With the passing by of another campaign, the mood around the Appiano Gentile has hit a new nadir of disappointment. The failure of FC Internazionale to cope up with the elite of Calcio has been exposed once again, leaving the fans with the bitter pill of mediocrity to swallow. The start to the campaign was promising, however subsequent injuries to nearly the entire first team took the wheels of a season in which the Nerazzurri finally looked a part of their monstrous past. A dismal 9th place finish was enough to seal Andrea Stramaccioni’s fate as the Inter boss and in came Walter Mazzarri. What are the expectations? To mend the broken fortunes of the club and to guide the Nerazzurri to the top of the rung once more. The lanky Italian has a record of reviving clubs from the lows to the highs but can he do it one more time is the real question.
After making the breakthrough with Livorno and Reggina, Mazzarri led Sampdoria into Europe, cup finals and very high league positions. These endeavours brought him to the notice of the enigmatic president of a club that was still seemingly finding its feet after being pushed into the hounds of the fourth division of Italian football, for being declared bankrupt due to exorbitant figures of debt. Napoli, who were once the darlings of the peninsula were now facing the crude reality of non-existence. After a tough old battle to claw their way back to Serie A, Di Laurentiis chose Mazzarri as the man to take the club forward. What happened later, is secret to none – Napoli are now among the genuine contenders for the Scudetto.
The scenario at Inter is somewhat similar – the club seem to be hungover due to their past success and have not really moved on from Jose Mourinho. Can Mazzarri deliver the goods once again and revive a falling institution? Let’s have a detailed look.
Mazzarri’s Napoli – A tactical perspective
Walter Mazzarri has been credited as one of the main brains behind the resurgence of the 3-5-2 or the 3-4-3 at large and in Calcio particularly. The mantra behind the success of his Napoli side was flexibility – With an experienced defense, a hard-working midfield and an all star attack, the Azzurri have played free flowing football, representing a stark contrast to the ideals of Italian football.
The three central defenders tread upon a fine line that separates perfection and confusion. Cannavaro slotted in central defence being supported by Hugo Campagnaro on his right and Gamberini to the left. Christian Maggio and Juan Zuniga, being the wingbacks have additional defensive responsibilities.
When not in possession, the three central defenders are supported by one of the two wingbacks, and thus collectively form a four man defence, with the other wing back staying high up to make the extra man in midfield count.
The setup essentially relies on a counter attacking style of play, as certified by Arrigo Sacchi -
They rely on a tight defense, rigid marking, counter-attacking and individual class.
In midfield, the passing of Gokhan Inler is well complemented by defensive work rate of Valon Behrami. The duo is helped by the extra man – be it either of the fullbacks or Marek Hamsik. The midfield thus operates in well defined triangles and looks to pass the ball around the opposition pivot. They are well supported by the front two of Edinson Cavani and Lorenzo Insigne who have both just had a very productive season.
How Inter might shape up under Mazzarri
It is unlikely that Mazzarri would make seismic changes to his tried and tested combinations that had worked so well for him at Napoli. New arrival Hugo Campagnaro, who is a close ally will probably start alongside Juan Jesus and Andrea Ranocchia at the back. The ageing legs of Walter Samuel may well have to contend with a place on the bench, alongside new arrival – Marc Andreolli.
Javier Zanetti’s injury coupled with the imminent departure of Donati to Leverkusen means that the tactician may well have to contend with handing Ezequiel Schelotto a starting berth. On the opposite flank, Alvaro Pereira and Yuto Nagatomo will jostle it out for a starting berth.
Mazzarri has always favoured the passer-tackler combination in midfield, be it the Gargano and Inler pairing earlier or the Behrami-Inler pairing of last year. Thus, one would expect Cambiasso to start alongside Freddy Guarin in midfield with Mateo Kovacic ahead of them. The Croatian youngster is capable of dropping deep to receive the ball and hence make the extra man in midfield. The role of Kovacic becomes essential here – Mazzarri’s midfields have always remained compact. The attacking midfielder is required to do a considerable amount of work off the ball and the young Croat would be no exception to this. Ricardo Alvarez, though a silky ball player is a limited package and is likely to be shipped off to clear a portion of the wages. Coming to the backups, a deal for Ruben Botta has already been agreed and it would not be much of a surprise if Mazzarri does indeed add another couple of names to the department before the window closes.
With the arrivals of Mauro Icardi and Ishak Belfodil, the attack now looks a much better prospect on paper. Diego Milito and Rodrigo Palacio, both of whom had decent campaigns will have increased competition from the new arrivals for the contention of a starting place in the XI. Following the partnership of Lorenzo Insigne and Edinson Cavani, it makes sense to go with Belfodil as the supporting striker and Milito in his usual classical Number 9 role as Mazzarri clearly prefers a floater supporting an all-round centre forward upfront.
Predicted starting XI
Having broken down the individual departments, it is now time to cast an eye on the macro level – the system as a whole. Walter Mazzarri’s teams have always been set up to play on the counter attack. In Europe, Napoli averaged a mere 36% possession of the ball, almost half of what Barcelona’s figure was. The team defended deep, thereby not allowing the opposition to break through on goal and rely on exploiting the spaces left by them when attacking. One could expect much of the same at Inter – the backline defending deep, with Cambiasso sitting just in front of them, cutting off any potent supply to the opposition striker, with able support from Guarin and Kovacic (if needed.) Juan Jesus, given his ability on the ball, would most likely carry the ball out of defense and initiate the counter, and with the workman like attitude of Fredy Guarin and the young legs of Kovacic and Belfodil, counter-attacking at pace must not be much of an issue for the new Inter side.
All said and done, the success of a team can only be measured during the course of a season, by how well it responds to the challenges it faces and how well it can maintain its competitiveness during an entire campaign. Inter have shown sparks of their former selves but those sparks have ultimately dimmed out because of one reason or the other. Can they build upon these momentary cycles and mount a genuine bid to be the best in the peninsula once again?
We shall see.
Written by Dhruv Saraf