Luciano Spalletti has pulled off the best rear-guard action since Rorke’s Drift, as his Nerazzurri side managed to fend off the waves of Neapolitan attacks. His side dug deep and impressed, defensively they were excellent, and it is no surprise that they are drawing plaudits, but how far can they go? On the one hand, they have won seven and drawn two and have one of the most lethal forwards in the league. On the other, they are fighting stronger opposition who are further on in terms of Scudetto challengers, but does this rule them out completely?
With wins over Fiorentina, Roma, Milan and a draw against Napoli, nobody can say that the Nerazzurri are not taking on the best in the division and getting results. Only Bologna have managed to hold Spalletti’s men this term and this means that fans of Internazionale find themselves in an uncomfortable position. That’s because whilst they look defensively superb, Samir Handanovic is finding his best form again and Mauro Icardi is scoring for fun, it is hard to believe that they will still be there in May. Inter are at the beginning of a project that is going better than expected, but they are still fallible.
Inter’s squad is a strong one in comparison to most in Serie A, but it has some potentially glaring issues should the wrong men get injured. Firstly, few would deny they are reliant on Icardi, and to a point this is understandable, his strike rate and form easily allows him to be in the same breath when talking about Europe’s premier strikers. Should he get injured, especially long-term, then Spalletti will find himself with a huge problem. Nobody can criticise Eder for his industry, but can you lead a title challenge with him spearheading the line? Andrea Pinamonti has huge potential, but he has hardly featured and is too young. With the enigma Gabigol on loan at Benfica, there simply is no replacement.
The wide positions are also somewhat short. Ivan Perisic and Antonio Candreva have also been key this season, but whilst without Europe they may be able to play every minute in Serie A, the argument is again that there is no cover. Eder can fill in and Yann Karamoh looks promising, but they don’t have the offensive fire-power in reserve to help. The same point could also be made at centre-back, especially for those who have little confidence in Andrea Ranocchia. In comparison to the resources of Juventus and Napoli, they fall just short.
When looking at any Scudetto ambition, one must look at the challengers. Juventus are serial winners and whilst their main aim may now be the Champions League, any slip up is met the next week with considerable force. Just ask Udinese. Their ruthless pragmatism has been honed over several successful campaigns and it will be a test for Inter to overcome this professionalism.
Napoli have tried and failed, but this season under Maurizio Sarri they’ve seemingly turned a corner. Playing arguably the best football in Europe, they are swashbuckling their way towards the Scudetto with a utilitarian collective that has been in the plan since they lost Gonzalo Higuain. No longer do they rely on one man for goals, they have a plethora of stars who are focused on one thing this term, and that’s the league.
There is no question that Inter can mount a serious challenge, but it would rely on certain circumstances occurring. Firstly, they would have to stay injury free in specific positions at least until the January window. They would have to hope that Juventus continue to focus on the Champions League and take points off them (as well as hoping others do). Likewise, with Napoli, can they keep up this Harlem Globetrotter style approach all year? Can Inter’s solid and gritty interpretation take them further?
Whatever happens this season, Inter fans should be extremely motivated and proud of the steps their team has taken. They are further along the line in the ‘Spalletti project’ than they thought, they seemingly have changed their mentality and last season few would have even thought that they would be mentioned in the same sentence as ‘Scudetto challenge’.
No war has been won solely on rear-guard actions, but they have been integral whilst a plan is made for the next offensive.