Massimiliano Allegri had a good time reuniting with the former disciples. His current team, presently sitting handsomely at the summit, was expected to dictate the proceedings on the pitch and trounce the opposition now led by Roberto Donadoni, but that was not to be.
Cagliari came in crisp and crude, controlled the motion of the game and created opportunities at will during the first half.
However, it was a day of the new signings to showcase their worth and three of them (Robinho, Cassano and the 20-year-old Strasser) engaged into a wonderful interplay of passes, at the end of which Strasser sealed three points for the away team with his sublime finish.
Antonio Cassano’s alluring assist on debut titillated Allegri into a momentary dose of flurry, but his pleasures were to be short-lived, as few hours later at the home turf of Milan, their fiercest city rivals Inter unraveled their magic for the world to see.
The Nerazzurri, revitalized under their new manager, Leonardo, earned three crucial points and much-needed momentum after the break, comprehensively beating the second-placed Napoli 3-1.
The ex-Milan player, scout and coach had been enough criticized for linking with the cross-city rivals of the club he had been allied with for 13 years.
Inter fans would have held their apprehensions over Moratti’s choice for the replacement of the sacked Rafa Benitez.
But the Brazilian staged his debut in a grand style, securing a convincing win over one of the most consistent sides in Serie A during the current season.
The win put Inter at the seventh position with two games in hand and should they assumably manage to win them both, they can supersede Roma at the fourth place on a better goal difference.
The big question that still remains unanswered is whether this win shows any signs of recapture of a form that is potential enough for Inter to resurrect their campaign to an extent they can actually claim the sixth straight league title in a row.
The initial half of the season left the team in tatters for the reasons already discussed in sufficiency.
Despite many of the propositions working against them, they were never written off by any of the teams sitting above them currently in the table and their performance against the team from Naples much shows why.
The return of Thiago Motta, Esteban Cambiasso and Maicon proved to be just what the doctor ordered.
In the absence of an injured Wesley Sneijder, Serbian veteran Dejan Stankovic was the commander-in-chief of the midfield and marshaled the proceedings for much of the time.
The linkage among the two layers of the midfield was top notch and all the five midfielders wore their heart on their sleeves.
Club captain and icon Javier Zanetti fared with a work-rate that was second to none and once again reassured the fact that age in just another insignificant number for him.
Inter still struggle in the centre of defence, as their first-choice centre back, Walter Samuel, is out for the season, but the new signing, Andrea Ranocchia, would be all raring to go claim his place pairing with the Brazilian legend Lucio.
The club’s long time loyalist, Ivan Cordoba, is expected to make way for the Italian.
Diego Milito’s form is worth a concern, as he was clearly uncomfortable dropping deep enough to get involved into any interplay with the midfielders.
There were instances where Thiago Motta and Goran Pandev tried to overlap him from the flanks, but the Argentine’s poor positioning could not let his team make the most of his teammates’ efforts.
With return of Samuel Eto’o, Inter may switch to the traditional two-man front line with Pandev playing right behind the two strikers.
In Jonathan Biabiany and Coutinho, Inter have potent backups for the role of Attacking Midfielder who are capable to play as the advanced wingers and support strikers too, should the need arise.
The return of the experienced crop of players alleviated the team’s confidence greatly in the first competitive game since the winter break and the team appeared rejuvenated after their triumphant spell in the Middle East.
Going further into the season, Inter will hold a psychological advantage over the likes of Palermo, Roma and Juventus for having played fewer games, but that will also add the pressure to grab the maximum possible points from those matches.
So far they have fared poorly against the big teams in Serie A, having been beaten by Milan, Roma and Lazio.
They were reduced for a goalless draw by Juventus early in the season, but an authoritative victory over Napoli should boost their confidence.
With the first-choice players likely to remain fit during the remainder of the season and a couple of pragmatic additions during the next month, Leonardo can still cause collateral damage to his former club Milan, who are presently reckoned favourites to run away with the title.
Leonardo is one man who has known Italian football for more than a decade and clearly understands what do the clubs, the owner and the fans expect out of the players.
He knows the culture and the customs followed by most of the other teams in Italy and his scouting abilities are proven time and again.
Moreover, he has a point to prove against Silvio Berlusconi, who did not remain patient enough for the Brazilian to deliver results.
With Inter still contesting in both Coppa Italia and Champions League, they are high on motivation and a few desirable acquisitions during the winter would not hurt.
Inter were never a star-studded unit even during the days of Mourinho doctrine. It was the camaraderie among the players that so much characterised their season. All Leonardo needs to do is rebuild that cohesiveness, which is missing at present.
In the current scenario, the Serie A table is closer than ever as each of the teams ranked from No. 2 to No. 6 trails the teams ahead of them only by one point.
Hence, a slump in form for any of Roma, Napoli or Lazio would directly work in Inter’s advantage.
Should Inter carry on the momentum from the Napoli game, they are favourites to win both ties and close the gap with Milan to seven points with a match to play against Milan, which could further reduce the gap in case of an Inter win.
Many of the permutations need to fall into the defending champions’ favour to maintain the winning habits of last five seasons but by no means they can be ruled out from this point in the year.
While all the players must lift up their game and demonstrate a professional worksmanship to meet the standards and reputation of ‘Brand Inter,’ the manager in command needs to assure the pieces are placed correctly to complete the jigsaw.
The article was also published at http://krazzy-sports.blogspot.com/ - a blog on Football, Cricket and more.