Can Inter challenge Juventus better than Napoli for Serie A title?

A strong transfer window and some winnable games early on have got Inter fans buzzing ahead of the new season.

REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

The announcement of the Serie A fixtures always creates a sense of excitement, the new season laid out like a course to be charted. For Inter Milan fans, the release of the 2018/19 schedule has sparked a sense of optimism not seen in recent years.

But why are the Nerazzurri getting in a frenzy? And are they right to feel that way? And could Luciano Spalletti’s men rival Napoli as lead challengers to Juventus’ crown?

Reasons to be cheerful

The upbeat mood that emanates from the training ground and blankets the entire fan-base has been prompted by the club’s activity in the transfer market. After finishing fourth last season, it was clear progress had been made, but there was no time for complacency and the club have acted accordingly.

Inter are reportedly close to securing the signature of Arturo Vidal from Bayern Munich, an experienced veteran to add some necessary steel to the core of the side.

Radja Nainggolan’s move from Roma, too, may have surprised many, but it came right out of Monchi’s playbook for sporting directors, landing the capital club a £21m profit for a player who has just entered his 30s.

Assembling a squad of thirtysomethings might not be Inter’s long-term strategy, but the controversial Belgian will give their midfield a much-needed boost this season, even if it means installing a cigarette machine in the home dressing room.

Brothers in arms

A lesser-known recruit is the 20-year-old Argentinean Lautaro Martinez, who is set to wear the number ten shirt. The youngster impressed in a three-year spell at Racing Club and will hope to forge a successful partnership with compatriot Mauro Icardi.

The two already look to be getting on swimmingly.

Martinez is expected to operate from a deeper role allowing Icardi to take up a more advanced position. This should give Inter a more balanced attack than last season when Icardi felt the need to drop back, diminishing his goal threat in the process.

No regrets

Stefan de Vrij attained hero status amongst the Nerazzurri fans before he had even kicked a ball. He agreed a free transfer from Lazio prior to the end of last season and proceeded to concede a penalty when the two sides met in the last league game of the season. 

With Champions League qualification at stake, Icardi’s converted penalty sent Inter through at Lazio’s expense. The Dutchman appeared devastated, but can now console himself with another dose of Champions League football. 

His calming presence gives the team from Milan more options in central defence, something that will be crucial when competing on several fronts this season.

The final countdown

Latest reports also suggest Inter are set to add Atletico Madrid's Sime Vrsaljko to their roster, with a loan deal including an option to buy agreed. The highly rated right-back is entering his prime and already has Serie A experience under his belt having enjoyed spells at Genoa and Sassuolo.

REUTERS/Darren Staples Other significant arrivals include 20-year-old left-back Federico Dimarco who adds depth to that position along with ex-Juventus man Kwadwo Asamoah. This mix of experience with an injection of youth is a theme that is building throughout Spalletti’s squad. 

Start as you mean to go on 

If Inter want to overtake Napoli as the leading contenders for the Old Lady's crown, they will need to get off to a good start and this year they have been dealt a decent hand in the fixture draw.

The opening schedule pits them against Sassuolo, Torino, Bologna and Parma, and a good set of results in those games could give them momentum heading into clashes against Sampdoria and Fiorentina.

With a favourable schedule, a stronger starting XI and more strength in depth, Inter will be confident of competing on multiple fronts this term. And with Napoli undergoing a transition period under new boss Carlo Ancelotti, the Beneamata could find themselves in the mix for a top-two finish come the winter break. 

Their biggest challenge will to avoid another January collapse to keep themselves in the hunt. What measures the club has taken to overcome that mental obstacle remains unclear.

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Neil Morris