One city, two teams. One heading in the right direction, while the other is fast approaching crossroads of their own.
Inter strikers Samuel Eto’o and Diego Milito continued their prolific start to the season as they both netted in a convincing 3-1 win against a Napoli side low on morale. With the suspended José Mourinho looking on, his side took only two minutes to break the deadlock as the Cameroon star prodded the ball home followed by Milito’s fifth goal in as many games. Lúcio made the game safe after a sustained period of Inter dominance – ‘dominance’ being the operative word.
In seasons past, Inter patron Massimo Moratti conducted a non-existent transfer policy where he snapped up mediocre players in exchange for an extortionate amount of money – Zé Elias and Vampeta spring to mind. Moratti has since learned that quality comes at the same price, and has since embarked on shrewd transfer campaigns in the last four seasons, and none more so than this summer. Barcelona offered a cash-plus-player exchange for Zlatan Ibrahimović – the player was Eto’o. The cash brought in the likes of Milito, Lúcio and Wesley Sneijder. All these players have made Inter an even more formidable outfit, and proved their worth by putting in outstanding performances in the win against the Partenopei.
Mourinho’s team now play a more fluid system, and while the emphasis was to power past opponents last season, the Inter Coach has now added a semblance of balance and cohesion to their play. No one player is over-worked, and as a result, their fitness and sharpness has increased ten-fold. Napoli struggled to match Inter’s dominance in all areas of the pitch, and was given a torrid time by Milito. While Eto’o is the bigger name and gets most of the attention, it’s the Argentine’s work ethic and strike-rate that make him one of the world’s most feared strikers. Paolo Cannavaro and Matteo Contini were made to look rather ordinary by Il Principe’s movement and runs across the Napoli back-line, and that proved to be their undoing as their nervousness grew as the game progressed. Most say it is hard to replace quality with something better. Milito has quite emphatically disproved that theory.
The red-and-black half of Milan go from one tumultuous week to the next. Two wins and two defeats in five Serie A games have seen them float around in mid-table mediocrity, and rookie Coach Leonardo is already feeling the pressure from the media, expectant fans…and we have not even mentioned Vice-President Adriano Galliani yet.
Fans voiced their frustration over an underwhelming transfer campaign this summer, and have since followed by voting with their feet. Attendances are down, the players are down, and the dressing room is devoid of players with emotion. Things got so bad, Galliani even played the Champions League anthem in the dressing room before the game against Bologna, but at least it provoked a reaction of some sort. Unfortunately, the anthem could not be played before and during the midweek match away to Udinese, and it showed.
Leonardo started with a 4-3-1-2 line-up with Seedorf again called upon to provide that creative spark, but again both he and his side were bereft of ideas, and only with the introduction of the under-performing Ronaldinho did the Milanese giants produce the kind of football many have been accustomed to. While issues need to be addressed in defence and up front, Milan has serious problems regarding their midfield. Andrea Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso simply do not dominate games like they once did, while ex-Arsenal star Mathieu Flamini’s star is fading fast. Gattuso did what was asked of him, however, and worked tirelessly to close down the opposing midfield. Both Pirlo and Flamini lacked both effort and inspiration, and the latter’s non-existent contribution was aided further by his sending off after picking up two yellow cards in a minute.
On the basis of this performance, it would appear that Leonardo’s time is running out. Europe may be his salvation – be it a good Champions League run, or the continual blaring of the Champions League anthem leading to entry into next seasons premier club tournament.