Inter's attitude and tactics have improved but their issues go deeper
Nerazzurri fans finally caught a break over the weekend when a reinvigorated Inter beat Lazio 3-1 at the Stadio Olimpico under the tutelage of caretaker Stefano Vecchi. Unfortunately, there were plenty of reasons to worry, reasons that go beyond the fact that Lazio were coming off a Coppa Italia final loss to Juventus or Inter's quest for Europe already being over.
And to think that a lot had gone right for Vecchi's men. For a start, the coach got his tactics spot on, finally balancing out attack and defence well, a rarity this season. Even during Lazio's strong opening spell, Inter were able to keep possession in the opposition half and gradually get themselves into the game.
Compare this to Stefano Pioli's teams, who generally didn't play very well on the road. This includes their 1-0 away wins against Bologna, Sassuolo or Palermo -- all part of the sacked coach's early string of victories.
There's more: The attitude was miles away from the abject surrender we witnessed in Genoa earlier this month (0-1). Beyond the two penalties they were denied (and the one earned and converted by Keita Balde) Lazio didn't create many chances, either. But that's the point: While the Aquile didn't do much to win the game, Inter almost conspired to lose it, which goes back to how poorly the squad has been built: Even when things mostly go right, this team is a liability.
Take Gary Medel's untimely lunge on Keita, for which the former Barcelona trainee was given his marching orders, or Jeison Murillo's awful tackling or, to cap it off, Yuto Nagatomo shoving Sergej Milinkovic-Savic in order to avert danger. Simply stated, Inter did as well as they could with a limited back line, getting a strong performance for lifetime benchwarmer Marco Andreolli but also witnessing Nagatomo struggle to do anything with his possession.
Even the midfield, which gradually improved as the match went on, needs to work out a more comfortable rapport. Inter were countering, but didn't create many threats themselves. A look at their three goals says it all: Marco Andreolli scoring from a corner and Antonio Candreva seeing (another) poor cross clumsily deflected by Wesley Hoedt. Only the third showed some sign of build-up play but it still felt like Marcelo Brozovic just improvised something and a dispirited Lazio were too lazy to adjust.
Many fans will use Eder's strong performance to bash the supposedly lazy Mauro Icardi, his sensational run (with its several dribbles) sticking out. What they miss is that all the trickery in the world was more smoke than fire: It's satisfying to watch a scrapper like Eder fight for every ball but it's hardly an optimal way to play the counter. Even with Ivan Perisic and Candreva performing reasonably well, there wasn't much going on up front -- just as there wasn't when Icardi played.
Things don't look as if they'll magically improve overnight, either, with financial fair play considerations potentially forcing Inter to sell before they buy. Talk around the club already indicates that Ivan Perisic could be on his way out.
The good news is that director Walter Sabatini is on the case and it looks like he's trying for Kostas Manolas and Antonio Rudiger, both players he originally signed back in his Roma days. Beyond the occasional big name, the former Giallorossi director made a living out of converting bargains (Danilo could be one, as could Lucas Digne or Dalbert of Nice) into reliable defenders, a trait of his at the Olimpico. Whatever the situation, however, Inter will be stuck with more of the current squad than many would be comfortable with. It can only be hoped that Danilo D'Ambrosio and Nagatomo (who have both received extensions in the past year) will be far down the depth chart and will work most of their magic behind the scenes.
Speaking of the team, Joao Mario and Gabigol look set to miss this Sunday's season finale against Udinese because of their decision to leave the bench early in Rome.
Luigi Delneri's visit is a bit of a Catch-22 because Inter can't win. Their opponents have even contrived to lose 4-0 to Bologna recently, hardly an achievement. Their only Serie A win on the road this year? Pescara. Nobody will be applauding a win with another disaster of a season exiting stage left.
Then again, this season's Inter have the amazing ability to resurrect dead and dying opponents, whether it's gifting Sampdoria one of their four away wins or Cagliari one of their three. Inter fans can only hope they begin their turnaround as soon as possible.
Edoardo Dalmonte covers Inter Milan for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @EdoDalmonte.