Inter: 2018/19 Serie A Preview
Inter make a welcome return to the Champions League, but with more reinforcements added, are they ready for a domestic title challenge?
They took until the final minutes of the last match of the season, but Inter achieved their main aim of securing Champions League football for the upcoming campaign.
Rather than bask in their accomplishment the Nerazzurri have made bold moves to strengthen their squad in the summer transfer market. And after a decent pre-season campaign which ended with wins over Lyon and Atletico Madrid, Inter fans are feeling optimistic.
A title challenge is the next dream, but there is a 23-point gap to Juventus to overcome. Even the most optimistic Nerazzurri fan will admit it is unlikely this time round.
But how far can they go? And can they avoid a mid-season wobble and improve on fourth place?
2017/18 Season Review
Last season was an uncomfortable one for Inter. An unbeaten run until November raised expectations before a winter collapse dashed any hopes of a title challenge. However, top four was always the target, and that dream remained alive heading into the final match at Lazio.
Their opponents enjoyed both home and league table advantage and were favourites to snatch fourth place. Only a win would be enough for Inter.
With the hosts leading 2-1 and just 12 minutes left on the clock, Stefan de Vrij — who already had an agreement to join Inter — conceded a penalty which Mauro Icardi converted to level the scores. Three minutes later, Matias Vecino headed home to send the travelling support into raptures.
The result gave the whole club a lift and sparked an audacious flurry of summer transfer activity, the need to push on paramount.
There were questions about the mentality of the squad and the ability of coach Luciano Spalletti last term, but there is a different feeling around the club heading into the new campaign. A feeling that everything is falling into place and Inter are ready.
With Champions League football secured, the need for reinforcements was clear and sporting director Piero Ausilio wasted no time in plundering the market.
Midfielder Radja Nainggolan was the first big name to arrive, making the switch from top four rivals Roma. The 30-year-old Belgian has plied his trade on the peninsula for the last 12 years and played an integral part in Roma’s run to the Champions League semi-final last season.
Striker Lautaro Martinez switched from Argentine side Racing Club in a €22.7 million deal and has already impressed in his short time at the club. He could provide the perfect foil for Icardi, who will hope to fire the club to new heights this term.
Having conceded the penalty that gave Inter a leg up into Europe’s elite, de Vrij will hope to reap the benefits by featuring in Europe but may face a battle with Miranda to nail down a first-team spot at centre-back. Kwadwo Asamoah and Sime Vrsaljko have reinforced the fullback positions, while loan signings Keita Balde and Matteo Politano have added strength to the wings.
After three years at the club, Geoffrey Kondogbia secured a permanent move to Valencia, where he spent last season on loan.
Other key figures shipped out include Davide Santon, Eder, Dodo, Yuto Nagatomo and Francesco Bardi while a group of youngsters including Nicolo Zaniolo and Marco Carraro also left the club, some with buy-back options.
The big question is where these new players will fit it and what system Spalletti will adopt. His adherence to a 4-2-3-1 last term had more to do with the options available to him rather than a preference for that shape. With more depth, he is likely to move towards a more flexible approach this season.
De Vrij may get an early chance to prove himself while Lautaro, Nainggolan and Keita will all hope to make an instant impact.
The Key Question: Can Inter better fourth place?
Napoli could face a difficult transition between contrasting styles now Carlo Ancelotti has replaced Maurizio Sarri in the San Paolo hot seat. This will give Roma, Inter and others the belief second place is a realistic target.
Of the chasing pack, Inter look the best equipped to make significant progress. They have made some astute signings and strengthened in key areas.
They have a coach who enjoys tactical flexibility and are blessed with a squad that complements that desire. Those factors should help them avoid another mid-season meltdown.
Fourth place would be acceptable, but only if they go deep in Europe.
Inter have done great business, they have acknowledged and overcome their weaknesses and look the strongest of the top four contenders, Juventus aside.
Their pre-season preparations went well and they whole club has a spring in its step. A second-place finish should be the target for Spalletti’s men.
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