just love Schelotto. That's what this boils down to.
Kirsten: I think he's being punished for the Siena loss. One start, Siena scores two in the first 45, he gets hauled off at the half. Blame the new guy
Jack: I think the problem is with the wing-backs, it's too easy for teams who play with wingers high up the pitch to pin them back. Stephan El Shaarawy would do that. Ultimately they're left just hoofing it up the pitch and hoping someone runs onto it
By the way, when I said 4-2-3-1 i sort of forgot about Fredy Guarin.
Jack: No, but it's sort of ruined my masterplan. Just swap him in for Alvarez, that makes it more Strama like. And probably a bit better.
(From there, the conversation digressed into the hibernation habits of tortoises, so we'll just end it like this, shall we?)