Inter Milan vs. Livorno: 6 Things We Learned
In the end, it was a comfortable if not totally inspiring win for Inter at the San Siro as they beat Livorno 2-0 to climb to within three points of the Champions League places in Serie A.
Javier Zanetti made his return to action after a six-month lay-off but only as a late sub as Walter Mazzarri opted to go with an almost unchanged XI—Rolando replaced the suspended Juan Jesus—for the game.
Inter dictated play but lacked quality in front of goal, and in truth, the result was harsh on a well-prepared Livorno side.
So what did we learn?
Livorno Didn't Deserve to Lose
The result was harsh on Livorno. While 2-0 sounds like a comfortable win for the hosts, it should worry Mazzarri that they needed a freak own goal and a last-gasp strike to score against a newly promoted side that will probably struggle to stay in Serie A.
Davide Nicola's side now welcome Juventus to the Armando Picchi stadium, where they'll have their work cut out for them. Antonio Conte's men are in clinical form having comfortably dispatched rivals Napoli on Sunday night with a 3-0 win in Turin.
At the start of the season, the Amaranto won't have expected to get a result against the likes of Juve or Inter. They'll know that they missed a potentially priceless opportunity to pick up at least a point against an underwhelming Nerazzurri this weekend.
Inter Continue to Confuse
It's hard to know what to think about Inter.
They looked comfortable against Livorno without looking overly dangerous—or anything like the side that so impressively dismantled Udinese the week before. They enjoyed plenty of possession throughout but lacked any kind of urgency or aggression in the final third.
Mazzarri seems to be doing a solid job rebuilding at the San Siro, but their inconsistency will worry the Tuscan coach.
The Next Few Weeks Are Vital for Inter
If they can put together a string of impressive performances against smaller opposition, it should cement some confidence in the squad and fire them up ahead of Napoli and AC Milan, who they meet in succession at the end of December.
Without that kind of momentum it's difficult to see them getting anything out of the Napoli game, and though Milan are awful at the moment, they're still dangerous.
A run of wins could launch Inter into the Champions League spots and possibly even into contention for the title. Conversely, if they drop too many points in the coming weeks, they could be staring at a fresh crisis come the new year.
Javier Zanetti's Comeback from Injury Is Not Just Symbolic
Many feared the worst when Javier Zanetti badly damaged his Achilles tendon last season. The Argentine legend was approaching 40, and having dodged injuries for most of his career, he'd finally been caught.
It was a sign of his age and perhaps the end of a glittering career. Or so they thought.
The club was right to stand by their captain and support his insistence that he'd be back on the pitch as soon as possible. But if anyone thought they were simply doing it out of loyalty to a veteran servant, they'll be reassessing that opinion after the Livorno game.
Zanetti received an emotional ovation when he came onto the pitch for the final 10 minutes, during which time he proceeded to show that he'd lost none of the passion or skill that have defined and inspired so many Inter teams throughout the years. And to cap it all off, he was instrumental in Yuto Nagatomo's goal at the death.
It was a statement of intent: Zanetti's not just back to make up the numbers. He's back to lead. Mazzarri will be thankful.
Inter Need to Sort out Their Squad
I've said it before, but the inability to invest wisely and build a strong, cohesive squad has been a problem at Inter for years.
There are 27 Inter players currently out on loan, and four of them lined up against Mazzarri's men at the weekend. Allowing prospects to gain experience is all well and good, but on the face of it this Inter squad could use a few of them back in Milan.
Marco Benassi and Ibrahima Mbaye in particular were both impressive for Livorno, and while the teenage pair are still both a little raw, neither player looks far below the Nerazzurri's current standard.
Francesco Bardi's Mistake Could Have Been a Lot Worse
Francesco Bardi's highly rated in Italy. Great things are expected from the 21-year-old Livorno native, but this particular visit to the San Siro will be something he'll hope to forget very soon.
Bardi pawed a cross from Inter's Jonathan into his own goal in after half an hour. Bardi didn't have much to do before the error but was caught off-guard when Jonathan broke down the right wing to whip in a low cross.
The mistake changed the game completely. Inter had been off-the-boil beforehand but took advantage of the momentum from the fortuitous opening goal.
It's the kind of thing that could spell disaster for a young keeper. His confidence will have taken a battering, and anyone following his development will have keenly noticed the blunder. Lucky then, for Bardi, that he's owned by Inter.
The Nerazzurri allowed the keeper to join Livorno on a season-long loan to give him experience, and though an error is an error, they'll be happy to have profited from their prospect's learning curve. He did manage a few fine saves later in the game, too, suggesting he won't dwell on the mistake too much.