Motta exit and Sneijder question give Ranieri season defining challenge
Inter Milan coach Claudio Ranieri was scathing in his criticism of his Nerazzurri side after Sunday’s emphatic 4-0 drubbing at the hands of former club Roma. The former Giallorossi boss fumed ‘We cannot go on like this. We didn’t work enough and were too weak.’ Contrast these sentiments to just three weeks ago after victory over Milan and the emotions are polar opposite.
After victory in the Derby della Madonnina on January 15th, Inter were tipped for an unlikely Scudetto chase, an impossible thought when Ranieri took over from former coach Gian Piero Gasperini with the Milanese giants hovering just above the relegation zone. But since that victory against their rivals, Inter have picked up only four points from four games, including a shock defeat at relegation embattled Lecce.
In the time between the Milan game and Sunday’s thrashing in the capital, events surrounding two players could have had an effect on Inter, causing their dramatic change in form.
The return of Wesley Sneijder to the side after almost two months away with a muscle strain was predicted to be the catalyst that turned Inter into title challengers after their steady climb back up the table. He made his return as a substitute against Milan and also figured in the league victory over Lazio which followed their derby success. But his performances against Lecce (0-1) and Palermo (4-4) were not to his normal standards, and he was even hauled off at half-time at Via Del Mare. Sneijder commented after the game: ‘I don’t know why I was taken off so early, but I will talk to the coach about it.’ Ranieri himself was much more forthright, stating: ‘I wanted to restore defensive security, as we were too often caught out. I’m still not sure what to do with Wesley, can he play behind the forwards in our 4-3-1-2? We shall see.’
This omission from the Tinkerman alludes to the fact Inter were faring very well without the superstar and it was difficult to find a role for him in Ranieri’s new formation. Clearly the Dutchman is one of Inter’s most important players, but in hindsight it would be a fair comment to state his return from injury came at a difficult time for the Nerazzurri and the player himself, in terms of integrating him back into the side. Perhaps Ranieri should have been a little less hurried in returning the trequartista to the starting line-up.
One player who won’t be returning to the side is midfielder Thiago Motta, recently sold to French side PSG. Motta is a player who divided Inter fans, some say he was over-rated, while others said he wasn’t appreciated for his efforts. What any Inter fan couldn’t argue with were the stats. When Motta played for Inter, they won an incredible 75% of games, whilst when they were missing him, they won only 43%.
Ranieri was against the sale, stating just 48 hours before the Azzurri international left Inter: ‘I’ve been assured he’s staying until June at least. He’s important to my plans and I’m glad he’s staying.’ It’s thought the Nerazzurri received a package eventually worth up to £10 million for the 29 year-old, but often this season the play has gone through the industrial former Genoa man, and although financially the deal was good for the Milanese giants, it’s the squad that will suffer without his precision passing and ability to thwart opposition attacks before they have started.
It was the first time in Inter’s entire history that they have conceded four goals in consecutive league games, after Palermo’s quadruple on Wednesday night was matched by Roma on Sunday. Ranieri’s new Inter was built on a solid defensive framework and emphatic finishing when needed, as demonstrated so mechanically against Milan. But when the blue-print was broken with the return of attacking talent Sneijder and holding midfielder Motta sold to the riches of PSG, an imbalance so often seen in the early parts of the season returned, as shown in the shambolic defending against Palermo and Roma.
Ranieri must now decide what to do with Sneijder, whilst searching for who replaces his French-bound international.
Luckily for the coach, consecutive home matches against struggling Novara and Bologna means a less traumatic period for the tactician to experiment and mould his side back into the force it was pre-derby.