It was tantalising from start to finish, a real fight between two sides desperate to prove themselves. Inter v Lazio was not only a match between two Italian giants but a game that may well have impacted the title race and saved Stefano Pioli’s job, says Mina Rzouki.
Inter were crowned Winter Champions last weekend, having accumulated 36 points after 16 matches. Playing a physical game that relies on heart, discipline and great organisation, many have branded them the ugliest side to watch in Italy. Managing several 1-0 wins by prioritising defensive awareness to attacking beauty, Inter did not care for the criticism – they laughed their way to the top of table gaining more and more confidence as the season progressed.
Their Sunday night opponents, by contrast, were anything but united. Pioli is and has always been considered one of the best coaches in Serie A. A man who believes in evolving his tactics and studying the game in great detail to bring out the best in the players he has; he’s a born winner who tasted success as a player. However, this season he has struggled to mend the rifts that developed within the dressing room.
Lucas Biglia has been one of the Biancocelesti’s best players for some time. Pulling the strings and controlling the midfield with such composure, he caught the attention of European giants such as Real Madrid over the summer. Lazio did not want to sell and in order to keep him loyal to the Aquile project, the club decided to make him captain, much to the annoyance of Antonio Candreva, who thought he had earned the title.
Cue a great level of disharmony within the group for half of the players sided with the Italian while the others threw their weight behind Biglia. The team that finished in third place last season began to stutter, suffering defeats against the likes of Empoli, Atalanta, Sassuolo and more to put Pioli under pressure. Not only did the team lack cohesion due to obvious player discontent but the squad had lost their best defender, Stefan de Vrij, to a long-term injury to open the floodgates at the back.
Having not managed a victory in their last seven matches, many assumed Inter would collect a routine win against them; after all, the Biancocelesti were a team in crisis with several injuries to compound the misery. Instead, it was Pioli’s men who opened the scoring, playing with the type of intensity and determination we haven’t witnessed from them in some time.
In a bid to honour their coach whose very job is on the line, they looked to win every ball, pressed high up the pitch and slowly but surely began to toy with the Nerazzurri’s emotions.
While Roberto Mancini’s men did manage an equaliser, they surrendered to their frustrations to lose the match 2-1 with Felipe Melo demonstrating 50 shades of madness. Interestingly, Inter have lost every match in which they conceded the first goal, except in the game against Sampdoria where they managed a draw. That inability to readjust and switch gears in order to ensure victory could see them lose their best chance for a trophy since the treble of 2010. Are they really ready to win trophies?
The answer becomes even more pertinent when you consider Juventus, now only three points away from top spot, came back after going a goal down earlier in the day to win 3-2 against Carpi. Rather than capitulate after conceding a goal, they showed their pride and played with the fluidity and balance required of champions. Having notched up seven wins in a row, it would take a brave man to bet against a side now accustomed to fighting for honours.
Yet they are not the only side the Nerazzurri have to fear as both Fiorentina and Napoli are only one point behind, playing the type of football that entertains the most neutral of supporters. The Azzurri should have managed more than a 3-1 victory over Atalanta on Sunday while the Viola comprehensively defeated Chievo to demonstrate consistency.
It’s been a long time since we’ve witnessed such a competitive Serie A league, the question is, who has what it takes to lift the trophy at the end of the season?
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