Ranieri guides resurgent Inter into the winter break

In some ways, this season for Inter Milan has been an exact re-run of last year. Entering into a period of managerial transition in the summer after another departure, for Jose Mourinho’s treble-winning exit read Leonardo’s sacking after winning the Coppa Italia after a stabilising job was required to patch up the debacle left by Rafa Benitez’ 6 wins from 15 Serie A matches and the Spaniard’s uneasy relationship with Massimo Moratti. Leonardo was dismissed after guiding Internazionale to second in the table and replaced by Gian Piero Gasperini, the former tactical guru of Genoa, yet his tenure didn’t quite go to plan. His spell lasted just five games, with four defeats and a goalless draw, and then Moratti, in employing his 16th manager in 16 years, turned to former Chelsea and Roma coach Claudio Ranieri to begin “operation save Inter” slightly earlier than the January time frame that was handed to Leonardo.

The Gasperini experiment was doomed from the start, he was a devotee to the 3-4-3, working wonders with a Genoa side that contained players from his adopted Inter side, Diego Milito and Thiago Motta, however it was a philosophy based on verve and swashbuckling attacking drive, at odds with an aging back-line that struggled for pace to cover wide areas, the back-line of Walter Samuel, Lucio and Christian Chivu has a combined age of 96, while Javier Zanetti is 38.. After all, the side had all experienced consummate success based on solid foundations with the organisational pragmatism of Mourinho, but here was a manager who was preaching an immediate adaptation to a system based on width and energy. This didn’t suit Inter and even Moratti, not exactly known for his footballing brain, had scepticism about it. He said that Gasperini “would eventually change”, but all that occurred was a dizzying jump from one formation to the other, a 3-5-1-1 in the Super Cup against Milan, a 3-4-3 against Palermo, a 3-4-1-2 against Roma, it was a plethora of systems that confused and frustrated in equal measure as embarrassing defeats to Trabzonspor in the Champions League and the 3-1 capitulation to Novara ensued. That was the final straw for Moratti and out went Gasperini with Inter 16th in the table, in came Ranieri, the reputed fire-fighter, to guide the Nerazzurri back onto calmer waters.

Ranieri had history in this respect, in coming in to steer a club away from disaster; he managed to save Parma from relegation in 2006-2007 and turned Roma’s two defeats in the opening games of 2009-2010 into a highly successful year with a 23 match unbeaten run, only being denied a title after they fell away towards the end of the season. Ranieri’s instant impact did not have the desired impact at Inter though, he won his first two matches, 3-1 in Bologna and a 3-2 Champions League win at CSKA Moscow, but this was followed by a 0-3 home defeat to Napoli and a 2-1 loss in Catania as Inter slumped to their fourth defeat in six league matches. It was obvious that there were still imperfections to iron out, the Napoli defeat exposed a weakness on the counter-attack as they continued to leave gaps open behind the back-line, leaving them vulnerable to the expansive running of Napoli’s 3-4-3, a system that re-iterates that it can indeed be effective when used with the correct players, the particular nuance that befell Gasperini of course. Speaking after the win over Moscow, Ranieri said “I put my players in their ideal roles”, implying that Gasperini, in contrast, hadn’t done so.

The loss to Catania has appeared to be a watershed for Ranieri and his team, since that night, Inter have lost 2 in 9 Serie A matches, only succumbing to current third and second position in the table, Udinese and Juventus, as they have risen to fifth in the table, eleven points behind the league leaders, neighbourly rivals AC Milan. Two wins over French Champions Lille saw them progress into the Champions League knockout stages as group winners with a game to spare, a creditable turnaround when it is considered  their campaign began with the 0-1 defeat to pot 4’s Trabzonspor in the San Siro. The irrelevant defeat to CSKA Moscow at home has been followed up by a winning streak of three matches, the form of Japanese full-back Yuto Nagatomo inspiring them to wins over Fiorentina and Genoa, while it was 23 year old Andrea Ranocchia who headed them a 0-1 win over Cesena. They now host bottom club Lecce, stranded from the relegation zone by six points, on Wednesday as they bid to make up more ground on fourth-placed Lazio, all a far cry from the sluggish mess they cut under Gasperini. It hasn’t been easy for Ranieri and still Internazionale have obvious flaws, it is still not fluid and they can still be vulnerable, as 18th placed Cesena nearly took advantage of on Sunday, only to be denied by the expertise of Julio Cesar. However, Ranieri, in his role as danger-averter, is doing exactly what he was appointed to do, yet as with Leonardo, they will have to go somewhere else again, for a more permanent solution.

Adam Gray @MonkeyLunch21

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