Ricardo Alvarez was signed by Inter last year primarily to play in the hole behind strikers but has since been tried into multiple roles by three different managers. His position on the field still remains undecided.
Internazionale have just completed one of their most abysmal seasons in the past decade by finishing in a miserable sixth position in the Serie A. Instability reigned supreme in their campaign, as they were led by three managers over the course of the season. Gian Piero Gasperini was named as Leonardo’s successor as Inter manager prior to the start of the season and there was a buzz about success returning to Inter. Unfortunately, the former Genoa manager was unable to pick up a single win with the club and was sacked following a woeful 3-1 loss to newly promoted Novara.
The wily Claudio Ranieri replaced Gasperini almost immediately, also helping the club crawl up the league table. Tinkerman revamped the tactical system at the club, replacing Gasperini’s 3-4-3 with the tried and tested 4-4-2. As his nickname would suggest, Ranieri tinkered around with this basic formation, making use of the 4-4-1-1, 4-1-2-1-2 and 4-3-1-2. Once again, disaster struck and Inter were slipping down the table. Ranieri wasn’t shown much mercy by owner Massimo Moratti, and left the club in March 2012.
At this stage the aim of the club was to earn a Champions League spot and Moratti believed that Primavera coach Andrea Stramaccioni was the ideal man for the job. Stramaccioni used the 4-3-3 most predominantly, but was more than willing to experiment with his squad. In his limited time with the club, he favored using the 4-3-2-1 as a substitute for the 4-3-3 and this paid off remarkably well, as was seen in the latest Derby della Madoninna. European football evaded Inter at the end of the season, but a respectable sixth place was achieved. Stramaccioni had come to stay.
A lot like the club, new signing Ricardo Alvarez too had a difficult season over the past twelve months. Alvarez was used in a variety of positions across midfield, a major factor in his struggle for form. The constant change in managers at the club was not of any help either. He was most often used as either a trequartista or left sided midfielder, but flourished only as the latter. There is no doubt that Alvarez is ideally a midfielder who plays in the hole behind the striker, but it could be the fact that playing second fiddle to Sneijder in the starting XI is preventing the Argentine from showcasing his talent.
Under Gasperini, Alvarez was barely used in the faulty 3-4-3 formation. He only featured for 117 minutes during Gasperini’s tenure and failed to shine in this period. Alvarez played a lot deeper than one would expect a trequartista to play. He almost occupied the role of a defensive midfielder in Gasperini’s side. Alvarez failed miserably and so did Inter.
It was under the tutelage of Ranieri that Alvarez shone brightly, showing the world a glimpse of his true colours. To begin with Alvarez was used as a trequartista, behind the two strikers. Surprisingly, Alvarez failed to settle into this position, while Inter themselves failed to find form under Ranieri. Ranieri tweaked his formation on a fairly regular basis, but with very limited success. Thankfully for Alvarez, it was through this tweaking that he was used as a left sided midfielder in a 4-4-2 lineup.
The Argentine was under a lot less pressure on the flank, and was given more time and space. There was also a distinct rise in his pass accuracy when used on as a left midfielder. Ranieri’s faith in both Alvarez and the 4-4-2 formation had paid off as can be seen from Inter’s seven game winning streak through December and January. Alvarez featured in six of these seven matches and was fairly influential in most of them – his performances against Parma and Lecce being the cream of the crop.
An injury, accompanied by the return of Wesley Sneijder saw Alvarez resigned to a spot on the bench. The former Velez midfielder went for two whole months without any appearance on the football field and it was a couple of games into Stramaccioni’s tenure that Alvarez returned to the Inter lineup.
Alvarez was unable to maintain a steady position in Stramaccioni’s lineup and was used as a striker, central midfielder and a trequartista. It was as a trequartista that Alvarez put in his best performances under Stramaccioni, but games like that against Parma will be a massive black mark against his name. The good news for Alvarez and Inter is that coexisting with Sneijder is not going to be a problem. The system of using two attacking midfielders has shown some positive signs so far.
To pin point a position in which Alvarez has been at his best seems a tough task. Anything on the right side of midfield, too deep in midfield or alongside another striker can be ruled out. The Argentine’s lack of versatility is by no means a boon. Yet, he has played admirably as a left sided midfielder and as a trequartista. In fact Alvarez has shown a great number of traits similar to Sneijder, especially in the positional sense.
It was just a few days ago that we saw Sneijder shifted into a left midfield role for the Dutch national team in their final group game against Portugal, where he performed fairly well. Similarly, as long as Alvarez is used in either of these two positions, the possibility of his peaking still exists. A certain amount of consistency in terms of Stramaccioni’s tactics will also be crucial to Alvarez’s growth as a player. Alvarez is still a diamond that needs a great deal of cutting.
Written by Guest Author Aditya Balaram
Follow the author on twitter: @adi_balaram