When the Champions League draw of sixteen took place nearly three months ago, Inter were deemed to have the easiest match-up of the three remaining Italian teams. Napoli drew Chelsea, Milan had Arsenal, and Inter were facing Marseille.
Both Napoli and Milan finished second in their group and the showdown between the two remaining powerhouse Premier League teams left everyone salivating. The two Italian clubs shocked many outside of Italy, beating their opponents quite handily with 3-1 and 4-0 score lines, respectively. All eyes then turned to the south of France, where Inter would be clashing with Marseille.
The atmosphere preceding this match was decidedly different than a month ago. In late January, the squad was on a high of seven straight victories in all competitions. Since then, everything has nearly been the complete opposite. In all competitions, Inter have lost six and have drawn one. During this stretch, the squad has only picked up one point out of fifteen in Serie A, have been dumped out of the Coppa Italia, and after Wednesday’s last minute loss to Marseille, have one foot out the door of the Champions League.
The night was destined to be one that left Interisti bewildered. There was confusion stemming from the starting eleven, the tactics, mentality, and the result. There were questions about who would be starting, as Walter Samuel was still recovering from a muscle strain received in early February. Questions about the formation and the use of Wesley Sneijder were also asked, as well as which attacking combination would start. Diego Milito was still recovering from the flu and was not well enough to start or partake in the match, though he was on the bench. Inter manager Claudio Ranieri decided on the following starting eleven: Julio Cesar; Maicon, Lucio, Samuel, Cristian Chivu; Captain Javier Zanetti, Dejan Stankovic, Esteban Cambiasso, Wesley Sneijder; Diego Forlan, Mauro Zarate
Finding positives is akin to grasping at straws at this moment, but it could be said that Wednesday’s encounter was an unfair result for Inter. Marseille’s winner came literally in the last minute of stoppage time, in the 93rd minute. Julio Cesar had just made an amazing save, giving the French team a corner which presumably would have been the last action of the match. In what seemed to be the only defensive mishap of the game, Ayew scored from the corner as Chivu lost his man in the box.
If anything, the end result just reinforces the fact that any opportunities presented must be taken advantage of. Inter had solid chances through the match, through Forlan, Zarate, and Stankovic. The problem was that it seemed like Ranieri was content with a draw, letting the result hang in the balance at home at the Giuseppe Meazza. He took out Zarate and instead of going for the win by putting on either Milito or Giampaolo Pazzini, he opted to put in Joel Obi, a midfielder, in the 63rd minute. This substitution made it known that a draw was acceptable, when in fact Inter should have been focusing on getting that all important away goal.
This loss only amplifies the questions being asked of Ranieri, as he had a third substitution available and did not use it. His hand was forced with the first, as Maicon was injured and Yuto Nagatomo was called upon to replace him. The second substitution left many wondering what the ‘Tinkerman’s’ course of action was, all hoping that the third change that never came would have brought a striker on. According to reports in Gazzetta dello Sport, this Sunday’s match is pivotal for Ranieri’s future. Originally claiming he had 15 days to show his capabilities at the helm, they are now saying that the Inter board will make a decision depending on the outcome.
Rumours about his future are not the only thing that Ranieri must contend with. The injury that Maicon picked up during the match in France was first feared as ligament damage, but luckily it is not as serious as previously thought. He is scheduled to be out for 15-20 days, potentially with a return just in time for the second leg against Marseille. Unfortunately Andrea Ranocchia also suffered an injury during yesterday’s training in his right thigh, and will also be out for 15-20 days.
Finally, there is some very important news concerning Inter off the pitch that is also being reported by Gazzetta. Inter President Massimo Moratti has opened the door to new sponsorships from potential Arab or Indonesian partners. It seems that a lot is pending on the next few weeks, as it will have a direct effect on the direction of Inter’s future.