5 Ways Inter Milan Can Cement a Top-4 Finish This Season
After last year's debacle, things can't go much worse this season for Inter. Club president Massimo Moratti repeatedly backed under-fire coach Andrea Stramaccioni throughout what was a miserable season for the Nerazzurri. But in the end, finishing ninth in Serie A was too much for any boss at the San Siro to survive.
Now, Inter start anew with Walter Mazzarri at the helm. The Tuscan coach has an excellent track record and enjoyed five fruitful years in southern Italy with Napoli. Inter, however, are a clear step up, both in terms of history and ambition.
So what can Mazzarri do to get the Nerazzurri back on track?
Find the Best Starting XI—and Stick to It
Over the course of last season, Stramaccioni used a startling number of players and different tactics.
Part of the blame for that lies with the crippling injury problems Inter endured, but some fault must also be leveled at a coach who just couldn't figure out his best team.
In defence alone, nine players played eight or more games in the league. Of those, only Mattias Silvestre and Jonathan managed fewer than double figures—but both notched 20 or more appearances counting cup competitions. That's a lot of rotation for four positions, compared to the seven players who featured regularly for Napoli covering a back five.
Barring injuries, Mazzarri's best XI at Napoli was more or less obvious. The same could be said for all of Serie A's top teams. The new manager's first order of business will be unearthing Inter's ideal starting group.
Score More Goals
This one seems obvious. Last term, a combination of injuries and poor form meant that the whole squad struggled in front of goal.
Mazzarri must make sure they don't suffer from the same problem this season. Rodrigo Palacio managed 12 strikes from 26 appearances in the league in 2012-13. That in itself would be a disappointing return for a talented forward at one of the league's biggest clubs, but the fact the Argentine was Inter's top marksman is dismal.
Second place went to Diego Milito, whose year was blighted with injury. Hopefully the veteran striker's return can help turn things around up front. Failing that, there's always the hope that young Mauro Icardi—who scored two memorable goals against Juventus for Sampdoria—will find form quickly. One thing's for sure, someone will have to step up at the San Siro.
Avoid Slip Ups
If Mazzarri's Napoli had one weakness, it was that the squad and the manager didn't always live up to their potential in big games.
In 2012-13 the Partenopei trailed Juventus by nine points at the end of the season. That’s a sizeable gap, but one that should have been a lot narrower. Napoli threw away points with losses to minnows Atalanta and Chievo, as well as defeats to struggling rivals Inter and Roma.
Few clubs are good enough to go through a season unbeaten, but it's the who, where and when that counts. Napoli fans might have been able to forgive a home defeat to Bologna, but Mazzarri's now at one of the continent's biggest clubs. He can't expect to slip up against smaller opposition and get away with it.
This encounter is always a fiery affair. Last year their two games saw a penalty, a red card and 12 yellows. Like so many rivalries, the Derby d'Italia is often won by whoever keeps the cooler head.
Beating Juve was one of the few things Stramaccioni got right. Inter ended the Old Lady's unbeaten run in sensational fashion, winning 1-3 away from home at Turin in November. In the return leg, Antonio Conte's men got revenge, coming out 1-2 winners at the San Siro. But the scalp taken at the Juventus Stadium was a valuable one, both in the league and psychologically.
In 2012-13, only Milan, Inter, Roma and plucky Sampdoria took all three points against Juve. Expect the Bianconeri to give away fewer this term, thanks to reinforcements arriving in the summer.
There are no points rarer to be found in the league, but whoever secures them can do their final position in the table a world of good.
Get Javier Zanetti Back Playing
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In a lot of ways, the loss of Javier Zanetti summed up Inter's rotten luck last season. The veteran Argentine had gone almost two decades in Italy without a serious injury, only to fall foul of a torn Achilles tendon. The club's greatest hero, struck down when they needed him most.
Up to that point, Zanetti played in 845 out of a possible 938 games since joining in 1995. Put another way, up until the injury against Palermo, he'd only missed 10% of the team's games in 18 years. He set the record for consecutive appearances back in 2010—and only stopped notching them up because he'd reached the yellow card limit. The man's a machine.
But the stats only tell half the story. The 40-year-old Zanetti is a born leader, a respected teammate and amazingly for his age, still among the team's best players. They need his influence, both in the dressing room and on the pitch. And they need it quick.