Just one week after parting company with Dutchman Frank De Boer, Inter are expected to this week confirm ex-Lazio coach, Stefano Pioli, as his replacement.
After a typically “cinematic” week when a variety of candidate names were bandied about by media commentators, Inter’s choice reportedly boiled down to just three men – Pioli, former Villareal coach, Spaniard Marcelino Garcia Torral and, surprisingly, Gianfranco Zola, the former West Ham, Watford and Cagliari coach.
Even though it seems likely that the club’s Chinese and Indonesian ownership would have preferred a “prestige” international name (Dutchman Guus Hiddink, Frenchman Laurent Blanc and Brazilian Leonardo were mentioned in dispatches), it seems that the 70% shareholders, Suning Holdings, have rather opted for a much more traditional Italian solution. Essentially, they have accepted the best of “local” advice which argues that, at this point, Inter need a safe pair of experienced Italian hands.
After a difficult summer marked by the eve of season sacking of coach Roberto Mancini, followed by an unhappy autumn when De Boer’s side lost seven of its 14 official games, Inter now badly need to steady the boat. Anyone with any doubts about Inter’s current, troubled state need only look at their two games of the last week under the guidance of caretaker coach, Stefano Vecchi.
In both their 2-1 away defeat to Southampton in the Europa League and even in their 3-0 home win yesterday against Crotone, Inter looked like a side that was chronically short on self-belief. At the San Siro, against bottom Serie A team Crotone, who have lost nine of their 12 games so far, Inter huffed and puffed but failed to get many passes to their talented captain Argentine Mauro Icardi.
It was only in the 84th minute that Inter finally cracked the inevitably ultra-defensive Crotone, with Icardi sending Croat Ivan Perisic on his way for a vital goal. The Argentine captain then added two more goals himself in the dying minutes of a game which had for long looked like it might represent yet another Inter fiasco.
As for new man Pioli, his task looks formidable if not impossible. In essence, the club will want to see Inter climb up from its current mid-table standing of joint eighth with Fiorentina on 17 points, 13 behind leaders and champions Juventus. Ideally, the club should get itself back into the Champions League zone, although it might be more realistic to settle for a Europa League qualification. Were that to happen, then Inter would have an opportunity to improve on this season’s miserable Europa League form which has seen them lose three out of four games so far to Sparta Prague, Israeli side Hapoel Be’er Sheva and to Southampton.
Pioli will inherit a talented, if currently dispirited squad. Slovene Handanovic in goal, Brazilian Miranda and Chilean Medel in defence, Argentine Banega and Portugal’s Joao Maria in midfield not to mention Perisic, Icardi and Candreva up front represent the skeleton of a useful side. After that, Pioli will have to assess various little used talents such as Frenchman Kondogbia, Brazilian Felipe Melo and Montegrin Jovetic to see if he can find a role for them.
In the best of Italian fashion, Pioli will probably start in defence, trying to ensure a relative solidity at the back before he thinks any further. Obviously, however, his biggest task concerns morale and mentality rather than positions or tactics. In that context, too, it may prove to be an advantage that his first game in charge will be the Milan derby in two weeks time, no less. At least, there should be no “motivational” problems when it comes to preparing this game.
It is arguable, though, that as he tries to put the side on its feet again, he will not be much helped by the lack of an Italian core element to his squad, an element not missing from champions Juventus, for example.
Speaking of that same Juventus, the champions continue to underwhelm. After the disappointment of that 1-1 home draw to Lyon in the Champions League last week, they gave another robust, clinically effective performance to win 2-1 yesterday away to Chievo. Coach Massimiliano Allegri and others in Turin like to point out that you win the league title and the Champions League next spring, not in this current season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. In other words, the best has yet to come.
Even without letting off fireworks, Juventus are still four points clear of second placed Roma and five clear of third placed Milan. Which is by way of saying that the last-mentioned pair, despite weekend wins against Bologna and Palermo respectively, still have a long way to go before they represent any serious threat to Juve’s domestic supremacy.
Indeed, the relative uncertainty of the form of all the pretenders to the throne, Napoli included, means that you find little Atalanta currently joint fourth with Lazio, whilst Torino, 5-1 winners against Cagliari on Saturday, are sitting on the heels of the top six. Juve’s domestic supremacy may be predictable but at least the good runs of such as Atalanta and Torino, however long they last, ensure a lively Serie A.