We all knew when he took on the job of managing Inter Milan that Roberto Mancini was going to face a difficult challenge to fix this team. Walter Mazzarri had a talented but poorly-balanced squad, and some bizarre tactical decisions further compounded the problems Inter were having on the pitch. Now it's Mancini's task to find the best way to utilize the players available to him, and that's going to be quite the hill to climb.
There is hope, though. While yesterday's match against AC Milan only lead to a draw and disappointed many Inter fans, there was a lot of reason to take hope from the changes that Mancini implemented. From a formation standpoint, Mancini started by throwing out the 3-5-2 constantly utilized by Mazzarri and replaced it with the old 4-3-1-2 system he'd used when previously in charge of Inter.
Similar to Mazzarri's system, Mancini's formation utilizes two strikers up front with a playmaker behind. Where the changes start to come are in the midfield band behind them; where Mazzarri used two supporting midfielders with primarily defensive duties, Mancini's band of three is anchored by a straight ball-winner and two shuttling midfielders, responsible for assisting the attack from a variety of spaces, as well as helping fill gaps in defense. The industrious nature and broad skillset of players like Fredy Guarin and Joel Obi, who were selected for those shuttling rules yesterday, fit the demands of that role very well.
In theory, Mancini's system allows for a high degree of fluidity. Instead of the attacking support they provide always coming from wide areas via the wing backs, Guarin and Obi can float in and out, combining with the fullbacks to provide outlets, or add direct supporting runs in to the box to help capitalize on balls in the box.
Unfortunately, for now that's all theory. In actual practice yesterday, the central areas of midfield wound up frequently overcrowded, with Guarin or Obi frequently tripping over Zdravko Kuzmanović or Mateo Kovačić as two or three players fought for the same ball. Things stayed too tight and too rigid in midfield, which frequently lead to attacks being blunted before they could become true threats.
With time and effort, though, it looks like Mancini could make this work. Like when you're buying a house, you look at the bones of the structure you're working with. When it comes to the tactics that Mancini utilized on Sunday, the bones are good. With some tweaking and work with the players to better understand their rules in this new system, he's got a basic setup that can work well with the players available.
It's not going to be an easy process. Mancini will have to break his players of the tactical rigidity that Mazzarri drills in to his players. Once he breaks through that barrier, though, he's got the basic structure in place to make the kind of gameplan we saw against Milan work and work well, and that could help Inter become a better side again a lot sooner than Inter fans once feared and fans of other Serie A clubs frequently hoped.