‘This can’t be happening again.’ After watching his Inter Milan team slump to a 1-0 defeat away to a resilient Napoli team, surely those must be the words echoing mockingly in Claudio Ranieri’s mind.
That latest defeat has left a once resurgent Inter Milan languishing in 7th place, 9 points off the final Champions League qualifying spot. Delving deeper, that defeat has extended not only a winless run, but a scoreless one too. The Nerazzurri haven’t won since the 22nd of January, 2012 (a 2-1 home win over Lazio), which is a run of 8 games without a win. This run includes 7 losses–5 consecutive–4 of which are in the league. As far as their goal drought is concerned, they haven’t scored since their 4-4 draw with Palermo on February 1st, 2012. Thus, they haven’t scored in their last 5 matches.
What makes grimmer reading is the fact that Inter, thus far, have lost just 1 less game this season than they lost in the previous 2 seasons combined (11 this season compared to 12 over the past 2 seasons). They and Palermo have lost the same amount of games this season which is more than any club in the top 10. In addition, Inter have lost 6 games at home this season which is more than any club in the top 5 have lost overall. Under Jose Mourinho in the 09/10 season, Inter were undefeated at home. Last season, they lost just once on home turf.
But, what is ‘happening again’ for Ranieri? Well, this isn’t the first time one of Ranieri’s teams hit a bad patch of form which resulted in his ultimate doom. If one were to cast his mind back to the Italian’s second spell in charge of La Liga outfit Valencia in the 04/05 season, he’d notice some similarities. After failing to win in the opening 6 games of that season, Ranieri steadied the ship somewhat. However, another run of 6 games without a win from mid-January 2005–3 draws and 3 losses–saw him sacked.
The 08/09 Serie A season at Juventus saw a similar bad run of form displayed by the team coming down to the end of the campaign. Juventus failed to win in 7 matches, recording 6 draws and 1 defeat. They ended the season in third; nevertheless, Ranieri got the boot.
During the 10/11 season, Ranieri’s Roma team also went through some bad form. Leading up to his resignation on February 20th, 2011, his side failed to win in 4 matches, drawing 1 and losing 3 on the trot.
So, Inter’s current plight represents familiar territory for Claudio Ranieri. Though, it’s safe to say that Inter’s current bad run of form under Ranieri is worst than at his time at Valencia, Juventus and Roma. The guillotine is widely thought to be dangling treacherously over his head; but club chairman Massimo Moratti continues to pledge his support for the under-fire manager. A tough and perhaps crucial game awaits Inter at the weekend versus a high-flying Catania. Ranieri has much to mull over if he is to re-ignite a season which genuinely seems to be in its dying embers. But what does Ranieri have to consider? What is behind Inter Milan’s shocking form?
The Loss of Thiago Motta
Although he made just 10 league appearances this season due to injury, the Brazilian-born Italian international was a perennial figure at the heart of Inter’s central midfield. A wonderful passer of the ball, he led the club–by some distance too–in average passes made per game (77.7).* Wesley Sneijder was a distant second, completing 48.7 passes per game. Motta was also the club’s most accurate passing midfielder with a completion rate of 88.4%.
His long ball accuracy was phenomenal as well. He completed an amazing 85 long balls out of the 100 he attempted. That means he was accurate with 85% of his long balls. This was matched by Dejan Stankovic; but Stankovic attempted 20 less long balls, completing 68 of them.
The conclusion? Motta was very much an influential player for this team in the midfield. He kept Inter’s midfield ticking with his wonderful range of passing, and if those stats aren’t convincing enough, he chipped in with 3 goals and an assist before jetting off to France to play with PSG.
It’s no coincidence, then, that Inter haven’t won since he left. He was in the side that lost 2-0 away to Napoli in the Coppa Italia, but Inter had not won in Naples since 1997. That considered, Inter were doomed before a ball was kicked in that game, Motta or no Motta. Nevertheless, the club’s bad run of form and lack of potency in front of goal are very much related to the departure of Thiago Motta.
The Wesley Sneijder Factor
This is a rather strange one. Interestingly enough, Inter, in 12 games without Wesley Sneijder, have taken 24 points. However, in 13 games with Sneijder, Inter have taken half that total. What’s strange is that the Dutchman is the club’s linchpin. One would think that a club would do better with its linchpin in the side rather than out of it.
This alarming statistic illustrates the greed of a player that is short of confidence–confidence in his team. A look at some of his statistics tell an interesting story: In season 09/10, Sneijder’s shot per game statistic was (3.2); in season 10/11, that statistic climbed considerably to (4.3); this season, it stands at (3.6). His key passes per game statistic over the same period looks like this: 09/10 – (3); 10/11 – (2.9); and 11/12 – (2.2).
The conclusion? Sneijder seems to think he can do everything on his own in the final third. He now shoots more than he passes because he has no confidence in his team-mates and thus feels he alone can carry Inter. Either that, or he is trying to shoot himself a way out of a club that seems to be sinking fast.
That theory would certainly explain the cryptic messages he insists on baiting the media with concerning a mooted transfer to Manchester United. The downside of his biased decision-making? He has only scored once in the 47 shots he has attempted this season. Putting it mildly, that’s really not good; he has not done a good job trying to play an individual game.
The fact that Inter have done better without him is easy to explain because quite simply, the players work together as a team to get the job done. Given the fact they’ve nabbed more points without their Dutch talisman, it solidifies the fact that a team game proves more efficient than an individual one. The other players are very capable of handling matters themselves and perhaps the club doesn’t need Wesley Sneijder as much as first thought.
Inter’s frontline has truly flattered to deceive this season. Inter have scored just 34 goals this season–an average of 1.36 per game. If they keep that up, they’ll end up with a tally of 52 by season’s end–17 less than last season and 23 less than the season before that. This would also explain why Sneijder decided to take matters into his own hands.
New recruits like Diego Forlan (1 goal) and Mauro Zarate (0 goals) have been largely ineffective, Giampaolo Pazzini (5 goals) has gone off the boil in recent weeks, and Luc Castaignos (1 goal) has so far failed to find his feet in Serie A. Diego Milito has been left to carry the torch on his own this season and leads the way for his club with 12 goals. If Inter are to mount a late assault on the teams above them for that final Champions League slot, they’ve got to do better than that in the final third.
So, it seems Claudio Ranieri has much to consider thus far as he contemplates how to turn things around. Inter have really gone cold in front of goal; but their lack of potency isn’t their only problem, however. What about the defence? Part 2 will examine this…
*- Stats courtesy of whoscored.com