Inter are ready to take on Europe’s elite and challenge in Serie A. Richard Hall looks at how the Nerazzurri have strengthened well and now are looking forward with positivity, to the upcoming campaign.
It was in the dying minutes of the final game of the season when Matias Vecino headed home Inter’s vital goal against Lazio. That strike sent the 12,000 travelling fans into ecstasy as the Nerazzurri finally realised their dream of returning to the Champions League. It was just reward for a long and hard-fought season, but with a new campaign on the horizon the club have acted quickly to improve the squad. As Coach Luciano Spalletti looks back at pre-season he will be filled with the confidence that his team should be able to fight on all fronts and with multiple systems.
Up until November Inter were undefeated. Luciano Spalletti was bedding in after arriving in June and to even the most optimistic fan, the placement in the table was a surprise. An impressive start against Fiorentina and Roma saw the Nerazzurri go on to win twelve and draw four before December. Then the side slowed down and after a defeat to Udinese, the Inter machine got clogged in the mud and the snow. Nine painful games went past over two gruelling months, until the now very ‘black and blue’ half of Milan won again against Bologna in early February.
Rome, the final day. A crowd of 68,000 packed into the Stadio Olimpico and it was reported that as many of 12,000 came to see Inter. The Curva Sud was mixed with bemused Lazio fans and much of Inter’s Curva Nord in with them, to watch what would be the game of the season for the away side. The facts were simple, they had to win to gain Champions League qualification but after 41 minutes they found themselves 2-1 down. What happened after will live long in the memory of many, as Nerazzurri-bound Lazio defender Stefan de Vrij gave away a penalty which Mauro Icardi converted, before Matias Vecino’s late header sealed a win with only nine minutes to play. Five goals, eight yellow cards and two reds later, Spalletti’s men had finally returned to Europe’s elite competition.
The Tuscan Coach had spent almost the entire campaign playing 4-2-3-1, making the best possible use of the parts he had. The summer transfer dealings and pre-season, however, have shown that the coach wants to look at five at the back, variations of the 4-2-3-1 and even perhaps to play with two strikers. The former Roma boss has always looked to have more than one system, and was fabled for his Francesco Totti inspired 4-6-0 formation in his first spell with Roma. He is however, very adaptable and was clear that we would need a bigger squad and more systems to navigate a season in Serie A and the Champions League.
Sporting director Piero Ausilio acted quickly and the club worked hard through a mixture of outright signings, loans with options to buy and free transfers, securing some much-needed talent. Radja Nainggolan stands out as the biggest acquisition who will help bolster Inter’s midfield engine, whilst youngster Lautaro Martinez arrived from Racing and looks a promising talent. De Vrij adds much needed strength at centre-back, while Kwadwo Asamoah and Sime Vrsaljko are much welcome additions to Inter’s poor full-back offering. Matteo Politano arrived from Sassuolo to add extra width, and Samuele Mulatteri came in from Spezia.
Inter also made some money back on what many of the fans saw as deadwood who had been given more then their fair share of chances. Geoffrey Kondogbia was eventually sold to Valencia after his loan, Davide Santon went to Roma, Dodo left for Sampdoria and Yuto Nagatomo left for Galatasaray. Eder left for China and with Francesco Bardi also saying goodbye, those deals were seen as good business with perhaps only the promising Nicolò Zaniolo - included in the Nainggolan deal - raising an eyebrow.
The club are still looking to do more business, but even if this comes to nothing they are already in a stronger place for next season. A mix of exciting young talent and experience should give Inter the right balance to have a good Champions League campaign and perhaps push for second or third spot. While a title challenge is perhaps not expected, it would also not come as too much of a surprise if the Nerazzurri were on Juventus’ heels deep into the season.
Star man: Mauro Icardi
As long as Mauro Icardi is at Inter, he will always be seen as the star man. The Argentine hitman notched 29 times last campaign and 24 times the year before that and has become the Milanese’s main threat. Now with reinforcements around him, there is a chance that he will have multiple supply routes that may potentially help him increase his tally. In Lautaro Martinez there is also a potential striking partner for him this term who he seems to have clicked with in pre-season. Should this be the case then Icardi could be more dangerous this season than he ever has been before.
Key signing: Radja Nainggolan
Radja Nainggolan arrived from Roma in an unexpected move that reunited him with his old coach, Luciano Spalletti. If ever the Belgian needed to see a friendly face it was this summer after he was left out of the World Cup team. The fact that his former boss knows how to use him and how to maximize his strengths, will be an advantage to both Inter and the player. Sometimes seen to be a misunderstood character, Spalletti will be pleased knowing that he knows how get the midfield powerhouse pumping on all cylinders.
Young gun: Lautaro Martinez
Lautaro Martinez has arrived from Racing Club in Argentina and has impressed in pre-season. He is the potential other half of the Icardi partnership, and the initial link play showed between the two gives Spalletti a good headache. Even if the 20-year-old simply acts as back-up to his idol Icardi, it still gives Inter strength in depth for a campaign that sees them have the Champions League to deal with. Martinez was schooled by Diego Milito at Racing Club, as was Icardi when ‘Il Principe’ was in his last days at Inter - the similarities are there to be seen.
The Coach: Luciano Spalletti
Luciano Spalletti did well last season to bring stability to a club that for some time had been in the wilderness. Albeit with a last gasp goal in Rome on the final day, it was enough to bring the Champions League back to a club that had missed in greatly in its absence. The coach last season managed this with a stable squad and a solid 4-2-3-1 formation, but this was out of necessity rather than choice. Now with a new recruitment drive Spalletti is able to tweak the system and experiment with a plan B and C. This was exhibited in pre-season, where he looked at playing two up front and also at a back five.
2017-18 prediction: Top four
It would not be misguided if Inter thought that they could at least push Juventus some of the way in the Scudetto race. They started well last campaign but after a miserable winter they found themselves battling to even qualify for the Champions League. Now they have more cover and more quality but with the added weight of a European campaign the main aim will be to finish higher than fourth and get out of their Champions League group. That is not to say they cannot do more and there is a positive mood in the camp.