Serie A Betting: Inter back from dead
When Stramaccioni took over at Inter, the club was in eighth place and ten points behind third place.
Under Andrea Stramaccioni, Inter are on the cusp of the remarkable achievement of Champions League qualification, despite being close to dead and buried twice this Serie A season.
Serie A sees to have its very own Roberto di Matteo. The Chelsea boss has confounded expectations at Stamford Bridge for turning around what had been a disastrous season for the Blues under Andre Villas Boas.
Since his March appointment, Chelsea have lost just once in 16 games, beaten Barcelona to reach the Champions League final, are 3.1 to beat Bayern in 90 minutes next month, are in next week's FA Cup final (1.74) to beat Liverpool to the trophy, and are closing in on fourth place in the Premier League for which they are (2.28).
The dilemma for Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich is whether he rewards his interim appointment with a longer-term deal. The same question is being addressed at Inter Milan, another club that that has struggled since Jose Mourinho left as boss, after rookie coach Andrea Stramaccioni's unbeaten run extended to six games with Saturday's 2-1 win over Cesena.
This weekend's round of matches have left the four teams chasing the final Champions League place behind Juventus and AC Milan locked on 55 points. When Stramaccioni took over at Inter, the club was in eighth place and ten points behind third place.
After Udinese beat Lazio 2-0 on Sunday night, those two sides joined Napoli and Inter in joint-third. That the 2009 Champions League winners are even in contention for a place in next year's competition this season is remarkable: the season began with new coach Gianpiero Gasperini sacked after failing to win any of his first five games; Claudio Ranieri was then dismissed after Inter went on a run of eight defeats in 12 games.
When over Massimo Moratti turned to Stramaccioni a month ago, putting faith in the man who one day earlier had coached Inter's youth team to victory in the final of the inaugural NextGen Series, an unofficial Champions League for Under-19s, it was seen as a short-term step. He had a good pedigree, that was for sure: he won provincial and national titles with Under-16 side Zeta Sport, and then Romulea Under-14s. Roma signed him up, and he won national tiles for them in 2007 (Under-14s) and 2010 (Under-16s). When Inter signed him last summer to coach their Under-19s, they beat off competition from Arrigo Sacchi, who wanted him for Italy's Under-17s.
Gazzetta dello Sport wrote that Stramaccioni's success is down to "dialogue, work & philosophy" but he has not been afraid to make big decisions: last week, he dropped Diego Forlan from the squad for the important match against Udinese. He spoke of how much he wanted the Uruguayan to do well, and sympathised with his plight. He said similar when asked why he left Giampaolo Pazzini on the bench for an earlier match. "I wanted him to come on and score, but it just didn't happen," he said.
Pazzini was restored to the lineup for the Cesena win but Stramaccioni changed his formation, this time playing a 4-3-2-1 with Pazzini behind Wesley Sneijder and Ricky Alvarez, with Esteban Cambiasos bossing a three-man midfield. It worked, and though Inter conceded an early goal again (for the third time in six games), they recovered and deserved the win.
The only reason their price to finish third in Serie A in (5.0) is because of the fixtures they have coming up: Parma next week, then title contenders Milan followed by Lazio, who themselves are (3.6). Napoli have the best goal difference and are (1.54) with Udinese (3.6).
One of the other three teams should have wrapped up third spot long ago, but Udinese, Lazio and Napoli have all slipped up. The team in third place this time last season, Napoli, had 68 points, compared to 55 now. But their failings have allowed Inter to at least consider the prospect of Champions League football next season and for that, Moratti can thank Stramaccioni.
Whether he rewards him with a contract for next season remains to be seen:
Sky Italia reported last week that Italy boss Cesare Prandelli would take over next season, but on Saturday Moratti gave his strongest hint yet that Stramaccioni could stay. "We're only thinking of him for the future," he said.
Stramaccioni laughed off the story after the game and joked that his 12 agents were working on his new contract. If Inter finish third, the miracle will be complete and Stramaccioni's achievement can be compared to Di Matteo's. Perhaps appointing interim coaches will catch on.