“1-0 to the Arsenal”, went the famous ditty that was regularly heard at Highbury in the mid-1990s after the Gunners had secured another narrow victory during George Graham’s tenure. It is a memorable chant, and one that fans of Internazionale may consider translating and adopting soon.
Roberto Mancini’s charges sit second in the Serie A standings after 12 games, level on points with league leaders Fiorentina. They have won seven of their encounters 1-0, and have only scored two goals in a single match once – a 2-1 triumph over newly-promoted Carpi in August. With a backline that has been breached only seven times, Inter have the best defensive record in the division, with Bayern Munich (four), Atletico Madrid (six) and Paris Saint-Germain (six) the only outfits in Europe’s five major leagues to have conceded fewer goals than the 18-time Italian champions.
That is the positive side of Inter’s start to the campaign; the negative is that they have found the back of the net on just 12 occasions, the same amount or fewer than every Serie A team side except Bologna, Udinese, Frosinone, Verona and Carpi, the teams who make up the bottom five. Indeed, while Mancini’s men have proven effective at shutting games down and keeping the opposition out at one end of the pitch, they have found it rather difficult to do significant damage at the other.
Mauro Icardi, the talented centre-forward who finished as Serie A’s joint-highest scorer last term, has not been in the best of form, but the primary reason for Inter’s lack of goals is the dearth of creativity behind the Argentine. Midfielders Fredy Guarin, Gary Medel, Geoffrey Kondogbia and Felipe Melo have plenty of qualities, but none of the quartet are particularly known for their guile or inventiveness.
As a result, the creative burden has hitherto fallen largely to summer signing Stevan Jovetic, who is usually deployed just behind Icardi in Mancini’s line-up. Wide men Adem Ljajic and Ivan Perisic are also capable of fashioning opportunities for team-mates, but the relative functionality of the midfield will be a concern for Inter fans, who are hoping that their club ends a six-season wait for the Scudetto this year.
It is in the bigger games that this issue could prove most costly. A 4-1 defeat to Fiorentina at San Siro in September was emphatic, and Juventus were a little unfortunate not to get more than a point after a 0-0 draw in October; 1-0 wins over Milan and Roma were impressive results, meanwhile, but on both occasions Inter’s opponents played as well as – or perhaps even better than – the Nerazzurri. Meetings with Napoli and Lazio before the winter break could be pivotal, with positive scorelines in those clashes giving Inter a fantastic chance of remaining at the summit at the midway point of the season.
Mancini, though, is still likely to be a little worried about the difficulties his side are encountering when it comes to creating chances. It is often said that title-winning teams are built on solid defensive units, but scoring goals at one end is just as important as keeping them out at the other.
About the Author – Greg Lea
Freelance football writer. Work published by FourFourTwo, The Guardian, World Soccer, Goal, The National, Squawka, Eurosport, The Blizzard + others.