Antonio Conte would argue that neither he nor his team need redemption. After all, they sit second in the Serie A table, five points behind Milan and they have only lost once. They are free scoring that is for sure and whilst they have conceded too many, they have had a recent uplift in their defensive performance. The Champions League could offer a recovery that if it happens, would wash away the memories of the terrible early games. So, the question is, are Inter back to what they were last season, or is there another banana skin lying around the corner?
Perhaps the reason that the Nerazzurri are so hard to judge this campaign, is that their ‘Pazza’ nature sees them jump from superb to dismal in the space of a minute. This inconsistency of performance means that the beleaguered fan has little idea of just what Inter will turn up. Even in their last Champions League match to Borussia Monchengladbach, they nearly threw it away, however, in the league there are signs of improvement.
Going into the game against Shakhtar Donetsk, there are many different outcomes depending on what happens in the other game in the group but Inter have to focus only on one thing. They need to beat the Ukrainians and then pray that the other results help them out. The worst-case scenario if they do win will be that they look forward to a Europa League campaign after feeling unlucky not to qualify. The spin on this if they lose to Shakhtar, will be very different and it will be deemed another disastrous European campaign from Conte.
If one was not used to Inter, then one may think these extreme emotions bizarre. The emotions are extreme, however, because the levels of performance from the team are also. The coach creates a lot of energy and tension and this is why fans of the Nerazzurri feel Conte is one step away from brilliant and one step away from being unwanted at the club. Take this scenario for instance. With Arturo Vidal out of action and, potentially, Nicolo Barella too, Conte has an issue in midfield. Like him or loathe him, Roberto Gagliardini will start alongside the excellent Marcelo Brozovic but then who?
This is where the question of Christian Eriksen arises again. Does Conte do what would seem the obvious and play him? Does he send a message and play the even less favoured Stefano Sensi or will we see Ivan Perisic or someone else awkwardly sat in the middle? If Conte relents on his Eriksen exclusion campaign and Inter win against Donetsk and qualify, he will be seen as Conte the magnificent. If Inter crash out in embarrassing style, thanks to a strange midfield pick by the mister, then there will be more than just a little discontent.
One has to acknowledge the importance of Shakhtar’s visit to Milan as it is a chance for the black and blue half of the city to reignite what could still be a promising season. If the Ukrainians are sent home with their tails between their legs, then irrespective to what happens elsewhere it can still be seen as improvement. Before the year ends there are multiple chances to build on this. They have a trip to Sardinia next where they should be able to see off Cagliari before they face an opportunity to get a statement win against Napoli. Spezia and Verona are also both winnable games that could allow Inter to see of 2020 in style.
The form of Romelu Lukaku, the continued development of Achraf Hakimi, the majestic nature of Marcelo Brozovic and the slow improvement of the defence has been evident against Sassuolo and Bologna. There is growing confidence around the team, but it is a cautious kind of optimism.
Inter’s season will certainly not be concluded tomorrow but it will be shaped. The various different sub plots and story lines that come out of this game will have them in the headlines that is for sure but for what reason? Redemption often comes after rejection but for Inter, there is a feeling that they have an opportunity to show that they have learned from their mistakes, but it would not be the Nerazzurri if they did not want to make their fans beat just a little bit quicker.