Inter Milan players must take responsibility for poor form
In 1854 Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote the poem "The Charge of the Light Brigade" based on the ill-fated cavalry charge initiated by the English at the Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War. Here approximately 600 soldiers attacked against an impossible position. Their fate that day has lived on in history.
Inter Milan have seemingly already embarked on their own poorly planned attack on the Coppa Italia and have already been decimated in the first leg of the semifinals vs. Juventus, however, unlike the Light Brigade, Roberto Mancini's men have showed little courage or fight recently and enter the second leg broken in ragged shape. A response is needed even if it is to be a glorious defeat.
Inter President Erick Thohir certainly did not take well to his team's defeat to Juventus in Sunday's Derby D'Italia. Tuttosport claimed in Tuesday's edition that he had a meeting with the directors of the club by satellite and berated them, making clear his disappointment. After his team timidly surrendered in Turin, Thohir has made it clear that if there is no sign of a response in the midweek Coppa Italia fixture, then his team will be forced into "ritiro" (an isolated training camp) where they will prepare away from their families before they face struggling Palermo on Sunday.
This aggressive approach is perhaps necessary, as the upcoming fixtures will shape the Nerazzurri's season. After Juventus in the second leg, they face the aforementioned Palermo, then Roberto Donadoni's tricky Bologna, a struggling Torino and the hapless but plucky Frosinone. Victories in these games are imperative as they also face Luciano Spalletti's resurgent Roma in the middle of this run, making it clearer still why a return to form is critical. This is surely their last chance to reach the Champions League; if anyone thinks Inter are in crisis now, it could get a whole lot worse.
Whether Sporting Director Piero Ausilio had just got off the phone to Thohir or not, is perhaps irrelevant, but following the defeat to Juve, Ausilio embarked on a scathing attack on his team, claiming that his team lacked, among other things, "technique" and "character."
In many ways he was right. While in recent weeks the cracks in Inter's season have been papered over with rhetoric of "bad fortune" or "players gelling" now the gloves are off.
The Nerazzurri have talent in their ranks, they have one of Europe's best goalkeepers in Samir Handanovic, two center backs, Jeison Murillo and Joao Miranda, who many believed to be one of the continent's best pairings before Christmas. They also have the creative talents of Stevan Jovetic, Adem Ljajic and Ivan Perisic, while Mauro Icardi was the division's top scorer last season. Simply put; there are no excuses. This group, while not scoring goals in abundance, have been solid. While most eyes will look towards the coach for answers, some, if not most, of the blame must lie with the players.
Inter have had a tradition of having expensive talents that fail to hit the mark, but there is no reason why this group should fit into this bracket. They have proved they can match the biggest teams in the league and they have a coach who is tactically aware and motivated. Felipe Melo is a player who symbolises fight in the ranks and although his approach is often fool hardy, there is something often endearing about his will to win. It was Melo who spoke up recently on the Inter channel, stating that despite Inter only winning four of their past 13 competitive games, they are not finished yet. The Brazilian midfielder pointed to the Coppa Italia fixture and claimed that if they fight for every ball and the forwards can put away every chance, then they have a hope.
While many will peruse over formations and personnel before this almost impossible semi-final task, Icardi cited Liverpool's comeback against AC Milan in the famous 2005 Champions League final in Istanbul as a reference point and maybe he has a point. Perhaps for once Mancini must take off his scarf and dismiss the tactics and ask his players to have character and hope that something comes off. The Curva Nord will not be expecting a victory on Wednesday, but they will be expecting the team to fight.
Richard Hall is an Italian football writer contributing to ESPN, The Guardian, Daily Mail, IBWM and Football Italia. Follow him on Twitter @Gentleman_Ultra.