Fiorentina Hammer Inter to Heap Pressure on the Nerazzurri
The roller coaster ride at Inter continues. After a midweek clash in the Europa League saw them put in an impressive performance, the Nerazzurri were back to their old tricks in Serie A.
With only two wins in the league since they beat Napoli at the start of January, Andrea Stramaccioni's side were in desperate need of a win.
Their rivals Sunday night were right on their heels in the race for Europe, and behind them, others were gaining fast.
High-flying Catania had beaten Bologna, and an imperious performance from Roma—and an incredible strike from captain Francesco Totti—had sunk Juventus and earned the Giallorossi three unlikely points.
Another poor result would be disastrous for Inter. A team, which only three seasons ago was crowned the best in Europe, is now staring at the prospect of another year without a place at football's biggest event.
The loss of Diego Milito against Cluj was a blow, no question. The Argentinian had rediscovered the sort of form that once made him one of Europe's most feared front men, and Stramaccioni would certainly have planned to see the striker play a starting role in the season's closing stages.
Milito joined other club stalwarts like Walter Samuel and Cristian Chivu on a growing injury list, but Fiorentina had looked lifeless against Juve the week before, and their best player, Stevan Jovetic, had been far from his best. The Nerazzurri travelled to Florence expecting to win.
Vincenzo Montella had other plans.
"Inter are in great shape and very strong," said the young tactician before the game, "but I am not worried. We have their same desire. A win could allow us to think about the season and ourselves in a different way."
Prophetic stuff from the former Roma striker. Jovetic put in the kind of performance not seen in a long time from the Montenegrin, scoring a brace. So too, did Adem Ljajic, the young Serbian striker Manchester United famously decided not to buy after a last-minute change of mind.
The Florentines are now just two points off third place and the promised land of the Champions League. After the departure of Cesare Prandelli and the disappointing times under Siniša Mihajlovic and then Delio Rossi, it's been a while since things have looked so good in Tuscany.
The opposite is true of Milan. Another loss has heaped pressure on not only Stramaccioni, but on everyone at the club. Antonio Cassano grabbed a consolation for the visitors in the dying minutes, but it was nowhere near enough to spare their blushes. The Nerazzurri were as bad as the Viola were good, and there are now serious questions to be answered all around.
Owner Massimo Moratti has been uncharacteristically patient with Strama, possibly because in this new Financial Fair Play world, the Italian knows that long-term success—both fiscally and on the pitch—is best built on youth.
The 37-year-old Strama has shown promise thus far in his budding career. But then, so has Montella. The pair know each other well from their years spent at Roma, and because of their age, make for easy comparisons.
By landing the Inter job, Strama seemed to have the head start. It's not every day someone so young is given the reins at one of Europe's biggest clubs, and it was seen as a massive show of faith from Moratti in a man destined to be the latest in a line of great Italian coaches.
Montella, by contrast, has fought his way up. Rejected by Roma, he built an impressive squad at lowly Catania, leading them to their best ever finish. In fact, it seems that the work he did in Sicily is still bearing fruits, because the Elefanti are now just three points behind Montella's current side.
The man from Castello di Cisterna, a small town just outside of Naples, has done far more with a less talented—or expensive, at least—squad. And while Inter look like they might implode at any second, Fiorentina look like they have the potential to improve.
Bologna and Chievo Verona now wait for the Viola, before a difficult visit to Lazio at the Stadio Olimpico. But if Montella's men can get something out of that result, they could quickly find themselves getting used to the rarefied air at the top end of the Serie A table.
Inter, meanwhile, need improvements. Fast. They face cross-town rivals, Milan next, followed by a nightmare trip to the east coast of Sicily to play Catania. Both games are easily lost.
Unless their problems are identified and addressed in the next couple of days, they could find themselves below the Catanians in the table.
In fact, even eighth-placed Roma look likely to be above the Nerazzurri at this rate, because the Giallorossi have a relatively easy run of fixtures and have no doubt been given a confidence boost from the win against Juve.
Stramaccioni's side are looking at a depressing downward spiral from here on in. For their fans' sake, let's hope the young coach can figure out how to stop it.
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