As the second international break for the Euro 2020 Qualifiers continues to unfold and Serie A teams have now 12 games on their back, it’s time to draw some initial conclusions. At the top of the league table there is the usual Juventus with 32 points, followed one point behind by an Inter side who are giving their best to prevent the Old Lady from winning the 9th Tricolore in a row. New coach Antonio Conte is doing an extraordinary job at Inter, as proved by the fact that all the managers who preceded him collected less points in the first 12 league rounds.
In the last match day, the Nerazzurri gained three important points against Hellas Verona, in a game which started with a risky penalty caused by Samir Handanovic, who knocked down Mattia Zaccagni. The home team didn’t give up however, and obtained another victory thanks to Matias Vecino’s header and a fantastic slider by Nicolò Barella.
Inter’s management have always been careful about declaring their seasonal goal being the Serie A Scudetto, of course, as the team first need to obtain their qualifications for the Champions League. However, because of such an unexpected great start, the whole environment surrounding the Nerazzurri – journalists and fans – has been starting to think about the possibility of overstepping Juventus and win the league.
This is just a best-case scenario hypothesis and, as CEO Giuseppe Marotta said many times, the team needs to keep their feet on the ground and continue to work hard every day for the next match. When it comes to the Champions League, the Meneghini have not set any clear goal, even if supporters would expect to reach at least the knockout stages – which seems complicated at the moment.
The match against Hellas Verona earned the Nerazzurri their 10th campionato win this season. Victory is a synonym of goals, and Inter have indeed found the back of the net in all their initial 12 games of a Serie A championship for the first time since the 1997-98 season (under the guidance of Luigi Simoni, and with a certain Fenomeno, aka Ronaldo Luis Nazario da Lima in the team).
That’s the best seasonal start any supporter could want, and it’s mostly due to Antonio Conte imposing a new strong mentality over the team, but also to all the players giving the best they can. It’s not all sunshine and roses however, because on the other hand Juventus have still managed to remain at the top of the league despite not playing as good as expected. Should Maurizio Sarri manage to improve the Bianconeri’s game and exploit their full potential, it will be very hard for Inter to keep their same pace.
In Champions league, the Nerazzurri are not doing as good as domestically, currently lying 3rd in Group F with a three-point gap versus Borussia Dortmund, courtesy of a last game where they allowed the Germans to come back from 0-2 at half time to wrap a 3-2 win. There are just two games left, against Slavia Praha away and with Barcelona in Milan. Antonio Conte’s boys will have to win both to still bear a chance to get qualified for the knock-out stage. Should they fail to do so, there will still likely be good opportunities in Europa League, where the level of the teams is lower.
Management, coach and players
Since December 2018, there has been a breath of fresh air at Inter’s headquarters in the name of Giuseppe Marotta, who became the new CEO and joined Sport Director Piero Ausilio. Since then on, many things changed from a managerial point of view, especially when it comes the club’s authority – just think about how the Mauro Icardi soap opera was handled. The new management did well so far, buying quite a number of strong players and selling the redundant ones, even if some key functional roles are still uncovered, as Antonio Conte himself said many times during his recent interviews.
Conte has indeed been the real star of the team so far and probably the best purchase from the transfer-market. His influence on the players and of course the change in the game-style were visible from the very first matches. He succeeded in giving hi side a winning mentality, as stated by Nicolò Barella in an interview: “He has a different attitude, a way of talking to you that gives you something new. For him I would get myself killed, that applies to all his players. And this makes the difference.”
Many players have been standing out in this first part of the season and most of them joined the club only last summer. Looking at the strikers, top two scorers Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez have played most of the games as first-string due to the injury of Alexis Sanchez who unfortunately could play only in a few occasions. The two starting forwards have tallied 14 goals so far, showing that they quickly found the right feeling between themselves. Young prodigy Sebastiano Esposito also joined some matches as a substitute, proving to have the potential to become a complete player.
In midfield, the key sensation was former Sassuolo’s Stefano Sensi, who showed with assists and goals what he is capable of despite having to miss half of the games due to an injury. Nicolò Barella, another new entry, evidenced himself for his capacity of running box-to-box, confirming to be the pure talent he had already shown in Cagliari. Marcelo Brozovic has been the light of the Nerazzurri and a fundamental playmaker for the team. Wingers Antonio Candreva and Kwadwo Asamoah also a good start, especially the former appearing totally revitalized by his new coach’s hand, whereas Matias Vecino and Roberto Gagliardini haven’t done anything special yet.
The defense did good despite conceding too many goals. Diego Godin has been a positive addition to the pack, but also found some difficulties to adapt to a three-man defense, being used as he is to play in a four-defender module. Milan Skriniar and Stefan De Vrij maintained their level from one year ago. Young Mattia Bastoni has been an important substitute, putting his potential and qualities to good use. Last but not least, Samir Handanovic confirmed to be one of the strongest goalkeepers in the world, despite his isolated mistake in the last match.
All things considered, the Nerazzurri appear to be on the right path to put Juventus’ domination at least under discussion. However, being them Pazza Inter after all, (“Crazy Inter,” as fans affectionately call them) there is nothing ever set in stone when it comes to the Suning-managed, black-and-blue club.