4 Mistakes Walter Mazzarri Has Made Since Taking over at Inter
Following the Nerazzurri's exit from the cup—their earliest expulsion since 2002—the Corriere dello Sport ran with a damning front-page headline, "Mazzarri: What a Flop!" while the Gazzetta dello Sport proclaimed: "Inter Zero Titles." Patience, it seems, is wearing thin.
The season started well with a couple of wins and an impressive home draw with title favourites Juventus, but more recently, the results have been less inspiring. Inter are now out of all European competition and they have just one win in their last six league games, leaving them a point behind newly promoted Hellas Verona, who occupy the final European spot.
So what's gone wrong? And should Inter have seen it coming?
Expectations Weren't Properly Managed
Much like David Moyes at Manchester United, Mazzarri took over something of an ailing giant at Inter. And painful to hear as it may be for the club's fans, the fact is that the team he took over last summer was nowhere near the highest level.
The Nerazzurri's squad strength has been on the wain for some time, and even back in 2010, when Jose Mourinho won the Champions League as part of an historic treble, many of Inter's key players were past their prime.
Inter has an incredible history, but as any Liverpool fan will tell you, history might be all well and good, but it has no bearing on a club's future results.
Mazzarri is now calling Inter a "work in progress"—and that's exactly what they are. There's a new owner, a good manager and some potentially excellent young players coming through. But it will take time for that all to click—and for them to make the much-needed additions.
The bar should have been set lower for this season, with a view to building for next year. Instead, the good work Mazzarri is doing during this vital rebuilding phase is being seen by many as a failure.
Mazzarri Should Have Demanded a Public Long-Term Plan from Massimo Moratti
Since Mourinho, a succession of managers have failed to turn things around at Inter.
Rafael Benitez paid the price for following the Portuguese's success. Leonardo lacked the requisite coaching skills for a job at this level. Gian Piero Gasperini was unpopular with the players, mostly because of his preferred tactics. Claudio Ranieri is the archetypal stopgap manager and was never going to improve the Nerazzurri long term. Andrea Stramaccioni brought ideas but not the experience to implement them all successfully in time.
You could make a case for each manager's sacking—coaches have lost jobs in Italy for less—but the real problem has been that the squad was simply no longer good enough.
Yes, there are some very good players at the club, but compared to Italy's other top sides, the San Siro outfit has fallen behind.
It's hardly surprising, but Massimo Moratti has been disingenuous in his dealings with all those coaches. The club has cut spending drastically in recent years, let go of several key players and yet the demands for results remained as high as ever. Football doesn't work like that, and the former president will have known that better than most.
Not Enough of the Right Players Were Brought in
Mazzarri must have known what shape Inter were in. Leaving Napoli—a team on the rise—for Inter was a risk for the manager.
That said, he left himself open to criticism by not demanding more of Moratti in the summer, either in terms of players or insisting on presenting a clear long-term strategy for the club that included measured expectations until a new owner could be found and settled in.
Mauro Icardi was probably the only genuinely exciting signing. Rolando has been impressive at the back, though he's still technically a loan. Ishak Belfodil has failed to make his mark at the San Siro and, according to reports, could already be leaving. Saphir Taider has been solid rather than inspiring, and Mateo Kovacic is yet to find his feet in Italy.
Diego Milito has finally returned to fitness, which should give Mazzarri more options up front in case something happens to Rodrigo Palacio, who has been Inter's best player this season. But he was injured when Mazzarri took over, and it was foolish to pin too many hopes on a 34-year-old striker to come back from a year on the sidelines—even one as good as Milito.
Italy's Corriere dello Sport (translated by Google Translate) claims that a deal could be done for Dani Osvaldo, but more firepower should have been brought in before the campaign because now it looks like too little, too late.
Mazzarri Needs to Be More Flexible
Tactical flexibility is a necessity at this level. Managers can make their names at smaller clubs using one rigid system, but at the very top, teams must be able to adapt to their strengths and the opposition's weaknesses.
So far, Mazzarri and Inter have been unwilling to do that. I say unwilling rather than unable because this is not a side built for the manager's preferred system.
Gasperini was attacked on all sides for trying to implement a back three during his tenure, having played exactly the same way during his impressive spell at Genoa. He paid the price for not being able to adapt and use the squad that he was given. In the short term at least, Mazzarri must learn to be flexible if he wants to avoid the same fate.
The former Napoli boss is rightly regarded as one of the league's top coaches, and given time, he can construct a team perfectly suited to his three-man defence. But right now, Inter need results, and the squad sheet suggests that they might be easier to come by with a traditional back four because it's what the players are used to.
Andrea Ranocchia, in particular, has looked uncomfortable with the new formation. Six yellow cards speak of the player's indiscipline and tendency to get caught on the back foot, but the fact that Inter have conceded more goals than Juventus and Roma combined clearly indicates that the defence isn't working.
Switching formations is something that Antonio Conte has done to good effect at Juventus, as have most of the game's top managers. It's a skill Mazzarri needs to learn quickly.