Inter Milan vs. Pescara: 6 Things We Learned
It wasn't, however, the type of game that Inter would have liked to have against a low-quality team that faces a mighty battle to avoid being relegated at the end of the year.
Let's take a quick look at how the game shaped out and what we learned from it.
The Front Line Is Still Misfiring
Inter's strike force is top five in the Serie A, but through the first two matches, their forward line seems to be doing their best Juventus impersonation. And not in the good way.
Last week against Udinese the nerazzurri were extraordinarily wasteful in front of goal, and Saturday's match was no different. Inter took 17 shots against the delfini but only put four of them on target.
Rodrigo Palacio and Fredy Guarin provided the goals, but Inter looked less than deadly in front once again.
Diego Milito was again on the bench to start the game. He did come in to replace Palacio in the 87th minute, and it seems to me that Andrea Stramaccioni might have been saving his top forward to give him a go in Inter's Coppa Italia quarterfinal matchup on Tuesday (more on that in a second).
Inter gave themselves a lifeline in the title race with today's win, but they should have won this game by a much wider margin, and if they want to seriously challenge for the title, they're going to have to improve their efficiency in front of goal.
The Long Ball Is King
Last week I made mention of the fact that Inter didn't complete a particularly large number of passes through their midfield and relied disproportionately on the long ball to get it forward.. The same held true on Saturday, and for the next several weeks we'll see if this is because Stramaccioni's move to a 3-5-2 is still a work in progress or because he has installed a system that emphasizes the long ball over volume passing.
Christian Chivu led the team in completed passes today with 67—four more than Walter Gargano's team-leading number against Udinese. Chivu completed 91 percent of his passes compared with Gargano's 79 a week ago.
Chivu was three out of five on long balls, but the kings in that category for Inter in this match were Javier Zanetti (10 out of 10) and Matias Silvestre (10 out of 12). As a team Inter completed a whopping 40 long balls out of 52 attempted. If those numbers keep up, then it's obvious that it's a major part of the plan.
If they can continue to complete that many long passes at that rate (77 percent), it may turn out to be a viable strategy. Stramaccioni must ensure, though, that this isn't just something he is doing to mask a weakness in the center of midfield.
Palacio Needs to Stop Racking Up Cards
Rodrigo Palacio has done very, very well for Inter since arriving in the summer transfer window. He's scored nine times in all competition and has proven very good support for Diego Milito and Antonio Cassano. He has, however, shown an alarming lack of discipline over the last two weeks.
He's picked up yellow cards in each of the last two days, and both of them should have been easily avoided. Last week in Udinese he got booked for simulation in the box, a tough call but obviously something that could have been avoided.
This Sunday he was booked for dissent after arguing with referee Domenico Celi over an offside call when he had a second goal ruled out for offside a mere 30 seconds into the second half.
Palacio has been on a good run of form lately and isn't someone Stramaccioni wants to lose out of his side. He's now only one yellow away from a suspension, so he'll need to stay disciplined in the next weeks as Inter fights for European position.
Inter May Start Saving Bullets
As the second half wore on, it was quite apparent that Inter's players had started playing half-speed. Only six of their 17 shots came in the second half.
Why did the nerazzurri seem to let up on the gas? They have a midweek fixture to worry about: Tuesday's Coppa Italia quarterfinal against Bologna.
It's a game that is going to be far easier that it could have been thanks to Bologna's last-minute upset of Napoli in the round of 16 on December 19.
It's understandable that Stramaccioni might start focusing on the Coppa. Inter's hopes for the scudetto are on life support. They completed the andata nine points back of the leaders with three teams between them, and Juventus, who despite their slip-up against Sampdoria are still the class of the league by far.
Inter's best hopes for silverware this year now rest in the Coppa Italia and the Europa League. I wouldn't be surprised if some of Inter's top players get rested as ties in those competitions loom so that Inter can fill up some more room in their trophy case.
The Youth Movement May Be Starting—and It Could Be Glorious
Eighteen-year-old Marco Benassi made his Serie A debut Saturday, and he looked impressive.
Benassi was a member of the Primavera team that Stramaccioni led to the NextGen Series title and the Primavera League title last season before being promoted to the big club, and it was obvious that Stramaccioni's familiarity with him was beneficial.
Forced to make a move in the midfield with Esteban Cambiasso playing emergency center-back in the stead of the suspended duo of Andrea Ranocchia and Juan Jesus, Stramaccioni turned to Benassi, who looked like he'd been in the side all year.
The NextGen win a year ago proved the quality of Inter's youth system. It isn't often that the coach of the first team has intimate knowledge of a team's youth ranks, but Stramaccioni's time with the Primavera puts him in a unique position to be able to put Inter's strong crop of youngsters into a position to thrive in the first team.
Considering the looming restrictions of UEFA's Financial Fair Play initiative and the ongoing recession in Italy, strength at the Primavera level may be Serie A's salvation. Stramaccioni's extensive knowledge of Inter's youth system may be a key difference in years to come to allow those young players to succeed.
Inter Can Beat Provincial Sides Without Their Best
After a sterner test against Roma next week, Inter is going to enter a softer section of their schedule with three games against provincial sides before a matchup with high-fliying Fiorentina sandwiched around their Europa League Round of 32 tie with Romanian club Cluj.
Even the Roma game might not be hugely difficult if form holds from the andata. Inter stumbled to a 3-1 loss against the giallorossi at the San Siro in September, but Roma has run into a very hard time of late. They beat the three provincial sides that they played after by identical 2-0 scores.
It's a stretch through which Inter can take advantage and rack up some points before they get into a tougher stretch of their schedule that will include Fiorentina, Milan, and Juventus in three out of six games. What's more is that all three of those teams lost to Inter during the andata and will be out for a measure of revenge.
The good news is that Saturday's game showed that even when not at their best, Inter is more than capable of handling and beating teams like Torino, Chievo, and Siena. If Inter wants even a remote chance at regaining the scudetto for the first time in three years, they need to take nine points from these three provincial sides before getting into a tougher stretch.