Cross-Happy Inter Need to Add Variety in Order to Improve


Inter is always one of the more interesting clubs in Italian football, and it isn’t always for positives reasons. Now is one of those moments. Anything positive is well and truly in the rear-view mirror for the Nerazzurri, and in its place is a combination of poor performance on the pitch, fan revolt and a recently sacked manager.

It’s not exactly how a team who once appeared well placed to push for Champions League qualification would’ve envisioned their season going. Put simply, Inter have moved into nose-dive mode. They’ve only managed to earn 2 points in their last eight Serie A matches, a record so poor that you need to look back to the 1981-82 campaign to find the last time Inter has failed to win over that length of time. It’s pretty grim right now, and given the recent investment in the playing staff from Chinese owners Suning, who have splurged many millions on players like Gabriel Barbosa, Antonio Candreva, Joao Mario and Roberto Gagliardini, there isn’t much to smile about.

The recent 2-1 home loss to Sassuolo didn’t do much to brighten the mood, either. Inter started pretty well, enjoying plenty of possession and working the ball into the final third quite freely, but the wheels fell off soon after. The fans in the stands began to unfurl banners, banners emblazoned with choice phrases such as “You’ve got a problem when you can spend tons of cash and still look like s—.” Eventually, the final banner, revealed about 20 minutes into the match, led to a walkout. “You don’t deserve our support. We’re saying good-bye and we’re going to lunch.”

At that point, the Curva Nord emptied and the Ultras deserted the players down on the pitch. Whether or not this had an effect on Inter’s performance is hard to judge, but when Jeison Murillo made a blunder on 36 minutes, it compounded the club’s lingering misery. The imposing central defender lost possession with a loose touch, and following two quick passes, Pietro Iemmello found himself in the perfect spot, in the centre of the penalty area, to punch the ball beyond an outstretched Samir Handanovic and into the back of the net. 1-0 Sassuolo.

Iemmello would go on to add a second after the interval, and though Inter managed to pull a goal back through substitute Eder, the staleness to their play meant that they couldn’t find an equaliser. For extended periods of the contest, Inter would hold onto the ball quite capably. They could pass it around in defence, move it into midfield and even work it into the final third. The problem came at that point, as there was nothing imaginative about their approach in attack. They asked their wingers, Antonio Candreva and Ivan Perisic, to play high and wide, and once they were given the ball, they did little other than whip speculative balls into the box. Obviously the aim was for Mauro Icardi to latch onto one eventually, or maybe for Mario or Marcelo Brozovic, Inter’s two most advanced central midfielders, to charge towards the box and achieve something themselves.

There wasn’t really anything scientific about it, however, and nothing that could be characterised as well considered. Maybe this was the result of Stefano Pioli’s recent sacking, or maybe this had to do with a lack of confidence, but Stefano Vecchi’s men looked somewhat devoid of ideas regardless. The match statistics are suggestive of this. Inter used their wings to a massive extent, with only 21% of the attacks originating from the middle of the field. That meant the rest of their play was devoted to the wide areas, and with two wingers hugging the touchlines and offering little by way of combination play, they just crossed and crossed. In fact, Inter crossed 56 times throughout the course of the 90 minutes, an absolutely staggering number.

To put this into perspective, Inter usually average 33 crosses per game, which is a lot less than the number they generated against Sassuolo. Throw in the fact that Inter’s average of 33 crosses per game is already a very high number – it ranks them 1st in the league, way ahead of joint-2nd placed Roma and Genoa, who average 24 crosses per game – and it’s not only clear to see Inter’s chosen method of attack, but also how non-existent any form of variation is in their play.

The two biggest offenders against Sassuolo were, naturally enough, Candreva and Perisic. The Croatian crossed on 12 occasions, and that number only seems sizeable until you compare it to the 26 crosses attempted by Candreva. Remembering the statistics above, where the 2nd biggest crossers in Serie A, Roma and Genoa, average only 24 crosses per game, it’s incredible to consider Candreva’s exploits. It’s almost as if he’s decided that he’s so good at whipping balls into the box that he might as well not bother with any other facets of the game, and though he is a good distributor – his 70 successful crosses for the campaign place him 2nd in Serie A – his wastefulness is at times astonishing. He also has 288 unsuccessful crosses this season, miles ahead of 2nd-placed Alejandro Gomez, who has 252 (Gomez has also hit 24 more successful crosses than Candreva).

This is not to say crossing is a bad thing, but it can’t be the only thing either. Inter need more variation as they approach the final third, otherwise they lurch into a remarkably predictable game-style. They have a wonderful penalty box striker in Icardi, and while he is excellent at latching onto curled balls and scoring from them, he can be swallowed up by defenders if they know what’s coming. Balance is the thing that is lacking for Inter, but if they can address this, there’s no reason they can’t return to the top few teams in Italy.

There is, after all, plenty of talent at the club, and courtesy of Suning, plenty of money to burn. Walter Sabatini has also been appointed as sporting director, something which might help to focus Inter’s rather haphazard dealings in the transfer market. There are therefore a large number of things to be excited about, and with some forethought, a good manager should be added to the equation soon enough.

It’s a matter of refining what’s already present at the club, and adding pieces in a sensible, rather than scattergun, manner. Then they should start to work towards a cohesive system for the following campaign, one that not only takes advantage of the quality at the club’s disposal, but one that also allows the club to offer a varied threat to the opposition.

Who knows, Inter might even be able to get Candreva to ease off the crosses a little bit.