By David Rodich
The former AC Milan player, scout and coach, Leonardo began his coaching tenure at Internazionale in positive fashion as his squad beat table-climbing Napoli 3-1 in the San Siro.
Even though Inter’s starting eleven was void of Sneijder (due to injury) and Eto’o (due to suspension), the team played with more attacking grace and teamwork than at any point this season. Part of this credit should be given to the return of Thiago Motta, who brings a passing elegance to the midfield, but most of it should be bestowed upon the new coach, Leonardo.
It was clear that from the opening moments of the match that the team showed a new sense of freedom – passing in quick combinations and interchanging positions. Fluidity. Confidence. And it all payed off quite quickly as Motta lashed in a shot from the edge of the box after some one-touch passing between him and Stankovic just a few minutes into the match.
As seems to be national law in Italy, when a team goes up a goal early in the match they revert to the Italian tradition of defensive-minded tactics. Inter obliged, but although they played with ten men behind the ball and allowed Napoli to have possession, they were quick to spring on counter-attacks. Still, their concession of control bit them when the visitors equalized on a corner – taking advantage of an Inter defense that was static and on the back foot. The Nerazzurri regained their lead after close to 15 minutes of open play when Cambiasso headed in a bending cross from Maicon.
The second half began more like first had – with Inter playing positive soccer instead of just protecting their goal lead. This forward momentum was rewarded as Motta got his second – proving his importance to this newly reborn Inter team.
It was all smiles on the Inter sideline as they hope to continue this form on Sunday against Catania and begin to make their way back up the table.
Leonardo had this to say about his new team, “I already knew plenty of these players and we’ve enjoyed ourselves over the last few days. Things come about naturally: they happen and they have to be lived; these players must enjoy what they have achieved in recent years, enjoy their success and enjoy their football. This team has a strong heart and they all live for each other.”
He added, “I don’t want to talk us up this evening just because we won the match but this win was born out of the players’ hunger. I don’t want to sound as if I’m fawning to anyone either, but every single player has helped me from the moment I arrived. I’ve been taken aback by their commitment in training. Absolutely extraordinary.”