Sorry, I haven't read it through. Might do sometime tomorrw. It's late but I wanted to write my opinion before I got lazy...
We've been waiting for the day when I could expect our team to play like a proper top level unit for a long time. The seas have been stormy and the captain has made his bad decisions on the way, some sailors have fallen sea-sick, some are losing or have already lost the belief as the miserable journey looked heading towards doom. Although we're far from our destination, I feel as if Ranieri is sailing the Inter ship in right direction. He has frustrated me at times to incredible extents, but despite all the bad turns, in the end, he shares the same basic goals and beliefs that I do, although he might be less fixed to those.
I've pulled a fair few hairs out, but not as much in last two games. Although I did find his choice of players in attack for game against Genoa very odd, it doesn't take away from the fact that there has been more development over the last two games than I've seen in whole last few months.
What kind of development? It is the way we look far more balanced, far more solid.
Statistics from last two games (ESPN):
Against Fiorentina we made 22 shots (6 on goal) against 8 (1 on goal) of the opponent. 52% possession.
Against Genoa we made 17 shots (7 on goal) against 4 (1 on goal) of the opponent. 56% possession.
I've been probably the strongest advocate for the 4-2-3-1 formation for this set of players and at the moment we're not yet there, but we're getting close. Our current 4-4-2 is just one tiny step away (most probably the return of Wesley Sneijder) away from becoming 4-2-3-1. Even in the 4-4-2, one of the main qualities of the team that was lost since Jose Mourinho left, has been rediscovered.
Central midfield back to normal
Before I get to it... I must apologize to a certain Brazilian central defender named Lucio first of all for quietly thinking he wasn't going to offer us anything. Over last two games he has shown that he might still be able to play well.
When Ranocchia's injury put Lucio back into the line-up, I was a bit skeptical of him, but instead, I've seen performances that are defensively very solid and that so even without Lucio or Walter Samuel needing to defend like two mad men. The pairing of Thiago Motta and Esteban Cambiasso in front of them seems to have found it's place as well.
Thiago Motta said nearly two months ago: "I'm comfortable in any role but if I had to choose I really enjoy playing as one of two in front of the defence because I'm always facing the opposition, never with my back to them. I've always like that system. When we played like that under Mourinho we did really well. But I'm prepared to play in any position and any playing system."
Now it seems as if with Lucio back in the side, the defensive solidity has shown again, with Cambiasso and Motta both being significiantly more orientated towards defence than before this season in the last two games. I think, that, more than the return of Lucio has been the main protagonist in the defensive unit that has seen us give away at most 2-3 half chances of which just one actually caused any danger in last two games. These last two games is honestly the best I've seen from us defensively since Mourinho left, even if it wasn't against very difficult opponents.
Why are they less engaged in attacking and further back than usual? It's hard to get an answer to this, but it is probably something that Claudio has slowly come to re-discover. Maybe the return of Maicon helped in that department as him coming back led to the two central midfielders being bit deeper. But I doubt that is what accidentally caused this.
We have to hope now that Ranieri does not tinker with the basic defensive "setting" of this team anymore. Wide players, whether "wingers" in 4-4-2 or wide forwards in 4-2-3-1 have to help out in defensive phase, mostly with opposition full-backs (which became evident when they threw a bit of caution in the wind in last 5 minutes against Genoa and left our flanks almost empty), one of the full-backs (Zanetti) will stay back most of the times, Samuel-Lucio pair drops deep enough so that the possibility of playing balls over the top is low and Motta-Cambiasso plays facing the opponents and making sure our central defenders won't have to face pacey opponents.
Problems in attack
The next step needs to be made in attacking department. There, we've seen evidence of clear lack of quality or in case of yong players, inexperience, as well as lack of confidence. In my view, the games against Fiorentina and Genoa, we controlled the game very well in defensive part but in attack, despite having lot of chances for possession, we tended to waste it, espescially when we got close to the less spacy parts of the field.
I feel that Inter with good form in attack would've comfortably trashed both teams, scoring at least 3 goals.
There are four big issues in attacking department, all of them strongly connected, albeit the fourth one is not that big issue. Here they are in the order in which I consider them important:
1. Inability to keep the ball up. Only for short periods we are able to attack in a way that our whole team can get inside opposition half and push the opponents into or around their box. Against small teams we cannot counter-attack usually (expect from when we've already scored against them!) and there is often the situation in which our players are outnumbered in attack. Milito and Pazzini don't have the confidence and the touch to keep the ball up, Alvarez and Coutinho etc do not yet have the quality or the experience to do it.
2. There is lack of confidence that has lead to lack of form which in the end leads to more lack of confidence. People like Milito and Pazzini most of all have a touch of concrete wall, but as if that isn't bad enough, once they need to get running, it looks as if they are in one meter deep water.
3. Lack of understanding between players. The communication is lacking and movement of the player and the act of the player with the ball is often complete opposite. Playing with Pazzini and Milito as front duo, it became espescially bad since neither of them seemed to completely grasp their role in the formation. But it is not limited to them. There are lot of new (young) players in the side who do not fully read their team-mates. The amount of times a player comes short to get the ball and the pass goes long or vice versa is the most worrying. The second and the third problem both create the issue of not being able to counter-attack decisively.
4. Lack of players being able to take an opponent on one on one. Coutinho and Zarate are the only one's that can do it, but both have problems there. Zarate can take the ball past an opponent, but he usually wants to take on another opponent after that and then another... Coutinho is more of a team player and more decisive in his dribbling, but he isn't yet as good at it to completely rely on him coming through some tight spaces to ruin the shape of opponents defence.
To think positively, I believe that when Diego Forlan and Wesley Sneijder come back into the team, we will improve immediately with first and third issue which will eventually lead to improvement in second as well. They are capable of making the right decision as well as executing it. And they are good at reading the movements of their team-mates. Them coming back would definitely push our opponents much deeper into their own half and increase the time of our possession and let us get closer to the opponent area. And what they add to our play will almost certainly have positive effect on the likes of Pazzini, Milito and the young players. Already by simply steping onto the pitch they take some pressure off, but they also allow those guys to have more space and in case of strikers, let them concentrate on how to get themselves into scoring positions which will inevitably lead to goals and confidence. And with confidence and goals, you can be certain that the legs will feel much lighter too and the touch will be more gentle.
The players are good enough for Serie A
Are we as good as in 2010? One would have to be a complete lunatic to claim so, but I do believe we are capable of controlling teams in Serie A if we're set up in the right way and play with confidence. We cannot take on Barca or Real Madrid for the time being, but even when talking about Champions League, other than the two Spanish giants, we should be able to face up to any other side if we play at our possible level.
We need to rebuild, there is no denying that. But there is still much more in this team than we've seen over the last one and a half year. This side should still be capable of holding its own in Serie A if it approaches every game with the right attitude and set-up.
Our first hope should be that the trio of Maicon, Samuel, Lucio as well as Forlan and Sneijder suffer no more injuries. Even if that christmas wish comes true, we need to add cover to the team. My January shopping list would consist of a young defender, a energetic, good on the ball midfielder and a wide forward. It is hard to give particular names for me so I'd rather not, expect in one case: from what I've seen, Eduardo Vargas should be the wide forward. And it is the only position in which I see the best chance for improvement.
It is hard to get definite improvement on our players with the funds we have, espescially in an area such as central midfield - we might find someone more energetic and mobile, only to have him forget his duties constantly, not grasping or feeling comfortable in what he needs to do or being far too over-eager when defending. Until we have really started to play as good team in both defence and attack, finally get to a point when all the basics of our gameplay are strongly rooted again, we should keep the key area of the pitch like central midfielder the way it has been for past two games.
Motta and Cambiasso paired deep in front of the two centre-backs. Once our attacking play is good enough to create chances and everything, we can start to think about using Andrea Poli (whose potential as a central midfielder I liked a lot against Genoa even when he played as a left winger) or someone new. At the moment, in that area, we've been solid and it is not the place we should start tinkering with. Although I feel as if there are a fair few people around here that might want to do so. I believe that we've found a balance there that suits our players strenghts (or in covering their weaknesses) best, the only issue remaining is to get another department working much, much better which is down to individuals rather than the base set-up of the team, which in its current form should create an environment for good attacking play.
Let us pray that Ranieri continues this re-evolution towards the 4-2-3-1 tactic and keeps the delicate balance of midfield and attack we have had in past games. The players need to stay fit at least until we get everything back in order. And if someone should get injured after we've gotten back in order, then we'll have hopefully brought in some good cover in January.
As for rising in the table, lets take it game by game, spot by spot.