2019/20 Countdown: Internazionale
Serie A: 4th; Coppa Italia – Quarter-finals; UEFA Champions League – Group Stage; UEFA Europa League – Last 16; Top Scorer (All competitions) – Mauro Icardi (17)
The Question: Can they mount a title challenge?
On the face of it, that seems a bit… well, daft. Inter finished 21 points behind Italian champions Juventus in fourth place, closer to ninth place than they did the top. They were even 10 points off second-placed Napoli, and but for the inconsistency of the teams behind them, would have even missed out on Champions League football. So, a title challenge seems far-fetched, to put it mildly.
But they have a master motivator and tactician in Antonio Conte, with the seldom happy marriage with Luciano Spalletti having met its inevitable end. Conte, the former Juventus manager (and player), has experience with leading the unfancied underachiever to title glory, having done the same with Juventus themselves, leading them to the first title of a current eight-year run, and the Italian also led Chelsea out of a mire to win the Premier League title.
But he won the title with Juve at a time when there was no real powerhouse in the land, and it was there for the taking. Now, the Juventus side he helped back to the top are the behemoths, as he seemingly paved the foundations for his former side to be the biggest obstacle now.
Then there’s the squad conundrum Conte and Inter are facing. The likes of Joao Mario and Borja Valero are set to leave, but no potential suitors have come, leaving Inter short on funds to bolster the side. Then there’s the Radja Nainggolan situation. Acquired to so much optimism last summer, the Belgian hardly looked a fit for the side, was ostracised and has now departed, but the biggest problem is with the man up front. Striker Mauro Icardi, stripped of the captaincy last winter, is all but done with the club, and that looked less of a problem when Romelu Lukaku was a dead-cert arrival from Manchester United. But Lukaku now looks set for Juventus (as part of a swap deal involving Paulo Dybala), and there’s a problem of finding a frontman.
Inter have managed counter-act steps forward with more steps backward in the recent past, and it looks that way again, not least with levels of discontent rising in pre-season. Chaos potentially looms again. But if any manager can thrive amidst disarray and knit something big out of little, it’s Conte.
The Lukaku saga is the headline case for Inter, who now look like missing out on the 26-year-old. Defender Diego Godin has joined on a free from Atletico Madrid, while Valentino Lazaro has been acquired from Hertha Berlin. Eddie Salcedo arrives from Genoa, as does goalkeeper Ionut Radu, while Nicolo Barella joins from Cagliari on loan, and Matteo Politano’s loan from Sassuolo has been made permanent.
Nainggolan has joined former Cagliari, on loan, while Joao Miranda has moved to Chinese side Jiangsu Suning. Icardi is also expected to depart.
Inter have a manager known to make a team greater than the sum of its parts. The Nerazzurri are underdogs going into the new season, and that may serve them well.
Inter are hampered by uncertainty with the squad, and have ground to make up. They may have a great asset in Conte, but there’s a reason why they’re underdogs this season.
The Gaffer (Antonio Conte)
Came into a mess at Chelsea and won the league, but left partly due to not being backed in the transfer market, a similar problem he’s facing now. Making Inter challengers again will be a mountainous task, but the former midfielder has said he’s optimistic.
How will they do
The top four is probably the primary aim, with anything else a bit of a bonus. But Conte has worked mini-miracles before and who knows what a good start might do for them.
Kunle Ajao126 Posts
Kunle Ajao is a football writer and columnist for spotkick. Having made a toss of himself trying to actually play the game, he knew better and got a pen instead of boots. Spends a bit of his time with the game, and thinks he's a bit like Sid Lowe. He's not