Inter Not Yet at the Level to Despair for Early UCL Exit

Going from Champions League finalists to getting eliminated in the Round of 16 surely stings, but it’s more of a missed opportunity than a failure for Inter. Having dominated Serie A, they would have been able to concentrate their energies on repeating what they did in the past campaign. It turns out that their sizeable gap stems more from the weakness of their domestic competitors and the league in general than from their brilliance.

The Clashes with Atletico Madrid

European fixtures are a matter of inches, and the Nerazzurri botched a few things in the double meeting with Atletico Madrid, which aren’t superior and were even in poor form. The first mistake was not going for the kill in Milan, as they took the foot off the gas too early. Granted that the Wanda Metropolitano is a hellish place to play when it is rocking, they didn’t have their usual mentality and bravado in the return leg, letting the opponents have the ball and dictate the rhythm, which almost never happens. They ultimately played not to lose rather than to win. The conservative subs made things worse.

Losing after a PK shootout is rough, but the Colchoneros did more than enough to win in the 90 minutes, wasting a clear-cut chance in stoppage time. In the end, a couple of untimely injuries and questionable signings turned out to be more damaging than expected. Davide Frattesi was pretty much the only serviceable option off the bench.

Inter learned in the most bitter way that being a juggernaut in Serie A doesn’t necessarily translate to European success, a lesson that their archrivals, Juventus, are all too familiar with. Going all the way in the past campaign makes things look worse than they should. However, there’s no recipe for being year-to-year contenders. Way wealthier teams haven’t cracked the code. Manchester City needed several stabs to finally achieve it, and PSG haven’t yet, for instance.

Last Year’s Run

Perhaps the mistake, not from them, was to see making the final as a starting point. In reality, everything resets, and each path has its own twists and turns, where small details like a poor half, a bad approach, a missed scoring opportunity, or dubious changes make all the difference. Unfortunately, everybody tends to look just at the result, which is what will stay in the annals, but how it came to be should be taken into consideration too. It’s not likely they were blown out throughout 180 minutes.

On the other hand, getting ousted so soon tarnishes what they accomplished in the previous edition a little. Nobody is going to take away the trip to Istanbul, but they didn’t exactly run through a murderer’s row to get there. Milan were the best opponent they topped. Tangling with somebody you’re very familiar with always removes a layer of difficulty. In the end, they were eliminated by the first true powerhouse they took on in their current iteration. Perhaps the fact that they didn’t dominate their group, drawing twice with Real Sociedad, shouldn’t have been glossed over so quickly.

The Level of Success of the Present Inter Season

Some would be tempted not to celebrate their season too much after winning “just” the Scudetto in the same way it happened to Juventus deep into their glorious multi-year run. It wouldn’t be fair. First of all, and it’s obvious, Inter haven’t taken home multiple titles in a row destroying the competition. Their return to winning ways and the momentous 20th berth shouldn’t be taken for granted, even if their opponents self-combusted for the most part.

Moreover, while they have had the same core players for a few seasons, they have undergone big changes as late as last summer. Even though Giuseppe Marotta is masterful, they haven’t and can’t operate like a super-duper team from an economic standpoint. They had to cash in on André Onana to foot multiple additions and lost linchpins like Marcelo Brozovic and Milan Skriniar because they had more alluring offers. Certainly, they haven’t signed players for crazy fees and with insane salaries to try to get over the hump.

Inter have reportedly turned the corner financially, and, while they aren’t swimming in gold, it appears that major sales will no longer be necessary to survive and be able to do something on the transfer market. If that is true and they have roster continuity and manage to retain Simone Inzaghi, which is likely, this season could be the start of a cycle that aims to get back to the top of the mountain, relegating last year’s one to what it what: an outlier where they were good enough to seize the opportunities in front of them.

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