Inter’s 3-1 defeat to Udinese at the weekend signalled the first defeat of Coach Leonardo’s fledgling Nerazzurri career. It also signalled something else – mainly to Inter’s forthcoming opposition – this team are vulnerable at set-pieces.
Two of the three Udinese goals resulted from an inability to reorganise after winning the first header from a set-piece (the third was scored direct from a free-kick). In both instances, Inter’s eagerness to vacate the penalty area or push the defensive line up after winning the first ball was not necessarily a bad thing, but the lack of concentration in dealing with the second ball that came straight back towards their goal left Cristian Zapata and Maurizio Domizzi free to turn and fire (or poke, in Domizzi’s case) at goal.
They are the latest additions to a catalogue of set-piece errors that have blighted Inter since Leonardo took over. The Brazilian knows it too, which explains why he made a point of mentioning the set-piece goals in his post-match comments, defending the set-up in these situations: ”If we look at the match, we conceded three goals from dead balls that have not been from some training ground moves to surprise us, but from rebounds. It is not a problem with the man-marking.” Yet, neither Zapata’s nor Domizzi’s goals resulted from an unfortunate rebound or deflection, and they are not the only examples in Leo’s reign so far.
Michele Pazienza’s headed effort in the ex-Milan man’s first game in charge against Napoli involved no such lucky bounce. Giuseppe Sculli was another beneficiary of some questionable Inter set-piece defending in their Coppa Italia match against Genoa, as he made a short sprint past no less than four Nerazzurri players to head in from Miguel Veloso’s free kick. Against Bologna, Henry Giménez did receive some good fortune when he tucked in, unmarked, from a Bologna corner as the ball ricocheted slightly off Iván Córdoba, and then Dejan Stanković – but the fact he was left alone inside the penalty area when Inter had a six versus five advantage must be queried.
The only example of Inter misfortune is Catania’s Alejandro Gómez – another in the long line of players to score against them from a set-piece – but not before Maxi López saw his blocked effort on goal fall to him. Again, however, the numbers were in Inter’s favour – six versus three inside the penalty area. Hard to excuse a player having as much space as Gómez did to smash an effort goalwards.
Perhaps the defence is struggling in the absence of Júlio César, a top goalkeeper to keep order in these moments, unlike Luca Castellazzi, who has not covered himself in glory in recent weeks. If that were the case, then a similarly horrid record would be present in games involving the ex-Sampdoria ‘keeper when Rafael Benítez was in charge – but it is not. In the eight games Castellazzi started under Benítez, Inter conceded twice from set-pieces. For those who believe it is Walter Samuel that was the difference maker in the Benítez period – he was injured after 50 minutes of Castellazzi’s first start for the club, and so has been absent for almost all of the 35-year-old’s run in the team.
Unfortunately, the pattern suggests that the problem may lie with the Coach. It is probably no coincidence that the Milan of 2009/10 was equally as dire at set-pieces as Inter is at this current moment – just ask the now retired Hannu Tihinen, who scored the winner for Zürich at San Siro in the Champions League, or Sculli (him again), who secured all three points for Genoa from a simple set-piece goal. Leo has overseen six games for Inter, and they have conceded six goals from set-pieces – it is not a trend that can continue for much longer if they are to compete for lo Scudetto.