Inter put on defensive display in U.S.
Inter ended their USA trip on Saturday with a 2-0 win over Serie A rivals AS Roma in Philadelphia. A header from Nemanja Vidic gave the Nerazzurri the halftime lead, and Yuto Nagatomo wrapped up the result with a fine strike in the 69th minute. The Milan-based outfit went unbeaten during normal time, beating Real Madrid and Roma and losing to Manchester United only on penalties.
So, what was there to learn?
For starters, Inter's defensive shape remains the same. While there were rumours ahead of preseason that Walter Mazzarri was thinking about changing from his preferred 3-5-2 formation to a more traditional 4-4-1-1 or 4-4-2, there were no indications in America that this will be the case.
The 3-5-2 puts a lot of pressure on the wing-backs to be both good defenders and attackers, and there are very few wide players who can do both. Unfortunately, Inter don't have any of them, which limits how good this side can be.
Andrea Ranocchia, Vidic and Juan Jesus have been given plenty of time to get used to playing together, however. Vidic is a much better defender than Walter Samuel or Hugo Campagnaro, and his leadership and aerial ability will be an added bonus to his arrival.
One goal conceded against three good teams is a testament that Inter is playing the type of defensive football that Mazzarri wants to see. If these preseason games are any indication, the Nerazzurri will be much stronger defensively this season.
In addition to a stronger defensive core, Inter also deployed defenders much higher up the pitch against Roma than they had against Real Madrid and Manchester United. In the two previous games, the back line had been content to sit back and defend, but the added pressure against the Giallorossi resulted in turnovers in the attacking third.
With the likes of Hernanes, Mateo Kovacic and Yann M'Vila in midfield, Inter have the athletic kind of midfielders who can play a high-pressure game and quickly turn those turnovers into goal-scoring opportunities.
While Inter have looked really strong defensively, they have struggled breaking teams down without their muses Hernanes and Kovacic. With Rodrigo Palacio and Ricardo Alvarez still recovering from the World Cup, and M'Vila being eased into Mazzarri's system, the Nerazzurri have looked short of class moving forward.
Comments from Mazzarri and Inter president Erick Thohir during the tour indicate that the club are putting a lot of pressure on the shoulders of the 20-year-old Kovacic to be the creative playmaker in the center of the park.
Kovacic has the potential to be a star in European football, but the U.S. tour has demonstrated that if he doesn't play well this season, Inter do not have many other creative options, especially as Fredy Guarin and Ricky Alvarez are likely to be sold before the season begins.
After the rush of this preseason tour, Inter have more than four weeks until they travel to Torino, Italy, for their opening match in the 2014-15 Serie A season. That is a huge gap. It will be interesting to see how Mazzarri manages the side between now and then.
The players who made the trip stateside will be ahead of most other Italian teams in terms of fitness levels, but a lot can happen between now and the end of August, and it will take all of Mazzarri's management experience to make sure that the Nerazzurri arrive in Turin fit, focused and ready to go with what looks like a team that should finish in the top three this season.