Antonio Conte said that his first season in charge had given Inter back their credibility both in Italy and on the European stage, but even he cannot hide the fact they need to step up from that now and provide silverware. The bedding in period is over, the foundations have been laid, there can be no more downplaying of their ambitions.
With practically no pre-season, the teams that changed the least will benefit, able to essentially pick up where they left off. We’re seeing it with Inter, Milan, Napoli and Lazio, not to mention the ever-surprising Atalanta. Alessandro Del Piero and Italy coach Roberto Mancini have both said La Dea cannot be ruled out of the Scudetto race, having finished third for two years running and consistently built on Gian Piero Gasperini’s vision.
This is why the 4-3 win against Fiorentina was critical for Inter, no matter how they got it. There are many strong clubs who can take points off each other, and whilst Cristiano Ronaldo shows no signs of slowing up, added to the fact that Andrea Pirlo’s side look like an exciting prospect, for the first time in years there is no clear favourite. As the whole of Italy watched Fiorentina nearly hold out against Inter and Roma coming inches away from defeating The Old Lady, it gives other clubs hope that points are up for grabs in fixtures that previously seemed off limits.
Inter’s next outing against Benevento on Wednesday is the type of game they have to win. There can be no slip ups, even though the Stregoni are one of the best equipped teams to come up from Serie B in recent years and gave Sampdoria a bloody nose at Marassi this weekend. Conte had praised his team for their attacking prowess against the Viola, but stressed how they needed to defend much better.
For all teams, lessons need to be learned quickly, as whilst football continues in the pandemic, the lack of a pre-season has had an effect on all teams in all leagues and this is potentially the reason for the unprecedented high-scoring games. Juventus in some respect have an excuse, they have changed coach and the new philosophy has to be worked on during the season. Conte’s players know exactly what they have to do and that is why they need to perform straight away, especially as Lazio and Milan are on the horizon.
These two games offer up a huge opportunity for Inter to put distance between themselves and the other challengers by dealing them a blow in the opening games. The coach has now got the extra strength in depth he has craved and the experience from Radja Nainggolan, Arturo Vidal, Ivan Perisic and Aleksandar Kolarov to supplement the younger players in the squad.
Juventus take on Napoli next before games against Crotone, Verona and Spezia take them into the showdown with Lazio. The fixtures will come thick and fast, this is not a normal season. As the matches mount up, squad size will be crucial and the necessary levels of rotation will test the mentality of their players. Last season Inter manage to rotate well, but the main components of the squad played consistently.
The Scudetto sprint is even more important than it was in other years. The race has changed, it is quicker and it is longer, but the chance to get out in front is very real. A lot will be decided very early and there is no room for Pazza Inter. Conte said he was ready to enjoy the journey more this year even though he didn’t quite admit that the crazy was here to stay. In his own words he said Inter were seen as credible last season, now they have to be seen as more than that.