“It was a precarious game of chess from the first to the last minute, unfortunately we ran out of time to complete the check-mate”, that was Croatian daily 24sata’s take on Hajduk Split’s dominate win over Inter in their Europa League last night. Despite the 2-0 loss, the Italian outfit managed to remain in the competition because of a 3-0 victory in the first leg. If it was a game of chess, Nerazzurro Coach Andrea Stramaccioni will be wondering where his main pieces where.
Over 25,000 Inter fans sat silently throughout proceedings, as it was Croatia’s second best team that inaugurated San Siro’s new hybrid pitch in style. Decisive mistakes from veteran centre-back Walter Samuel put his side under constant pressure, and Ivan Vukovic pounced twice. A completely mistimed tackle from the Argentine gave away a nonsensical penalty that was duly dispatched, before the Montenegrin forward cheekily chipped the ball up and shattered the top corner.
After an ‘almost perfect’ game in the first encounter, Stramaccioni was left gritting his teeth as his defence failed to close Vukovic and Co. down time and time again. In attack Philippe Coutinho was promoted to the starting line-up after his great goal in Split, but the youngster missed several gilt-edged chances. The Nerazzurri have spent the summer rejuvenating their squad, but it was now-39-year-old Captain Javier Zanetti who got the biggest cheer of the night for a sly nutmeg while bursting into the box.
The question remains where to strike the optimum balance between experience and youth. Inter are beginning to discard the squad that claimed the 2010 Champions League, with Goran Pandev and Lucio moving on this summer, while last season’s flops Diego Forlan and Mauro Zarate have not been kept around. Douglas Maicon, Julio Cesar and Giampaolo Pazzini have all been isolated from the squad too, and dropped from European action.
An excessively workman-like midfield at times left Inter lacking that creative spark last night. Gaby Mudingayi has been brought in to play alongside similar box-to-box players in Esteban Cambiasso and Fredy Guarin. That is on top of the likes of Joel Obi, MacDonald Mariga and Dejan Stankovic already occupying the bench.
Wesley Sneijder was left with the entire creative burden in the trequartista role with the 4-3-1-2 formation. A more successful attack-minded diamond system with Ricardo Alvarez and the Dutchman should spearhead the team in the final third alongside the potential world-class talent that is Coutinho.
An embarrassing collapse on home territory might possibly have been avoided with a slightly more settled and accomplished outfit. The law graduate turned Coach only has a fortnight to crack this case, before Inter are expected to challenge Juventus for the League title.