The Champions and Europa Leagues kicked off last week and for only the second time in fifteen years, Inter are involved in neither.
As happened in the 2013/14 season also, the Nerazzurri are using this apparent drawback to their advantage, as they currently sit on top of the Serie A table. Unlike then though, this time they have notions of maintaining their strong start.
Winning the opening five league matches of a season is a feat even José Mourinho didn’t achieve during his time at the San Siro. Yet despite this, manager Roberto Mancini has not been overly impressed with his side’s performances thus far:
“It doesn’t take much to figure out we are not Barcelona, but we are at the beginning of the season.”
“I think it takes time, we have added many new players.”
While it is true that Inter have won five so far, Mancini is right insofar as there is certainly room for improvement in this team.
They have fashioned together this run on the basis of having a strong defence, as their record of only one goal conceded will attest to, but that defensive rigidity has so far come at a cost. They have scored six goals in five games – fewer than any other team in the top seven. Complete attacking freedom has been sacrificed (for now at least) in favour of stability.
So far it’s working for them and as this side are so early into their rebuilding project, it’s a smart move by Mancini. It’s not particularly attractive to watch, but it is effective.
This new combative approach is one that has been welcomed by the players, particularly new signing and all-round hard bastard Felipe Melo. It will shock absolutely nobody that Melo likes the physicality given his own disciplinary record, but he insists they are not there to be the great entertainers. He said in the wake of Wednesday night’s 1-0 victory over Hellas Verona:
“For those who don’t like the way we play they can watch Barcelona. We are trying to make history and that is never simple.
“It was a great game because we got all three points and we can build on that.”
Melo there, echoing Mancini in helpfully pointing out that this team is, in fact, not Barcelona.
Virtually the entire team was overhauled in the summer as club president Erick Thohir had decided enough was enough, that he couldn’t watch this club slip further into mediocrity. The absence of European football this year was the wake-up call that Thohir needed to finally start spending and drag Inter back to the top of Italian and European football.
Out went the likes of Hernanes, Mateo Kovačić, Xherdan Shaqiri and Lukas Podolski, and to replace these players the club really invested heavily. Geoffrey Kondogbia for example arrived for somewhere in the region of €40million. Also recruited were the likes of Ivan Perišić, Melo, Alex Telles, Miranda, Jeison Murillo, Martín Montoya and Adem Ljajić – all of whom are upgrades on the previous incumbents of their positions.
Arguably their most impressive performer so far though as been the loan signing, Stevan Jovetić. The Montenegro international had endured a difficult couple of years in England with Manchester City but it seems that the form he thought he had lost was just left behind in Italy, scoring three goals since his return to Serie A.
Inter’s form this season has arguably been made more impressive by the fact that they have had just as much of an overhaul as champions Juventus (arguably more so in fact), and yet they have been able to hit the ground running while Max Allegri’s side have been having major adjustment problems.
In any event the other would-be challengers for the crown, namely Juventus and Roma, are yet to really kick into gear this season. If they don’t get their act together soon they could be in serious trouble, especially while Inter continue to pick up wins while themselves not playing particularly well.
Granted it is only September and things could be massively different in a month or two, but right now it’s hard not to look at this Inter side and think that they are genuine contenders for the league this season.
Mancini has created a team that is the most balanced Inter outfit since they were crowned champions of Europe in Madrid in 2010.
A solid defensive spine of goalkeeper Samir Handanović behind Miranda and Murillo, the tackling of Melo meshing with the passing ability of Kondogbia in midfield to form a beautifully cultured battering ram, with the goalscoring ability of Jovetić and Mauro Icardi in attack – on paper at least it’s the sort of backbone that title challenges are made of.
If and when they add creativity to their game, they could be frightening.
Bigger tests will come of course – the first Derby d’Italia of the season for instance will occur on October 18th when Juve come to the San Siro – but they have already faced local rivals AC Milan and emerged unscathed with all three points so there is no reason why they should be living in fear of Allegri’s stuttering champions.
After a few years in the relative wilderness, Inter will now surely feel that they have a team and a manger who can restore a sense of pride in this club and make them great again.
The players are certainly feeling confident if this typically heavy quote from Melo is anything to go by:
“Inter must always target the Scudetto. Inter are Inter, one of the biggest clubs in the world. We have to think of winning every single game. We are warriors.”
It’s time for these warriors to make a name for themselves and revive a sleeping giant.