Coppa Italia: Quarter-Finals / Team rating: [7/10] / Top scorer: Mauro Icardi (11) / Europe: Champions League Group Stage / Europa League Round of 16
It wouldn’t be Inter if they didn’t make their supporters' hearts beat a little bit faster and they left it late for Champions League football again, writes Richard Hall.
The Champions League was the goal at the start of the campaign and this was exactly what they achieved.
The Nerazzurri secured Champions League football at the very last breath after beating Empoli on the final day. Luciano Spalletti was the only Coach since Jose Mourinho to secure successive Champions League qualification, quite an achievement, yet the season ended with a feeling on melancholy. Whilst the end result was a successful one, the journey to it was not smooth and in truth left a bitter taste in the mouth of many Milanese.
Inter had much to look forward to at the start of the campaign. They were in the Champions League, they had the division’s premier striker and the squad had been sufficiently strengthened to potentially push Juventus, at least for some part of the season. Spalletti’s previous campaign had ended with a dramatic night in Rome, this incredible finish had allowed a wave of passion and drive to spill over into the new campaign.
Surprisingly however, when the first shots were fired, Inter only had blanks. A terrible game against Sassuolo ended in defeat, as the Nerazzurri failed to turn up. They couldn’t make amends against Torino, as they threw away a two-goal lead to draw 2-2. Then a victory against a poor Bologna side was only a feint, as they then crashed to defeat with newly-promoted Parma.
Things seemed to pick up after this, as they won seven games back to back, but the story of the season was thus. Consistent if not uninspiring runs of form, marred by whimpering defeats. Nine defeats in total was perhaps too many and Champions League qualification was fortunate, again only sealed on the final day.
Most telling of this campaign was the lack of goals scored: 57 in total, 20 fewer than Atalanta in third place, 10 fewer than Roma in sixth. It is certainly due to the poor season that Mauro Icardi had, partly due to his own making and partly down to the club’s disastrous handling of it. Bungled contract negotiations led Wanda Nara (Icardi’s wife and agent) to embark on a campaign against the club, mostly hosted on Instagram and her TV appearances. Luciano Spalletti’s anger was not contained, the striker was stripped of his captaincy and for months did not play. An uneasy peace did eventually come between the two camps, but at what cost?
The season did have some good moments, although the exit from the Champions League was perhaps the biggest frustration. They only needed to beat already-eliminated PSV Eindhoven at home to go through, instead drawing 1-1 and letting Tottenham begin their run to the Final.
Victories in two Derby Della Madonninas were the highlights and nobody can argue that the brief was met, they did qualify for Europe’s elite competition.
As the summer arrives however, Inter have decisions to make. Juventus are going into a new season under a new regime and arguably this is the time to catch them up. With Financial Fair Play restrictions lifted, Inter could perhaps strengthen the squad and seriously try to catch the Old Lady. Can they do this playing the same brand of football? Is Luciano Spalletti still the right man? There are decisions to be made now in Milan in arguably the most important summer in recent memory.
The Coach: Luciano Spalletti
The Champions League was always the brief, but there was so much more that soured this campaign. The football was once again not easy on the eye and it is fair to say Inter do not have an obvious identity on the field. Whilst results may have been favourable at times, the Coach hasn’t maximised the potential of this group. The fact that the ‘Icardi saga’ has also been mismanaged means the season ends under a cloud.
Player of the Year: Milan Skriniar
Admittedly, when a player decides to negotiate a contract without an agent just so he can be certain he has his own and the club’s best interests at heart, it is hard not to admire him. The fact that this man has also been one of the best defenders in Europe this season simply adds to the aura. Milan Skriniar is quite simply the modern example all Inter players should aspire to.
Highlight: The support
This season undoubtedly had highs and lows, but throughout the support for the Nerazzurri was unwavering. With the highest average attendance in Italy (57,529), they were the also the eighth highest in Europe, a commendable act from the fans considering the standard of football.
Nightmare: Mauro Icardi
Inter’s nightmare this season wasn’t on the pitch, it was off it. The club’s handling of the Mauro Icardi affair was disastrous. From the owners, to the Sporting Directors to the Coach, the entire situation was a PR nightmare. Other clubs should learn from how Inter failed to stop a contract negotiation being played out via Instagram and openly negotiated via lawyers to get him back into training.
Did You Know?
- The decisive goal for Champions League football was scored at 80:47 both last year at Lazio and this term with Empoli.
- Inter scored 20 of their total 57 Serie A goals in the final 15 minutes.
- Samir Handanovic kept 17 clean sheets, more than any other Inter goalkeeper since Serie A moved to three points for a win.