As Inter qualify for the last 32 of the Europa League, Alex Mott explains why the Nerazzurri have to abandon their hopes of winning the competition for the greater good.
As far as hostile footballing atmospheres go, Belgrade is probably up there. The Partizan stadium with its flares and wall of sound can lay claim to being one of the least enjoyable away trips in Europe.
The fact then that Inter came away from Serbia with a resounding 3-1 win is testament to what they have become under Andrea Stramaccioni – a resolute side that can score goals. Rodrigo Palacio bagged two second half strikes and Fredy Guarin sealed the win with a late one of his own.
It was a successful Thursday night for the Nerazzurri, as they qualified for the knock-out stages of the Europa League and continued their winning run that stretches all the way back to September.
New signings have bedded into the squad supremely well – Samir Handanovic had another excellent game, Alvaro Pereira is proving an astute arrival down the left, Palacio and Guarin both arrived less than a year ago.
Everything looks rosy in the San Siro side's garden then – a young boss with the world at his feet, a team with genuine title credentials and cross-city neighbours becoming a laughing stock.
Not since the Jose Mourinho days have things looked this bright for Massimo Moratti's men. So why then could Thursday night spell the end to all this goodwill?
We've seen it time and again across the continent – juggling the demands of a European campaign and a domestic one is nigh on impossible. Over the past 20 years, only four teams have won the Europa League/UEFA Cup in the same year they won their own League title.
Porto did it. Galatasaray were another. CSKA Moscow as well. Only Valencia have won that particular double whilst in a major European League.
Last season none of the finalists in the Champions League or the Europa League were League champions. Chelsea didn't even finish in the top four. Bayern Munich finished eight points behind Borussia Dortmund. Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao were two and nine points respectively outside La Liga's top four.
Unless you're a Barcelona or a Manchester United, it simply can't be done. Inter, today not as strong as their treble winning team, are a good side. They could be great. But they just don't have the depth to deal with the rigours of a two-pronged assault.
They proved last weekend they can be considered Serie A contenders. The Nerazzurri defeated a Juventus side who had gone 49 matches unbeaten. It bares repeating again – 49 games without losing a single one. And Stramaccioni's men were fully deserving of the win. No dodgy decisions. No contentious calls. This was 90 minutes of pure dominance.
Playing Esteban Cambiasso and Javier Zanetti for the entirety in Belgrade though, just undermines all that good work in Turin.
The last 32 of the Europa League starts in February. Inter have to play Fiorentina and a Milan derby over that period. Get to the last 16, and the fixtures immediately following their European jaunts are Sampdoria away and the arrival of Juve in Lombardy.
If they want to win Serie A, Inter have to abandon Europe's second club competition. Play the youngsters, gain experience and focus fully on knocking Antonio Conte's side off their perch.
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