Can Conte’s Inter Put An End To The Juve Juggernaut?
It has been ten years since Inter last won Serie A. Since that victory in 2010, part of a memorable treble, I Nerazzurri have watched city rivals Milan add another title to their history, followed by Juventus dominating the league for eight straight seasons. It is fair to say that it’s been a difficult decade for Inter. Barring a miraculous turnaround, the side will have to wait a further year to end their winless run. Yet droughts don’t last forever. Earlier this week, Liverpool finally claimed their first league championship in 30 years, offering hope to other sleeping giants that they can rise to the top once more.
It has been a frustrating wait for Inter. However, there are signs that they are moving in the right direction. Under Antonio Conte, the side have been a permanent fixture in the top three this season, keeping pace with Juventus and Lazio for much of the campaign. They have started to bridge the gap. The next step is to overhaul their opponents and become champions in 2020/21.
Let’s take a look at how they could go about that, whilst also taking a look back at their first 12 months under Conte.
Falling short when it matters
Conte’s first season in charge has largely been a success. Having taken over a team who had finished fourth in the previous two seasons, the Italian’s challenge was to move the team closer to title contention and he has managed that. It has not been a seamless transition though.
Inter’s main issue has been their tendency to fall short in the biggest games of the season. Having won their first six Serie A games, Inter were outplayed in their first serious test, losing 2-1 at home to Juve. It has been a trend that has continued throughout the campaign. Back in February, with the team still firmly in the title picture, Conte’s men were beaten 2-1 by Lazio, and the following month they slipped to defeat against Juventus again. It was a similar story in the Champions League, as Inter lost away at Borussia Dortmund and at home to a weakened Barcelona team to miss out on qualifying for the last 16 of the competition.
Earlier this month, La Beneamata were dumped out of the Coppa Italia at the semi-final stage by Napoli, a particularly tough loss to take as the Neapolitan outfit went on to win the trophy just days later.
Inter have put themselves in positions this season to make significant strides, both domestically and in Europe. Time and time again, they have not taken them. If they are to win the scudetto next season, they will have to start winning when it matters the most.
Adding ammunition to the arsenal
Inter will likely have had their transfer targets for the summer figured out long before Wednesday’s home fixture with Sassuolo. They have just had three months off after all. If they needed any further evidence that the squad required reinforcements in the off-season, they got it during that 3-3 draw. As soon as the line-up was announced, there were fears that Inter were in for an uncomfortable evening. So, it proved, as the side conceded two late equalisers to seemingly end their title hopes for this season.
With Inter set to play three times a week between now and the end of the season, Conte opted to rotate his squad. In came the likes of Andrea Ranocchia, Roberto Gagliardini and Borja Valero. The trio have been loyal servants to the club in recent seasons, but the feeling is that they are not the players to take Inter to the title. Wednesday’s game did little to disprove that theory.
Inter need to strengthen their squad to elevate to the next level, and the early signs ahead of next season are positive. The side remain clear favourites to sign Italian wonderkid Sandro Tonali from Brescia, whilst reports on Friday suggest Inter are closing in on securing a move for Achraf Hakimi who has etched his place as one of the most outstanding young full-backs in the world.
Conte has clearly seen the holes in his team and is moving quickly to fill them.
Time to strike
Juventus have rarely looked vulnerable for much of the past decade. Even when they have, Bianconeri have still managed to get the job done. Yet this season has been a little different. The side have lost both of their cup finals, suggesting that they are there for the taking. It appears that they will just have enough to secure a ninth straight title triumph this year, but they look likely to be under pressure once more next season. Inter seem to be in pole position to make their move for a 19th league championship, however.
If Tonali and Hakimi do arrive, it will add to an already talented midfield containing the likes of Marcelo Brozović, Christian Eriksen and the Italian duo, Nicolo Barella and Stefano Sensi. With Conte also able to call on Milan Skriniar, Romelu Lukaku and captain Samir Handanović, the Milan-based club will have assembled a squad capable of rising to the top of Serie A.
It has been a painful ten years for Inter and their fans. The club have lurched from manager to manager, achieving very little success along the way. Yet with an ever-improving squad being built under the stewardship of a coach who has delivered in both Italy and England, their decade of misery could be nearly over.