By Mark Doyle | Italian Football Writer
Buoyed by the arrival of several new faces at Appiano Gentile towards the tail end of the summer transfer window, coach Andrea Stramaccioni hailed his president Massimo Moratti for "laying the foundations of an Inter side that will become great".
It was telling that his one minor regret was that the club had failed to land either Lucas Moura or Ezequiel Lavezzi, two attacking players; there was no mention of defenders who had got away. Stramaccioni acknowledged that "a question mark surrounds the right-back position", but even played down the significance of that obvious shortcoming by explaining: "We are helped there by the captain's [Javier Zanetti] versatility."
However, while Stramaccioni's satisfaction with Inter's recruitment campaign was understandable, given how well stocked the Nerazzurri seem in midfield and attack, there is now a real concern that the club have been guilty of a clear oversight in terms of the defence - particularly in light of last Sunday week's defeat at home to Roma.
Stramaccioni was made aware of Inter's defensive deficiencies in his very first game as caretaker boss in March, a 5-4 win over Genoa, and they would manage just one clean sheet, against Fiorentina, between then and the season's end. It was clear that a defence that had shipped more goals last season in Serie A than all but the bottom five sides needed to be overhauled - and yet Inter signed just one defender over the summer: Matias Silvestre.
Inter's Weak Case for the Defence
|0||The Nerazzurri have yet to win a competitive game at San Siro this season, losing to Hajduk Split and Roma, and drawing with Vaslui.|
|2||Inter have kept just two clean sheets in Stramaccioni's 11 Serie A games in charge to date.|
|7||The defence has been breached seven times in the first three home games of the new campaign.|
|8||Andrea Ranocchia has made 31 Serie A starts for Inter, who have kept clean sheets in just eight of those matches.|
|55||Despite finishing sixth, Inter conceded a staggering 55 goals last season. By contrast, champions Juventus shipped just 20.|
Alvaro Pereira can, of course, be deployed at left-back but he was utilised as a left wing-drifting centre midfielder against Roma and it is evident that he has been acquired for his offensive capabilities. Indeed, the arrival of the attack-minded Pereira had Stramaccioni's fingerprints all over it and the 36-year-old, a forward-thinking coach in every sense, revealed that not a single player has been signed this summer without his approval.
So, when you also factor in that the Roman felt his squad "almost complete" even before the arrivals of Walter Gargano, Antonio Cassano and Pereira, it is clear that Stramaccioni got exactly what he asked for out of this summer's transfer window. This is disconcerting, given what he has available to him in terms of central defenders.
Silvestre deserves time to settle in but the early signs have not been encouraging. At 34, Walter Samuel is a fading force, the 21-year-old Juan does not yet look ready for Serie A, while Cristian Chivu remains an accident waiting to happen... which brings us nicely onto Andrea Ranocchia.
Stramaccioni's faith in the former Genoa defender is at best perplexing; at worst horribly misplaced. Ranocchia made a lot of noise over the summer about finally proving himself at San Siro and he looked relatively (the key word in this sentence!) solid in the opening-round win at Pescara.
However, he reverted to type against Roma: getting pulled out of position with alarming regularity, all the while betraying a lack of pace that has been painfully obvious ever since he arrived at San Siro from Genoa last year. Consequently, with Inter seemingly intent on playing a high pressing game under Stramaccioni, they look horribly prone to the counterattack, a vulnerability Roma exploited time and time again, most memorably courtesy of Francesco Totti's sublime through-ball for Pablo Osvaldo.
|INTER v ROMA: 02/09/12|
|BEATEN BLACK & BLUE: Inter were repeatedly prised open at San Siro
Of course, every defence needs protection and, against the Giallorossi, Ranocchia and Silvestre were let down badly in that regard by the three players positioned in front of them. This was perfectly illustrated by the way in which Alessandro Florenzi was allowed to drift completely unmarked into the Inter area to head home the game's opening goal.
However, there are issues here that can be addressed on the training field and the tactics board. Gargano, an undoubtedly shrewd signing, requires time to form an understanding with Guarin and Pereira. Guarin, in particular, needs to be instructed to exhibit far greater discipline, both in terms of his temperament and his forays forward.
Still, the impressive performances away from home thus far this term - three games, three wins, three clean sheets - suggest that the team as a whole is guilty of tactical indiscipline when they play at the Giuseppe Meazza. This would certainly tie in with the "psychological problem" Stramaccioni spoke of after the Roma defeat.
If this issue is purely mental, the future is still bright for Inter given their coach has already proven himself to be an excellent man-motivator: Wesley Sneijder's continued presence at San Siro, as well as his rejuvenation, is testament to that.
Stramaccioni is constructing an Inter in his own image: young, daring and dynamic. Fans of free-flowing attacking football will therefore be hoping that he is a success. However, from the outside looking in, those very foundations that are in place for the construction of the next great Inter side look more than a little shaky.