Never did the weather feel as bleak as it did in Bergamo for the travelling Nerazzurri fans on Sunday. The 4-1 demolition by Atalanta was as surprising in nature, as much as it was statistically. Luciano Spalletti was left frustrated as he tried to fathom his team’s implosion, but he did not lose sight of the fact that his team has made incredible progress in recent months. While this certainly isn’t a ‘Pazza Inter’ moment however, his team will need an immediate response against Frosinone after the international break.
Spalletti was clear in his dissection of what was simply an insipid display against Atalanta that the blame should start with him. His assessment was that it was he who made the wrong choices and that his players suffered from mental and physical fatigue after the recent Champions League draw against Barcelona. This, he said, was no time to despair, insisting a “one match blackout” after seven successive league wins.
This season, Inter have grown in stature especially after their poor opening day defeat to Sassuolo. They have made mistakes - the next game against Torino saw them throw away a two-goal lead - but they have addressed some critical issues. The centre-back pairing of Stefan de Vrij and Milan Skriniar looks to be one the best in the division, Mauro Icardi is still as potent as ever, whilst Samir Handanovic has been - bar the game against the Granata - almost faultless. The form of Marcelo Brozovic and Matias Vecino has been complimented by the industrious Radja Nainggolan, and recently even Joao Mario has performed admirably.
This fusion of talent has not simply just propelled the Nerazzurri to the top of the table with Napoli, hot on the heels of the ever-dominant Juventus and leaving them among the favourites to win the Scudetto with many football betting websites. Their form in the Champions League has seen late comebacks against Tottenham Hotspur and Barcelona, leaving them well placed to progress.
A victory in the Derby della Madonnina (again late, again thanks to Icardi) showed that Spalletti’s team has character as well as quality. Perhaps the Coach was right and these exertions eventually saw them exposed against an extremely hungry and capable Atalanta side.
It is here where Spalletti’s self-criticism may be justified. His team has strength in depth but he did not try and use that depth in Bergamo. A midfield of Roberto Gagliardi, Vecino and Brozovic was different, but it was functional and had no creative outlet. Borja Valero’s introduction showed why this was necessary but he couldn’t affect the game Why wasn’t Joao Mario chosen after his recent redemption?
In previous weeks Spalletti has tried to change things and it has had good effect, with Genoa as a prime example. Admittedly Lautaro Martinez had a poor game against the Grifone but he is hungry and needs more minutes. This week, he told reporters at the Argentina training camp, that he wants to play more. Perhaps more trust in some of the squad players would have influenced proceedings.
Even if rotation was used, it is something of a reach to say that it would have influenced anything. The Nerazzurri were simply outplayed and outclassed and if anything, it will be seen as a warning. It is true that Inter have a tendency to implode for long periods of the season after one poor result but this team seems different. The international break has come at a good time and they have moments to reflect. What is important is that against Frosinone, in what sees to be another near sell out, that they come back with intent.
For Inter to make sure that this is a mere re-adjustment and not an entire reset, the next match must be won convincingly, especially for their confidence moving forward. After this, Tottenham, Roma, Juventus and PSV, all could shape their campaign, as one of the toughest parts of their season rears its head.
Spalletti and his team are on the verge of becoming a serious contender both domestically and in Europe. They have improved greatly; the fans are back and in Skriniar and Icardi they boast two of the best players in world football in their position. Arguably this is their biggest chance since Mourinho left the club to put themselves back amongst Europe’s elite, however, their return all starts against Frosinone. As Skriniar stated after Atalanta, they need to treat this as a “timely slap”.