“No, I didn’t expect Mazzarri to have quite this impact,” said Massimo Moratti, following Inter’s 7-0 thrashing of newcomers Sassuolo in Reggio Emilia. Città del Tricolore, Sassuolo’s home until the end of next season, had just witnessed the visitors go three goals up at half-time. Eusebio Di Francesco made a change 13 minutes in after Rodrigo Palacio opened the scoring for Mazzarri’s men. Saphir Taïder doubled the lead, before the substitute himself, 22-year-old defender Raffaele Pucino, scored an own goal. The presence of Taïder after the lofted through pass from Fredy Guarín was too much for him, as he nodded it past his own goalkeeper Alberto Pomini.
“He’s done brilliantly because he is a hard worker and he’s instilled the same sense of joy and duty that he has in everyone else. Hopefully that will continue.” Moratti added. What Mazzarri expects of himself, transcends into the team. The mentality for winning games changes. Standards are raise, intensity is heightened, and, eventually, results are yielded. It has remained part of the Italian coach’s ethos since beginning in 2001.
Inter’s squad came under heavy pressure when key players were being lost to injuries, harming what was originally their campaign for European qualification. It was, among some of the factors, which led to Andrea Stramaccioni’s departure. Though the club’s former primavera coach had built up a good rapport with president Moratti, the 37-year-old’s inexperience ultimately befalls him. An alarming 57 goals conceded last season was another, added with fears that the squad doesn’t have enough to compete for a Champions League place.
And though Mazzarri kept the squad largely the same – more players have come than left – he put the team through its paces during preseason. Fitness levels were to be increased to help them stand firm against the season’s more gruelling stages. The expected myriad of changes were felt, but widely accepted amongst the players, particularly the seniors. “We’ve already seen it [the changes]. Perhaps not everyone can see it immediately but hopefully it will be clear to everyone soon.” said Esteban Cambiasso in August.
And they were. Inter started the season on a six-game unbeaten run, including a 1-1 draw to Juventus at home and a late winner against Fiorentina for 2-1. Full back Jonathan getting the decisive strike. It came to an end when 10-man Roma came and went with a 3-0 win at San Siro, with Mazzarri describing his team as “not inferior to Roma”. The score remained the same after half-time, where the home side pushed to regain a foothold, however they failed to convert the necessary chances.
But since then they have not lost. Performances have been questioned – 3-3 draw with Torino, and 1-1 draws with both Atalanta and Bologna – however their statements of intent have remained clear since the start. Fourth in the table with a reasonable away record (three wins, four draws), as well as an improving home record. They marginally oust Juventus for most goals scored by two goals (30) and the least goals conceded with 13.
Hugo Campagnaro, who joined the club (“coincidentally” he says from Napoli) on a free transfer in the summer, has been instrumental in the team’s defensive resiliency. Though he hasn’t been able to start every game due to injuries, the 33-year-old Argentinean’s influence has been significant. And in his absence, Andrea Ranocchia, Juan Jesús and Rolando have filled in promptly as solid contingents.
Meanwhile Ricky Álvarez has enjoyed success. His four goals and three assists in 12 league outings have given credence to the claims that he is capable of contributing in the system. The attacking midfielder didn’t get onto the best of starts when he joined the Italian side in 2011, but Mazzarri’s influence has been particularly positive, given that he has already seen four managerial changes.
“The coach worked on him psychologically because he [Mazzarri] likes to talk to his players a lot,” said assistant coach Nicolò Frustalupi, talking to Sky Italia in October. “There was then work done on a physical and tactical level. They are all the components that make up a player’s performance.”
Inter’s voyage for Europe remains clear. It’s another matter entirely whether they can make it to the end of the season without too much damage to their squad. A number of contracts are set to expire in the summer, including Zanetti, Chivu, Cambiasso and Milito. With clubs around them having to battle on multiple fronts, their advantage remains in fitness levels, as well as an improvement in organisation at both ends of the pitch. Longevity, however, is remaining issue. But it shouldn’t distract Neurazzuri from at least making an appearance in next year’s Europa League.