“I repeat, this is not a fitness issue.” A lack of match fitness would have been the perfect excuse, not only for his team’s second half dip against Sampdoria, but also for the slip against Napoli in the Coppa Italia semi-final. Instead, Antonio Conte was insistent that Inter need to kill of games if they are to be a special team, as they had nearly let Sampdoria back into a match they were never really involved in. This was taking full responsibility and in turn, putting it back on his players.
There seems to be something in Inter’s DNA that always means that they endeavour to make their supporters’ hearts go a little bit faster. The game against Sampdoria was no different. The Blucerchiati arrived in Milan without veteran striker Fabio Quagliarella, who missed the game due to injury. This was good news for the Nerazzurri, as despite his age, Quagliagol is certainly the difference maker for the Ligurian side.
The first half went exactly as Conte would have hoped. The complete domination of the ball, a high press, hunger, attitude and technical proficiency saw Inter take a 2-0 lead just after the half hour mark thanks to goals from the ever-blossoming partnership of Lautaro Martinez and Romelu Lukaku.
Right here, at this moment, the game was or should have been over. The Nerazzurri were in the ascendency but then the inevitable happened. Inter failed to make the most of their chances, they came out after the break looking a little sluggish and Sampdoria capitalised on one of their few chances from a dead-ball situation. A game that should have been clinically dispatched onto the annuls of history, instead walked its way to a jittery conclusion.
It seems inevitable that any team after this enforced break will struggle to be back at full force, yet Conte was having none of it in his post-match press conference. Add to this the fact that, before the pandemic, Inter were limping to the finish line, putting in abject performances against fellow title contenders, Lazio and Juventus. Whilst Inter were not ‘Bielsa-esque’, they were tired and it still seems prudent to allocate some fatigue issues when looking at how Conte wants to play.
Despite this however, his comments rang true. Inter have the ability to kill off games and they must be more ruthless. Lukaku and Martinez arguably are the best front two partnership in Europe. Admittedly, there are not many teams that play with a front two, but their relationship is rare.
Add to this the extra emphasis Christian Eriksen has given Inter in the midfield and the creativity argument also goes out of the window. Against Sampdoria, his languid but efficient approach was almost contradictory, it reminded one of a trequartista of old, but it had the necessary speed and intelligence for the modern game that allowed his passing to offer an abundance of riches to the front two. Conte is right, there is no excuse. The team at the moment, are a little bit too Shelley or Byron, they need to be more Stephen King.
Whilst this might at the moment sound like a game of Mortal Kombat with the words ‘Finish him’ ringing out, it does seem like Inter have to take this advice on board. Look at Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan, they were ruthless and didn’t stop at 2-0 (just ask Fiorentina). They finished the job. Inter need to be selfish, they need to act like venture capitalists and not poets, they need to understand that to be serial winners they have to be serial killers of games. Dare I say it, look at Juventus. How many times have people said that Juventus just find a way to win no matter what? That is a mind-set and it needs to be embedded.
Inter can even look to their past. When were they at their best? Helenio Herrera and the Grande Inter, ruthless. Giovanni Trapattoni and the German-based side, ruthless. Jose Mourinho’s Treble winners, ruthless. Was it the best football you ever saw? No, but did they give you an inch? Conte has the players, they have the momentum, they have the plan. It is time for Inter to understand what it takes to be winners, or they will forever be just libertines with occasional success.
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