Positive signs for Inter against Trentino

Posted by Mike Whittaker

AP Photo/Antonio CalanniWalter Mazzarri's Inter Milan gave a thumbs-up performance in their first preseason match against Trentino.

Since Inter arrived at Pinzolo last week, Walter Mazzarri has put his squad through a punishing training regime that will hopefully see a much fitter and more disciplined team competing in the upcoming Serie A season.

Wednesday afternoon gave the world the first chance to see what effect Mazzarri was having after just seven days and 14 training sessions of intensive work, with their first friendly match of the season against the Trentino team. Using the term 'friendly' probably doesn't really describe this fixture properly. It is in fact more of a public training match to see how the players are progressing against actual opponent and not teammates.

The exhibition match against Trentino has in the past been a high scoring affair with Inter claiming victories of 6-1 in 2011 and 6-0 last season. So does that mean this year's 3-0 win shows a weaker Inter team? Not at all, the only thing it highlights is the completely different method Mazzarri is using in the early stages of this pre-season.

"The muscles haven't loosened up yet but given the workload we've put them through they're doing great." Mazzarri seemed quite happy with the performance as he spoke to the Inter Channel after the game. "Still, the lads went about the task well. In the first half their legs weren't really firing, then it got better. I'm pleased with how things are coming along. You can see that they're still bit leggy but we're working on it. The performance today has to be put into perspective. However, we'll look to learn from everything."

There were many good things I saw from this 'leggy' Inter team however, the most obvious of which was the difference between the three-man defence Andrea Stramaccioni played last season and the one we witnessed in this match. It quickly became evident that Mazzarri had significantly reduced the space between Inter's defensive line and the midfield, something that I and many other fans had criticised Stramaccioni for not doing during last season.

As expected from a pre-season match, it was a game of two very different halves, with Mazzarri keeping his 3-5-1-1 formation throughout.

The squad for the first half consisted of Samir Handanovic in goal and Marco Andreolli, Andrea Ranocchia and Juan Jesus in defence. In midfield, Jonathan ran the right flank while Yuto Nagatomo was on the left. Esteban Cambiasso played the role of the holding midfielder in the centre of the formation while Fredy Guarin and Zdravko Kuzmanovic helped to connect the midfield to the attacking third where we found Rodrigo Palacio playing a free role behind Inter's new striker, Mauro Icardi.

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Although the first half ended 0-0 against a much inferior side, Inter were dominant throughout the half, but a combination of the players being a little rusty and some excellent goal-keeping from the Trentino keeper ensured that the Nerazzurri were denied their numerous chances.

As I've mentioned, the whole team looked much more disciplined in their play, and the defence was looking solid -- obviously it is hard to judge properly against a much weaker side, but the signs are looking positive. In the first half, three players really stood out for me: Nagatomo on the left wing making dangerous plays forward throughout; Palacio, who looked the most in form of all the players, continuing on from his great performances last season, and lastly, new boy Icardi who despite not securing a goal, was a constant threat and also showed he isn’t afraid to work hard, track back and help out the team regain possession.

The second half was much better in terms of converting chances, and even the standard of play was improved, whether this was down to the seven changes in personnel Mazzarri made or what he said to the team during the break. I don't know, but considering the changes made, I am fairly sure it was the coach's words that inspired the win.

Only Kuzmanovic, Cambiasso and Palacio stayed on after the break with Juan Pablo Carrizo replacing Handanovic. The three centre-backs left the field to make way for the experienced trio of Hugo Campagnaro, Walter Samuel and Cristian Chivu (though I have to say I didn't notice any real input from Chivu in the game.) Joel Obi replaced Nagatomo on the left wing, while Ibrahima Mbaye took over the responsibility of the right flank. Ricky Alvarez and Ishak Belfodil also came on in place of Guarin and Icardi, respectively.

Mbaye was a surprise for me because he is naturally a fullback, but throughout the second half he was running up and down the right wing, supplying crosses at one end and then defending down the other as a wingback. I am happy to see that Mazzarri is trying to evolve him into a more offensive player, as I really like Mbaye and would like to see him feature more in the first team -- which he wouldn’t have much chance of if he continued as a purely defensive player.

Palacio managed to open the scoring just before the hour mark and his goal was more than deserved from the level of hard work he showed from the start of the match. Shortly afterward, Mazzarri made his final three changes of the day by replacing Cambiasso, Kuzmanovic and Palacio with three promising primavera players -- Patrick Olsen, Andrea Mira and the latest youth signing, Alessandro Capello.

These youngsters made a massive impression on the watching Inter fans, especially Mira who secured two assists (just missing out on a third) and Capello who in his first game in a Nerazzurri shirt managed to net himself a goal. After the game Capello spoke to Sky Italia: "I'm very excited after my debut, I'm happy I scored. Expectations? I don't know yet if I'll stay with the first team but what I want is to do well with the Primavera." I doubt we will see much of these two youngsters in the first team this season, but in the future I can see them both becoming important players for the club. Of course, that's presuming Inter don't sell them on before that time.

One of the main players I was looking forward to seeing play was Belfodil, though I was surprised to see him play for the full second half considering he is still fasting for Ramadan. I have to say all in all I was impressed with his hard work on the pitch and his excellent technique and skill he showed on the ball. If this is the performance he can produce when not at his best due to the fasting, then I can imagine he will become a very useful tool for Mazzarri to use once the season gets underway properly.

Unfortunately though, Belfodil came under a lot of scrutiny for missing two penalties during the game, the first of which I have to say was appalling and didn't challenge the keeper at all due to the lack of power in the shot. However, the second one was just unfortunate as he hit the ball well; he was just unlucky that it ricocheted back off the post. As Siavoush Fallahi wrote in his editorial for SempreInter.com -- "Because of these misses, everything else Belfodil did in the game is ignored and the focus is only on these two mistakes, something that is very wrong." I completely agree with this sentiment, and if Inter are to be successful this season I believe the fans should focus more on the positives of the players and the team in general more than criticising every little mistake.

Finally I can't finish this article without mentioning the star of the show, Ricky Alvarez. Alvarez has received a lot of bad feedback from the fans since his arrival in 2011, at times last season I, too, have criticised him a little too easily. But when he arrived, I saw something special in the Argentinean, something that over the seasons we have had glimpses of. He has never really blossomed into the player I hoped he would be though, until now that is. In this match he was fantastic to say the least, bringing a dangerous attacking flair to the team that kept Trentino on the back foot whenever he was on the ball. His contribution to this game was more than evident after winning both of the penalties I previously mentioned by using his control and trickery to force the opponents to make rash challenges in an attempt to dispossess him. He was then rewarded for his performance with a well-played goal that he chipped over the Trentino keeper. I truly hope Inter keep Alvarez this season because I can see him flourishing under Mazzarri, and he will bring a more technical alternative to the team in place of the raw power of Guarin, giving Inter a different approach depending on the opponent they face.

Although it's difficult to judge Mazzarri's impact to the team this early in the pre-season, all the signs are looking good for the Nerazzurri. The real test will begin on the 27th July when they face Hamburg in what I consider to be the first proper friendly match of the pre-season. But before then Inter still have a lot of hard work to do to ensure they are ready to take on the likes of Chelsea and Real Madrid in next month's tour of the United States.


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