Straight from the dark heart of Italy
If Inter are indeed ready to let Wesley Sneijder leave for Manchester United then Gian Piero Gasperini is either unaware of the transfer or he is wasting valuable time trying to fit the Dutchman into a new system.
The new coach’s preferred formation is 3-4-3 and for all his protestations that he will be flexible in his approach when the need arises the former Genoa boss has rarely if ever diverted from his tried and trusted system.
While it may be easier for the attack-minded right-back Douglas Maicon to play in a more advanced position, enabling Lucio, Cristian Chivu and Andrea Ranocchia to form the back three, finding position for Sneijder is more of a puzzle.
Inter are currently in their traditional pre-season retreat in Pinzolo in the mountainous Trento region and on Sunday they had their second outing against a local side – who on these occasions provide cannon fodder for the Serie A sides to rack up a cricket score.
In the first game earlier last week, Gasperini had inserted Sneijder in a front three to no great effect – after all, the Dutchman isn't a striker. On that occasion the coach changed to a 3-4-1-2, but this time he was back in a more familiar central position alongside Dejan Stankovic, with the youthful and hard-running Davide Santon and Joel Obi working along the flanks.
The final result – a 6-1 victory, with Sneijder getting on the scoresheet – was far from the goal-fest one would have expected, especially with Samuel Eto’o returning to the central striker position flanked by Goran Pandev and impressive new signing Ricky Alvarez.
Part of the problem stemmed from Sneijder’s inability to spray passes to either flank from a deeper role – not entirely in front of the defence, but from just inside his own half. There was plenty of headshaking and raised arms in apology as a number of passes driven out wide failed to find their target, either through lack of accuracy or the wingback not having made a run in time to get into a more advanced position.
The situation improved when Stankovic dropped a little deeper and Sneijder was given more freedom in his more familiar trequartista role, turning Inter for all purposes into a 3-3-1-3 – and therefore a much more potent threat going forward.
The Dutchman was back to his buzzing best, playing quick one-twos around the edge of the area and taking his opportunities to racing into the central spaces created by Eto’o, who drifted wide to play in a low cross tapped home by Sneijder.
"They've spelt your name wrong, Sammy"
The little man trotted back to the halfway looking a lot happier with himself but the overall impression is that he will find it difficult to adapt to a more withdrawn role – and that Inter won't get the best out of him in that position.
If he does start in the centre of the pitch then his natural tendency will be to burst forward and attack the edge of the opposition penalty area – but in Italy that is where teams like to lay out their traps to break play up. With the full-backs/midfielders converted to wing-backs and pushing forward, Inter could well become outnumbered in midfield, with only one player to protect a back three who all lack pace.
Gasperini claimed he was satisfied with the way Sneijder went about his task, and there is no denying that he brings his team-mates into play whenever he has the ball – but to much greater effect when he is positioned further forward or not required to defend the edge of his own area.
There were two pivotal moments on Sunday that summed up the player and in turn his coach’s predicament. First, receiving the ball just outside the area, he dallied but still had enough skill to get away from his opponent... only to knock the ball straight into touch. Then, an opposition attack broke down and when the ball ran loose inside near the centre-circle he didn’t even look up before a pinging a perfect pass into space for Eto’o race through on goal.
In a high-octane league game or Champions League tie it is clear that Sneijder positioned in the more advanced position is what you want to see – be it at Inter or United.
Inter still need to find a few new players. There is no point in relying on Eto'o to do it all like they did last season when you've got a disaster like Chivu at the back.
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