Inter’s runaway train form came to a screeching halt away to Lecce in a surprise 1-0 defeat but the question to start Wesley Sneijder ahead of the in-form Ricky Alvarez will come under questioning.
Indeed, there is no doubting the brilliance of the Dutchman whose vision, craft and invention make this Inter side an incredibly different entity. It was through his spark which saw the Nerazzurri claim an unprecedented treble under former Coach José Mourinho, playing in a system built around getting the most of Sneijder’s skills and enterprise.
Those times however now seem to be a lifetime ago. Since then, Rafael Benitez, Leonardo and Gian Piero Gasperini failed to achieve anything close to what Mou managed in his second season. It’s not surprising that under the tenure of those three coaches, Sneijder hasn’t looked his best. Under Benitez, Sneijder claimed to be playing more as a striker rather than a trequartista which didn’t suit his strengths whereas under Gasperini, Sneijder was shunted into a wider role to fit into the 3-4-3 model however failed to replicate the effectiveness he could from a central position.
Once Ranieri was instilled as Coach, he decided to revert to type – playing an incredibly efficient brand of football which saw Inter force themselves up the table, from fourth bottom to being three points off a Champions League spot. Despite the criticism from several sections of the media, Ranieri felt pragmatism is what best suits this ageing Inter squad. His thinking was justified as Inter produced a winning sequence of eight games without dropping a single point and playing a 4-4-2 system which allows for tactical flexibility.
The young Argentinean’s star has shone particularly under Ranieri whilst playing on the left of midfield. Without possession, Alvarez has illustrated a level of discipline ahead of Cristian Chivu, covering and masking the Romanian who’s on his last legs however it’s with possession where Alvarez has been able to show why he deserves to start. Tucking in behind the strikers, Alvarez has demonstrated great awareness and smooth intricacy which has been integral to Inter’s recent resurgent form.
Alvarez’s ability to be adaptable and flexible is perhaps what makes him more suited as to how Ranieri wants the side to play. In fact, Ranieri’s decision to substitute Sneijder for Alvarez at half time after experimenting with a 4-3-1-2 system back to the trusted 4-4-2 formation suggests that. But it’s a question which Ranieri has to pose of himself and Sneijder.
Does Sneijder justify a starting spot based on his past form? Does Alvarez’s potential indicate the exit door is where Sneijder will be heading in the summer? The risk to accommodate Sneijder paid no dividends against Lecce and with Diego Forlan still to return, Ranieri has to make decisions which gets the best out of all his players. The improved form and partnership of Diego Milito and Giampaolo Pazzini being broken up would seem somewhat illogical considering the positive results which Inter have been getting prior to this shock defeat.
In the past, the Tinkerman has shown his ability to be cerebral and have little time for nostalgia. Ranieri has to show both his capability to rotate and cold hearted culling for the better of the team as they look to propel into the lucrative Champions League spots.