Inter Milan’s hard fought victory over table toppers Roma on Saturday night underlined Roberto Mancini’s side’s title credentials, but will the manager’s innate caution ultimately scupper their Serie A ambitions?
Ten domestic trophies across three countries, including three Serie A titles and the English Premier League, should make a manager one of the hottest properties in the game. But there have always been things about Italian’s managerial career that have made me go, well, …hmmm (as I scratch my chin unconvinced).
The most glaring gap in Mancini’s CV is his consistent failure to make an impact in European competition. His inability to transfer domestic superiority with Inter Milan and Manchester City, in particular, into competitiveness on that higher stage leaves him some way short of the managerial top bracket for me.
That said, with Inter Milan not contesting any European trophies this season (after finishing a disappointing eighth last term), Mancini can put making good his European pedigree to one side for now. In fact, failing to qualify for even the Europa League should be to Inter’s advantage this time round.
It’s a theme we’ve seen in other leagues in recent seasons. Big clubs with only domestic commitments making a concerted push for league titles – Lyon and Liverpool come immediately to mind. Mancini’s Inter could well, should well, join that list.
And the Nerazzurri have started the season well. On the evidence so far, Mancini is building a physical, competitive and defensively sound outfit.
After 11 games, they have conceded only seven goals and amassed seven clean sheets, the best defensive record in Serie A. The latest came in their victory over Rudi Garcia’s outfit on Saturday night.
I like 1–0 wins. When you don’t concede a goal and you have players like Edin Džeko, Carlos Tevez or David Silva, you win 90%. I prefer we are boring for two to three matches and we win 1–0. If you watch teams that won titles, they conceded very few goals.
So said Mancini back in his City days – and it’s pretty clear this season that he sees Inter’s Serie A campaign in a similar vein. In fact, six of Inter’s seven wins so far this season have been by Mancini’s favoured score line!
His summer transfer business also pointed to a more hardnosed and robust approach, shifting out the creative midfield talent of Mateo Kovacic and Hernanes for the more functional and physical Geoffrey Kondogbia and Felipe Melo. Hard running dogs of war replacing ball players.
Unquestionably, Mancini’s cautious approach, a throwback to the catenaccio style that once dominated Italian football, has helped Inter to become a much more difficult nut to crack.
But at the same time, Inter have struggled to find the back of the net – scoring only 11 times in their 11 league fixtures. Last season’s Serie A top scorer Mauro Icardi has suffered most with the manager’s change of emphasis.
Dropped for Saturday night’s clash with Roma, the Argentine has scored only three times so far this term, leading him to crib about a lack of service.
Mancini may dismiss such complaints as a necessary by product of his grand design, but there’s little doubt that the lack of a creative spark in midfield and the fact that none of his midfield three are inclined to run past his strikers makes the job of those up top more difficult.
It’s also worth noting that title rivals Roma, Fiorentina and Napoli have all scored over 20 goals so far this season, and the latter two have comparable defensive records with that of Inter.
In fact, Maurizio Sarri’s Neapolitans and Paola Sousa’s Fiorentina currently seem to offer the kind of attack/defence balance required of champions.
Whether they can maintain their form over the course of the season is open to question, but then so too is Inter’s ability to maintain a title challenge built so thoroughly on defensive foundations.
That said, Mancini has shown the required domestic pedigree in the past. And Inter’s hopes will surely be helped by a lighter workload compared to that the other Serie A hopefuls.