Udinese vs. Inter Milan: 6 Things We Learned
Andre Stramaccioni looks downcast in this photograph, and he ought to be.
After a mostly staid first half, Udinese scored three times in the last half-hour, with team captain Antonio Di Natale firing in a pair around a strike from Luis Muriel.
It was the first time the Nerazzurri have come out of the winter break with a loss since 1999.
Let's take a look at what this matchup has taught us.
Uncharacteristic Profligacy Up Front
Given Inter's proficiency scoring the last few years—they scored the fifth-most goals in Serie A last year despite their disappointing finish and are fifth again this year—they missed far too many chances today.
The most egregious miss was in the 50th minute, when a clever sequence between Antonio Cassano and Rodrigo Palacio sent Jonathan through on goal, only for the Brazilian to somehow miss the target from six yards out.
Freddy Guarin and Palacio both were denied by Udinese keeper Zeljko Brkic before Di Natale put Udinese out in front.
The Nerazzurri took 13 shots but only managed to put four of them on target. Guarin in particular was wasteful, challenging Brkic with only one of his four shots.
If Inter are going to make a push for the Champions League and make any sort of push towards challenging Juventus (who took a shock loss to a 10-man Sampdoria team today), they're going to have to make shots like the one Jonathan took count.
Inter committed 11 fouls on the day. It's not a huge number, but three of them resulted in yellow cards, including a pair for Juan Jesus, whose dismissal a minute after Di Natale's first goal sealed Inter's fate.
Juan wasn't the only one who was rash today. Alvaro Pereira was booked in the ninth minute and kept throwing himself around after seeing yellow. He was lucky to have stayed on the field.
Obviously, it's imperative that Inter keep all 11 players on the field. Providing a team with a player like Di Natale the room to operate that being down a man allows is often fatal, and if the Nerazzurri are going to beat the league's best, it would behove them to keep the red card in the referee's pocket.
Juan in particular got saddled with a total of three fouls. The young Brazilian has been instrumental in improving Inter's defense, which last year was its downfall.
But he is no use in the locker room, and he can't keep committing fouls and giving opponents potential set-piece situations.
Rodrigo Palacio Needs to Stay Upright
Of the two yellow cards that weren't shown to Juan, one was shown to Palacio in the 25th minute.
His offense? Simulation.
Palacio hit the turf expecting a penalty, but found Antonio Giannocarro's yellow card staring him in the face.
It's not a good thing for him or for the team. Italian referees have a reputation for remembering players who have gotten into trouble for diving. Milos Krasic's dramatic drop in form two seasons ago was caused for the most part by his two-match diving suspension. After the suspension Krasic almost never got whistles in his favor from referees, even in some cases in which he had been legitimately fouled.
Time will tell whether Palacio's offense today will produce the same result, but it's better not to tempt fate. In a league in which divers are remembered, it's better that the Argentine stays upright.
Andrea Ranocchia Is Missed
Andrea Ranocchia was serving the first of a two-match ban incurred after an angry confrontation with the fourth official after Inter's last match before the winter break.
His absence was keenly felt today.
Juan struggled marking Antonio Di Natale, and Walter Samuel had a disappointing day in the back and looked as though he clearly missed the young Italian international.
In November I made the argument that Ranocchia's improvement was the major factor in Inter's resurgence after a disappointing 2011-12 that was sunk by the team's bad defense.
It seems that without Ranocchia in their back line, Stramaccioni's team may have a tendency to revert to their old ways in defense.
The Attack Needs the Right Personnel
By the right personnel, I mean in particular that Diego Milito needs to be involved. Milito wasn't in the squad today, and despite proven forwards Palacio and Cassano leading the line, the Nerazzurri just didn't have the scoring edge that they had.
It's not a coincidence that Inter lost their five-year hold on the scudetto two seasons ago after Milito had the worst season of his career—they were largely carried to the Champions League place that season by the brilliance of Samuel Eto'o.
Last year their terrible defense was bailed out in part by Milito, whose personal resurgence—18 goals in the league, 23 overall, punctuated by a hat trick in the Derby della Madonnina that beat Milan and denied them the title—was masked by the chaos enveloping the team.
Stramaccioni has made a lot of how successful the new attacking trident in his 3-4-3 has been, but Jonathan's awful game in the 3-5-2 that Stramaccioni used today underscores how badly the Argentine is needed on the front line.
Inter hope his return to the lineup will mean a bit more edge in front of goal.
Speaking of tactical issues...
Stramaccioni's New Tactics Still Have Some Kinks to Work Out
Using a three-man defense has been a nice revelation for Stramaccioni this year, but new tactics always require growing pains. Inter created their chances today, but it's somewhat alarming as to how the team's passing stats are coming out.
Inter have been in the habit of using a 3-4-3 this season, but today's formation was more of the 3-5-2 that Juventus have been using over the last year and a half.
Stramaccioni's foray into using the 3-5-2 has been met with the same thing that Antonio Conte encountered last year: a lack of space in the midfield for his players.
The leader in completed passes today was Walter Gargano, but he only completed 64 before being withdrawn in the 74th minute for Alfred Duncan. This says to me that the 3-5-2 did what it did to Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio and Arturo Vidal at one point last year: It compressed the middle of the field and didn't allow them as much room to operate.
Inter completed 25 long balls today and attempted 30. That number of long passes tells me that the middle of the field was getting squeezed and they were having problems moving the ball along the ground, which necessitated bypassing the midfield and trying to take more direct routes to the front line.
This isn't something fatal—Conte had to abandon the 3-5-2 at one point and revert to the 4-3-3 he started the season with until he could work out the kinks and put in the version of the formation that has allowed the team to soar.
What it does mean is that Stramaccioni needs to drop back to something a bit more successful if he wants to use this particular formation again until he's able to work all the trouble spots out on the training ground.