After conceding a late goal to Sampdoria this weekend, Walter Mazzarri’s Inter still sit in fourth place in the Serie A table. The story of the day was how Sinisa Mihajlovic had returned to plague his old team, but the underlying story threw up some interesting observations about the Nerazzurri.
After last season’s dreadful finish under Andrea Stramaccioni, it would be understood if a majority assumed that this team were now much improved, and that this perhaps was the start of a new dawn. The reality, however, lies in statistics, and, at this point, the Milanese club are actually a point worse off than they were the season prior.
The issues that face Mazzarri are perhaps not glaring but instead are more idiosyncrasies that threaten to keep him awake at night. The formation is certainly something that he seems settled on, and the 3-5-1-1 that has been tried and tested is close to him.
Coaches often bring systems with them, as they know how to adapt them to any situation and they have track records of winning with them. The counter argument, however, is to ask whether a coach should bring a system that suits him, or should he adapt the formation on the strengths of the players he has? Looking at the improvements to Yuto Nagatomo and Jonathan this would suggest the former, but does this suit the rest of the side?
The midfield seems to be the stumbling block and smacks of indecision and confusion. The back three seem to work, although not as comfortably as they perhaps should. The wing-backs are enjoying a renaissance, but after this, things seem to break down.
Mazzarri still seems to struggle on identifying the Trequartista in the team and, in turn, the roles of Freddy Guarin, Ricky Alvarez and Mateo Kovacic. Esteban Cambiasso is accepted as a holding midfielder, as is Saphir Taider (when he plays). Fredy Guarin has featured as a holding midfielder and as a playmaker, and Mazzarri still isn’t sure.
Ricky Alvarez is the obvious option as Trequartista, but yet he has featured deep in a holding role. Admittedly, his ball retention and ability there is impressive, but is this really where he belongs?
This brings Mazzarri to Kovacic, who excels for the national team in a deeper role and would offer creativity from deep. That would enhance the role of Alvarez further up the pitch and improve Rodrigo Palacio's supply. It seems Mazzarri feels that the choice is between the Croatian and the Argentine and that they do not belong together.
The Nerazzurri’s moves in the Mercato are the focal point of many who follow the black and blue, but perhaps this is misguided. Mazzarri needs players to slot into the system or figure out a new system that suits the players.
One man who started on Sunday was the talismanic Javier Zanetti, who played as a wing-back. "Il Capitano’s" ability to adapt to so many coaches, formations and systems over the years is perhaps a lesson for many.
Perhaps the secret to longevity in the world of football is adaptability, professionalism, hard work and the humility to change your game when required. Maybe Mazzarri should take a leaf out of his captain's book?