Serie A Club Recap 2019/20: Inter Milan

As Serie A gears up for a return this month, we equip you with an in-depth view of everything about Inter Milan and their season so far.

Inter Milan have always been at the forefront of Italian football – a club that absolutely needs no introduction. They are one of the most successful clubs in European football, having most notably won three European Cups/Champions League titles as well as three UEFA Cups, two intercontinental cups and a FIFA Club World Cup.

The Nerazzurri are also the third-most successful club in Italy, having won 18 league titles and seven Coppa Italia trophies. They are second in the eternal table of Serie A, registering 1,461 wins, just behind Juventus (1,603).

Following their 2010 Champions League triumph, however, Inter Milan have gradually declined. The club has often struggled with growing financial mediocrity as well as a lack of identity. In fact, they have finished inside the top three only once in the last nine years.

The arrival of Luciano Spalletti in 2017 finally injected a bit stability into the club’s performances and the Italian giants have evidently improved, of late. They have finished in the top four in three of the last four league campaigns and thanks to the persistent financial backing from Steven Zhang, the Nerazzurri have also embraced a more aggressive approach in the transfer market.

Inter Milan’s Season So Far

Inter Milan’s season so far can be compared to Bundesliga giants Borussia Dortmund‘s shot at the title this campaign. Antonio Conte’s troops made waves early in the season, registering six successive wins in the league before being defeated by defending champions Juventus 2-1 in early October.

Inter Milan's season so far.
Inter Milan’s season so far.

That didn’t deter the Nerazzurri, however, as they continued their stellar form and even regained the top spot in the league table with a win over SPAL in early December. And despite two back to back draws with AS Roma and Fiorentina, Inter somehow managed to retain their place at the top.

It was only until a disappointing run of form in January and February that would see Juventus not only climb back to the top but also potentially kill the title race. Indeed, the Milan outfit drew three back to back matches against Atalanta, Lecce and Cagliari in January while losing to Lazio and Juventus.

In fact, Conte’s side has won only two of their last seven matches this season. As a result, they are now trailing league leaders Juventus by nine points, with a game in hand. However, they do deserve credit for maintaining an excellent defensive record of conceding 24 goals – a record only bettered by second-placed Lazio (23).

The Manager: Antonio Conte

MILAN, ITALY - FEBRUARY 09: FC Internazionale coach Antonio Conte issues instructions to his players during the Serie A match between FC Internazionale and AC Milan at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on February 9, 2020 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images)
Conte’s tactical brilliance has revved Inter Milan’s high-powered system. (Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images)

After Spalletti guided Inter to a fourth-place finish last season, the onus was on Conte to rekindle the club’s lost glory. And more than halfway into the season, it can be established that the Italian has done an excellent job, despite some minor blips and a rather disappointing Champions League campaign.

Having played a critical role in helping Juventus dominate Italian football, Conte has always been known for his tactical brilliance as well as the ability to impose his identity at the club. And his past success in Serie A was enough to convince Inter Milan to hire him in the summer.

During his time at Chelsea, Conte was involved in feuds with several key players including Diego Costa. However, his man-management has excelled at San Siro. His influence has been critical behind the rejuvenation of players like Romelu Lukaku and Antonio Candreva among others.

If anything, his experience in the Premier League only helped him gain a better perspective of the more fast-paced nature of football – something he has expertly injected into his current setup at Inter. As a result, the club is on the verge of enjoying its best season since 2010/11 when they missed out on the league title to AC Milan.

Tactics & Playing Style

Throughout his coaching career, Conte has been fond of the three-man backline with a pendulating system that can effortlessly create overloads in attack whilst maintaining balance during defensive phases. It worked at Juventus and to an extent, at Chelsea. And there has been no exception at Inter.

Perhaps the biggest reason behind the Nerazzurri’s success this season is the presence of reliable defenders like Diego Godin, Milan Skriniar, Stefan de Vrij, Alessandro Bastoni and Danilo D’Ambrosio, who has been used as a centre-back by Conte. They have built a formidable defensive partnership, helping Inter attain one of the best defensive records in Europe’s top five leagues.

Back on the radars of Barcelona and Real Madrid. (Photo by Alex Burstow/Getty Images)
A defensive stalwart. (Photo by Alex Burstow/Getty Images)

While Godin and D’Ambrosio’s experience and defensive commitment is always a massive bonus when defending the opposition, the ball-playing qualities of Skriniar and de Vrij have made Inter much more efficient in the build-up play.

When moving forward, while facing minimal pressure, Inter tend to take full advantage of the ingenuity of Marcelo Brozovic. The Croatian, in that regard, has done an excellent job of tracking back and acting almost as an auxiliary centre-back, providing additional passing support for the centre-backs.

Brozovic becomes most useful when Inter Milan are facing a top-class opposition, thus forcing Conte to employ a deep defensive block. In certain instances, his positional awareness and excellent range of passing significantly improve the club’s ball-retention.

Brozovic is partnered by two additional central midfielders. Conte has a plethora of options in this department in Stefano Sensi, Roberto Gagliardini, Nicolo Barella and Matias Vecino. These two midfielders are normally focused more on the attacking side of the game, offering support to the two central strikers and creating passing triangles with the wing-backs.

Conte has predominantly used Cristiano Biraghi, Antonio Candreva and more recently Ashley Young in the wing-back slots. All of these players are equipped with commendable athleticism, allowing them to move up and down the pitch and cover the entire flanks.

MILAN, ITALY - APRIL 15: Antonio Candreva of FC Internazionale Milano celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the Serie A match between FC Internazionale and AC Milan at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on April 15, 2017 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images )
Candreva’s attacking tendencies have boosted Inter Milan’s chance creation from wide areas of the pitch. (Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images )

And finally, the two centre-forwards in Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez create a flawless attacking system that can be easily interchanged. Lukaku’s physical prowess allows him to hold-up play and acts as a target man while his Argentine teammate has the dynamism and flair to cause terror in the opposing defences.

One thing both have in common is their lethal finishing in front of goal. In fact, they have scored 28 combined goals so far – the same number of goals arch-rivals AC Milan have scored as a whole this season.

Marquee Player: Romelu Lukaku

Martinez’s rapid rise to prominence has already been well documented this season. However, the real star for Inter has been Lukaku. He has already scored 17 goals in 25 league matches, mustering more game-time than any other Inter player in the process.

The Belgian international was arguably the smartest acquisition in the transfer market last summer in Serie A, joining Inter in a €65 million move from Manchester United.

Often criticized for his bulky figure, Lukaku has gone through a massive transformation, not just physically but also mentally. His ball-control has significantly improved, with the ex-Everton star now much more effective in the build-up play.

Lukaku will be out to impress against Juventus (Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images)
Best striker in Serie A? (Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images)

The fact that Conte has assigned him the deeper role in his two-man offensive unit has proved beneficial for the forward. In addition, 27-year-old has impressed the onlookers with his leadership that has not only been useful to the Inter side but also to his partner-in-crime Martinez.

One For The Future

Bastoni has emerged as the prized crown for Inter Milan this season. A product of the Atalanta youth academy, the defender has taken full advantage of D’Ambrosio’s injury to establish himself as a key member of the club’s defensive unit. He is tipped as the future of Italian defence, though he is yet to win his first international cap.

So far, Bastoni has notched up 14 league appearances, a majority of which have come since the turn of the year. His rapid growth will be essential for the club in the future, especially with Godin being linked with a move away from San Siro, with Manchester United being one of the potential destinations.

The 21-year-old can thus slot in alongside Skriniar and de Vrij in Inter Milan’s three-man backline. And with the defender almost destined to receive more game-time next season, he can gradually make his mark and become a household name in Italian football.

Aside from Bastoni, Sebastiano Esposito is another young player, who is making waves. Unlike the defender, however, the 17-year-old is a product of the club’s very own youth academy. Esposito has most notably appeared in Champions League and other cup matches for Inter so far and could gain a more prominent role in the side following the potential departure of Martinez this summer.

Other talented youth players include Facundo Colidio, a striker who has impressed during his loan spell at Sint-Truidin. Lorenzo Pirola and Lucien Agoume are also players seeking to make an impression in senior football for Inter and could receive first-team chances late in the season.

Writer’s Opinion

The arrival of Conte has certainly improved the club’s harmony, which has combined well with the Italian’s tactical ingenuity. In addition, Inter have been able to attract well-established individuals, notably signing the likes of Christian Eriksen and Lukaku.

However, as we near the re-opening of the transfer market, they must try their best in keeping hold of star players. Individuals like Martinez has already been linked with a move to Barcelona while Skriniar is sure to attract interest from across the footballing world. Their prolonged stay at the club could be crucial in helping Inter continue to thrive under Conte and eventually restore their lost glory.

As far as the 2019/20 campaign is concerned, the title seems to have slipped away from them as things stand. However, with still more than 10 matches left to be played, a strong run once the season restarts may still see them push Juventus. A top four finish seems pretty much a certainty though.

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