Until last weekend, Napoli sat atop Serie A, having won every game since a 0-0 draw with Roma in mid-December. Standing between them and the Scudetto? Juventus, of course. Mina Rzouki brings us the latest from Italy.
Juventus hosted Napoli in a top-of-the-table clash broadcast in 200 countries and during which we would see if the Azzurri really had what it takes to defeat an Old Lady, who has simply forgotten the feeling of failure.
While the Partenopei have captured the hearts of their fans as well as the neutrals with their beautiful football and their incredible mentality, having strung together eight consecutive wins to sit at the top of the league, not even they could do enough to stop a resurgent Juventus. Massimiliano Allegri’s team are a side built for victory. Scoring in the 88th minute, Simone Zaza’s left-footed goal sealed maxi-mum points for Juventus to make it 15 wins in a row for an Old Lady destined to be the eternal league champions.
Gunning for Inter’s record of 17 consecutive Serie A wins, Juventus only need to win their next two to match the record and suitably position themselves for yet an-other trophy. As they go from strength to strength, despite the disastrous start to the season, Inter keep tumbling further and further down the table as they lose all semblance of composure and surrender to their usual state of chaos after losing yet again; this time to Fiorentina, in the match dubbed as the race for third place and the chance to qualify for the Champions League.
Both Inter and Fiorentina started the season well, and both, at one point, occupied top spot in the league. While they differ significantly in playing style, they shared a certain aura of confidence and the winning mentality required to achieve vital victories. However, recent performances have led to unwelcome results. While Paulo Sousa’s side attempt to recover their fluidity to allow the likes of Nikola Kalinic to score again, the Nerazzurri have lost both their nerve and their defensive strength resulting in deep frustration.
At the start of the season, many called Inter an ugly side, one that worked on simply halting the opponent and taking advantage of mistakes to grab the one goal they required to achieve a victory. Yet while the critics had their say, Roberto Mancini laughed his way to the top of the table. His side conceded only nine goals in their opening 16 league games. However, since mid-December, Inter’s defensive wheels have come off and the side conceded 15 goals in their last 11 matches in all com-petitions, losing 2-1 to Fiorentina yet again over the weekend. What has gone wrong?
According to their former goalkeeper, Gianluca Pagliuca, the team was always fragile but goalie Samir Handanovic masked the problems with his excellent saves. He may have a point. According to whorescored.com, Handanovic has won three man of the match awards this season – no Inter player has managed more. While the Nerazzurri may boast a physical midfield more keen to tackle than create but coming into their match against the Viola, seven teams had conceded less shots on goal than Mancini’s men, including the likes of Lazio and Torino.
While Mancini’s aggressive style of play won them plaudits at the start of the sea-son, the side’s tactical imbalance was always going to create problems. This was a team that desperately needed creativity to unleash the power of the forwards but rather than target players of that ilk over the winter transfer market, the Inter boss instead bought another striker, Eder, in the hope he would prove more accurate in front of goal. The solution to the problem was to create more goalscoring opportunities, not to buy another who would undoubtedly struggle for the high level of efficiency required by the coach.
Seventy-seven per cent of Gazzetta dello Sport readers blame Mancini for Inter’s woes. Changing formations at least six times this season, the tactician has continuously rotated his squad robbing the Nerazzurri of an identity, causing great confusion on the pitch. This has consequently led to several defeats which has not only provoked fear in the squad but stripped the players of the confidence they had at the start of the season.
Making only €168million in revenue a year, Inter need to make it into the Champions League to help them pay off the debt they owe, which stands at just over €230m but if we are to add the various millions owed to other clubs, suppliers as well as the loan Erick Thohir took out, the figure stands closer to €417m. With revenue from commercial exploits decreasing by 16 per cent from the previous year, Inter must start achieving their sporting objectives or they risk increasing their debts and consequently, their chances for a better future. It’s time for Mancini to do better.
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