September 18th is surely a day Inter fans wish they could relive a bit longer.
On that Sunday, the Nerazzurri took on Juventus at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza. Due to the long-standing bitter rivalry between the two clubs, any Derby d’Italia clash is always one to look forward to. And the first installment for this season did not disappoint. Many had predicted a straightforward win for the Bianconeri. After all, Massimiliano Allegri’s side appeared to be in the ascendancy, whereas Frank de Boer’s squad were floundering.
Well, by the time the final whistle rang out around the stadium, it was Inter supporters who were cheering. The 2-1 result did not just give the beleaguered Dutch tactician a stay of execution, but also marked the first Derby d’Italia win for the Nerazzurri since November 3, 2012. And the last time they won at home? April 16, 2010. That also so happened to be the year that Jose Mourinho’s team made history by becoming the first Italian side to win the coveted Treble. It was also the last time Inter won the Scudetto – before Juventus began to dominate starting in 2012.
However, since then, things have gone horribly awry. Where has it all gone wrong?
A false dawn
Spirits were lifted after the Derby d’Italia win. The result came off the heels of a humiliating 2-0 European loss to Israeli outfit Hapoel Be’er Sheva. But for a lack of a better word, the historic win has turned out to be nothing but a false dawn. Since then, Inter have won just one tie, and that was against an Empoli side who are already finding themselves in a battle to avoid the drop. Worryingly, the Nerazzurri have yet to pick up a single point in their Europa League quartet. When the draw was announced, Inter were arguably viewed as the favorites to qualify along with Southampton. But after two rounds, it’s the fallen Milan giants who sit dead last after a shock 3-1 reversal to Czech champs Viktoria Plzen.
De Boer clearly figured that Inter should have no problems dealing with the Czech side. And with one eye on their bigger Serie A tie with Roma, he opted to rotate his squad. It backfired. Miserably. In desperation, he threw on Ivan Perisic and Mauro Icardi, despite the former still struggling with a muscular problem. Although Rodrigo Palacio pulled one back a minute after Icardi’s introduction, a moment of madness from Andrea Ranocchia saw Inter’s hopes of a comeback snuffed out. (Yes, those who follow Inter are certainly well-versed in Ranocchia’s head-scratching antics, but his second yellow was totally perplexing, even for him).
To add insult to injury, Inter ended up on the wrong end of a 2-1 score-line against Roma last weekend. The Giallorossi had not beaten the Nerazzurri since November 2014, and the result leaves them in ninth spot heading into the international hiatus. More worrying is the fact that the team have become even more dependent on their skipper to not just guide the wobbly ship, but to do everything involved with keeping a ship afloat without much support from the crew.
Inter’s growing Icard-ependence needs to be resolved
In looking at the team, one thing is very clear. Inter have scored nine goals in Serie A. Icardi has netted six of those. To put this in perspective, Milan’s Carlos Bacca also has scored six, but the Rossoneri have accumulated 12. Gonzalo Higuain also has racked up six goals out of Juve’s total of 15. Simply put, no other team in the league depends as much on one player as the Nerazzurri do. Icardi also has not scored since his brace against Empoli, although his assist led to Ever Banega’s equalizer against Roma. Unfortunately, he was also directly involved for the wrong reasons as he helped Kostas Manolas’s header along via an accidental deflection – which turned out to be the game winner.
Last season, Icardi scored 16 out of Inter’s 50 goals – a bit less than one-third. Higuain’s history-making 36 strikes were less than 50 per cent of Napoli’s 80. Since his brace against Empoli, Inter have scored just three goals in three games – not exactly promising for a team hoping to remain competitive across at least two competitions this season.
Certainly, all of the continent’s major teams have their “go-to man” but there is more often than not a foil to the leading role. Barcelona has the famed MSN of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, and Neymar. Real Madrid has Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, and Gareth Bale. Juventus has Higuain, Paulo Dybala and a decent back-up option in Mario Mandzukic. Napoli have replaced Higuain quite well with Arkadiusz Milik, whilst Jose Callejon has also been in inspired form. Roma have Mohamed Salah, Diego Perrotti, Stephan El Shaarawy, and Edin Dzeko. And Bayern Munich have Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller, among others.
If Icardi were to suffer any kind of injury, where would Inter find themselves? If stats are any indicator, they surely would struggle to stay even afloat, let alone thrive. This is something that the team need to address – and quickly. Although two losses have created a massive hole, their Europa League campaign is not over just yet. They, of course, cannot afford to drop any more point. And in Serie A, we have not even reached the third-way point of the season, with 31 rounds left to play.
Let’s hope that the international hiatus will do them some good, and more important, to start to cure them of their Icard-ependency. Inter’s chances at even the slimmest chance of success will depend on it. Next up on the menu for them will be Cagliari, and they will really need all hands on deck if they want to better the current 9/20 odds to defeat the Rossoblu on matchday eight.