Inter: Bologna Deny the Nerazzurri a Happy Birthday in Milan
There were no birthday wishes granted in Milan, even as Inter turned 105. Nor was there to be time for celebration for Javier Zanetti, the club's evergreen captain who played his 600th game in Serie A.
Alberto Gilardino, who scored the winning goal for visiting Bologna, was just 13 when Zanetti made his debut for the Nerazzurri back in 1995. Since then, the consummately professional Argentinian has missed just 34 of his club's league fixtures.
Since Ottavio Bianchi gave him his debut, Zanetti has seen 20 coaches on the Inter bench, won 16 major titles and been the captain of a generation. It's quite the record, but not one capable of overwhelming the Rossoblu, who fully deserved a result in Milan.
Competent and controlled across the park, Bologna put in an excellent team display. Gilardino made the headlines, but it was a good performance by the whole squad, in particular Alessandro Diamanti, who continues to make a case for inclusion in Cesare Prandelli's national team plans.
The attacking midfielder from Tuscany dictated play for the Emilia-Romagnans, who now sit in the table's top half and will be extremely confident following such a result away from home at the San Siro.
For the hosts, meanwhile, the result just heaps on fresh heartache. The recent Europa League result in London against Tottenham was disastrous. The Nerazzurri could barely get out of their own half and were two behind after little more than 15 minutes.
Their impressive away win at Catania had seemed to signal the start of good things for Andrea Stramaccioni's side, but looked at in the context of the Spurs defeat, a hammering by Fiorentina, the derby draw and now this loss to Bologna, it more resembles a blip of good form in a disappointing period.
At the weekend, the normally tenacious Walter Gargan looked lifeless, and Fredy Guarin seemed devoid of ideas. Ezequiel Schelotto had a nightmare of an evening, and Inter were on the whole wasteful throughout. On-form Rodrigo Palacio was left isolated up front, and only Esteban Cambiasso and his compatriot Zanetti looked up for the game before they were joined by Antonio Cassano.
Once introduced, the trequartista was impressive and showed more intelligence and creativity during his spell on the pitch than his teammates did the whole game. Had it not been for Bologna's Naldo, in fact, the former Sampdoria star would surely have saved the day. As it happened, the young Brazilian did excellently to block Fantantonio's attempt and save the result for his own team.
The performance was all of Inter's problems in a nutshell. Plenty of talent, but often devoid of understanding, shape or substance. Cambiasso could have scored several, and though he didn't do much, it would be unfair to criticise the abandoned Palacio. Individuals are not Inter's problem—it's the interaction between them that sometimes troubles.
For all their undoubted potential, this Inter side seems unable to deal with pressure or perform consistently as a unit. And the blame for that must surely lay with Stramaccioni.
Throughout the season, Inter have been saved by individuals rather than collective effort. Samir Handanovic has been imperious in goal. Palacio has been a consistent goal scorer, and through the unique invention he always brings, Cassano has spared his coach blushes on several occasions.
Strama needs to build a stronger collective—and fast. He was reportedly insulted by Cassano's "Little Mourinho" jibe, but now he'd love to have the team spirit that the Portuguese coach created at the San Siro. If there's any hope of securing Serie A's final Champions League place come May, the young tactician will have to work hard to that aim.
Next up, the return leg with Spurs. At 3-0 down, it's going to be hard for the Italians, but the Londoners will miss the inspirational and on-form Gareth Bale. The winger, who scored three goals at the San Siro in 2010, will miss out through suspension.
The Welshman's absence is a great blow to Andre Villas-Boas' side. It remains to be seen if Inter have the ability to exploit it.
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