5 Things Walter Mazzarri Should Look for from His Team
Whatever Walter Mazzarri is doing at Inter's Appiano Gentile HQ, it's working. The Nerazzurri sit below Roma and Napoli in the table, but that hardly matters at this stage.
Inter have seven points from a possible nine, having already negotiated an early season encounter with rivals Juventus and not been found wanting. If they hadn't noticed the change at Inter before, the 1-1 draw with the Old Lady in the Derby d'Italia should now have everyone's attention.
The Nerazzurri are back.
What are the key things Mazzarri must look for as he rebuilds the San Siro giants?
It's so blatantly obvious that it shouldn't require saying, but Inter need to score goals. In 2012-13, they finished the year with a goal difference of minus-2, having conceded 57 and bagged 55.
Fiorentina, Milan and Napoli all had a positive difference of 28 or more. League winners Juventus finished with plus-47. Even Roma, who had a torrid season under Zdenek Zeman and then Aurelio Andreazzoli, scored 15 more than they let in.
Last season, Andrea Stramaccioni's Nerazzurri struggled miserably in the opponent's area. The injury crisis didn't help, but in truth the goal drought was a problem that had manifested itself much earlier. Inter failed to find the back of the net on seven occasions last term—a stat that would worry any top team.
Mazzarri's side have gotten off to a much better start. With six from three games, at the current rate of fire, they'd finish the season with 78 goals—more than champions Juventus managed last term.
More Attention at the Back
Again, so basic it shouldn't need saying.
Last season, Inter were appalling at the back—Mazzarri needs to change that.
Strama's side let in a depressing 57 goals in Serie A in 2012-13, despite having Samir Handanovic between the posts. The Slovenian is one of the league's best keepers, and any squad with him in it should be keeping far more clean sheets.
Inter actually conceded more than twice as many as Juventus. Not only that, they let in more than most of the teams below them in the league. They finished tied with Siena and with three more concessions than Palermo—both of whom were relegated.
Inter's new manager will want to build for the future and change the shape of the side to reflect his tactical beliefs, but he can't afford to ignore the basics. Teams that let in lots of goals don't win leagues.
Jakub Vojtus, Simone Pecorini, Samuele Longo, Daniel Bessa—sound familiar?
If not, don't worry. You won't be the only one not to recognise those names. They are four of the players who fired Inter to a much-lauded NextGen Series title in 2012.
The NextGen is a youth competition that's supposed to nurture and promote young talent at Europe's best sides. Inter's win got Stramaccioni promoted to the senior side, but did little for the players involved.
The likes of Marco Benassi, currently on loan at Livorno, are tipped for great things. However, the powers that be at Inter need to decide whether or not they're serious about youth, or else they risk losing talented young footballers to other clubs—or to the inevitable decline that sets in after too long on the fringes.
Inter are too reliant on ageing stars, and no longer capable of spending huge sums of cash on expensive replacements. It's time to seriously look to the youth setup for inspiration. The Nerazzurri currently have a staggering 27 players out on loan. Someone needs to figure out who's worth keeping long-term—and then allow them to prove it.
Since Jose Mourinho left Inter, the Milanese giants have lacked the most important characteristic of any successful football team.
Last season was a roller coaster of results. There were lofty heights and dismal lows. They managed seven straight wins in Autumn 2012, but could only scrape two in their last 10 games. The previous term, they went eight games without a win after the Christmas break, undoing the good foundations they laid with seven consecutive victories before that.
Everyone loves a bit of drama in football, but there's been too much nail-biting and uncertainty at Inter of late. Mazzarri's men don't need to be heroic or spectacular—they just need to be dependable.
So bad were Inter's injury woes last term that the side often looked like 11 strangers meeting for the first time. That's not all their fault, or Stramaccioni's, but it's not acceptable either.
Without the superstars of previous seasons, when the likes of Samuel Eto'o or Wesley Sneijder could be counted upon to make the difference with moments of individual brilliance, Inter now need to function as a unit.
The squad is talented, but not so talented that it can compete with Serie A rivals like Juventus, Milan and Napoli without plenty of understanding and selfless commitment to the communal good.
Right now, Ricardo Alvarez is the league's most successful passer. The Argentine completes far fewer than the likes of Napoli's Juan Zuniga or Roma's Miralem Pjanic, but those he plays tend to be important.
With a success rate of almost 92 percent, few go astray. It's exactly that kind of play that Inter need to nurture and develop.