x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Claudio Ranieri makes quick fixes as he starts turnaround at Inter

The new coach has started well, but he must address the issue of an ageing squad.

Claudio Ranieri, second left, took over Inter and has won his first two games in charge.
Claudio Ranieri, second left, took over Inter and has won his first two games in charge.

Just after an hour into Claudio Ranieri's first match in charge of Inter Milan, last Saturday at Bologna, a trio of ominous moments, in quick succession, reminded him abruptly of the challenges he faces.

First, the new head coach watched Javier Zanetti set off on a run from midfield, the kind of surge that puts any observer in awe of the Inter legend. Here was the 38-year-old Zanetti producing a bullish show of initiative. Alas, for the veteran, looking for a simple, short pass, he gave possession away, carelessly. Careless is not a word that has often been applied to Zanetti in his 758 matches for the club.

Inter led 1-0. It had been a pleasing first 60 minutes of Ranieri's reign. Yet soon after Zanetti's error, another Inter veteran, Lucio, rashly conceded a free kick just outside his own penalty area.

Bologna's Gaston Ramirez executed it superbly; Julio Cesar's save was even better. But Inter had now turned jittery. Defending the subsequent corner, Walter Samuel - yes, another veteran - engaged in one of his habitual wrestling matches with an opponent and conceded a penalty. From it, Bologna equalised.

To their and the new coach's credit, Inter would come back to win 3-1. Ranieri's first game, away, had yielded success more than his luckless predecessor, Gian Piero Gasperini, managed in all five competitive outings of his tenure.

Ranieri then took on the stiffer task of a Champions League trip to Moscow. He won again, 3-2. The new coach allowed himself a pat on the back in the Luzhniki Stadium on Tuesday night by saying: "All I have done is play the players in the roles they do and know best."

Ranieri, the "Mr Fixit" of Italian football after his resurrection jobs at Parma, Juventus, and Roma, will still be concerned. Against CSKA, as against Bologna, Inter let a lead slip. They were winning 2-0 against the Russians, who recovered to 2-2 before Mauro Zarate's brilliant volley put Inter, the 2010 European champions, into contention in the group.

The veterans, like Lucio, the defender who has now scored twice in two games, might feel reassured Ranieri knows better how to use them than Gasperini indicated, but the evidence is still that Inter are tiring too soon in matches.

Rafa Benitez noticed that a year ago, at the beginning of his doomed period as head coach. If the veterans are to remain Inter's mainstays, they will need to be managed in such a way as to master games for more than just 45 minutes, or an hour.