By David Rodich,
What is Inter without headline players Maicon, Eto’o, Milito and Cesar? Not to mention regulars Chivu and Coutinho? If we are to judge from Friday’s performance against Lazio, the answer is just another overcautious Italian team. Sure, they still have much of their midfield intact, and Sneijder is unarguably a genius, but the team has relied mostly on Eto’o for goals this season, and with the Cameroonian unavailable, the offense lacked venom.
It was the home side, Lazio, that got the lone first half goal resulting from poor goalkeeping of second string goalkeeper Castellazzi off a corner. The opening of the second half saw Inter pushing their holding midfield players forward, but the Nerazzurri got caught as Lazio counter attacked in a 52nd minute. It was Zarate coolly finishing a perfectly fed ball from Hernanes that made it two nil. Twently minutes later Inter got one back when Pandev followed up his own blocked shot, and this spurred a short Inter rally but to no avail. Lazio got their third off a free kick in the 89th, sealing their 3-1 victory. Nothing could go right for the defending champs.
It dawned on me watching this match that the system they use (today’s ever-present 4-2-3-1) depends heavily on individual skill and work rate of attackers, especially for Inter who play a typically Italian deep back line. The man who is credited as one of the pioneers of this system in Spain nearly twenty years ago, Juanma Lillo, said of it, “My intention was to pressure and try to steal the ball high up the pitch. One of the great advantages (is) that having the forwards high allows you to play the midfield high and the defense high, so everybody benefits.”
Obviously this is just his thought and should not be taken as prescription, but it offers some insight. It can be seen with Inter that the system works well, from an attacking perspective, when they are possessing the ball in their attacking third, and everyone is finally pushed forward, but when they have the ball in midfield or are in transition, it often looks quite lonely for the single striker or for Welsey Sneijder, who plays right behind him. Its sad because Sneijder is one the best playmakers in the game today, and he often receives the ball in a virtual wilderness without the support to do his magic. This was so stark Friday against Lazio without Milito or Eto’o, as Goran Pandev, who played as striker, is a good player but just cannot carry that same weight.