Time for Serie A to take Inter Milan seriously
Before this season began, Juventus, AC Milan and AS Roma were favourites for the Scudetto. Not many looked toward Internazionale, not even its own faithful. Almost midway through the campaign, however, it is the Nerazzurri that lead the pack. More impressively, Luciano Spalletti's side is still unbeaten.
Since Rafa Benitez dismantled Jose Mourinho's treble-winning class of 2010, it's been nothing but mediocrity for Inter. Unable to challenge on the homefront, European nights were just a fantasy.
Last season's collapse was the most critical in the post-Mourinho era. The Nerazzurri's steady decline was never so precipitous. Four different managers tested their proficiency. Frank de Boer began the gamble. Stefano Vecchi finished off the debacle. To be fair, Vecchi managed to grill some positive results. Seventh is still a disappointing result for a club of Inter's pedigree. Another year without continental football beckoned.
Fortunately for the Nerazzurri, the extra time off is paying dividends this season. Unlike their rivals, Inter has nearly six days to train and prepare for games. An absence of midweek fixtures has reduced injuries and fatigue. Spalletti's side is emulating Antonio Conte's Chelsea, which took full advantage of the same scenario last season to win the Premier League.
Time is the only thing money can't buy in modern football. Yet, only geniuses like Conte and Spalletti can utilise spare time. It didn't take the latter long to strike upon the magic formula at San Siro. The 58-year-old quickly struck upon the right blend of motivation and tactics. He has created a resolute defence and nurtured his prolific attackers.
Spalletti's fingerprints are all over Inter. The squad is reformed and disciplined this term. Despite falling behind its rivals in the summer market, the club has overtaken Napoli to now set the pace in the Scudetto race. After 16 games, Inter stand tall with 40 points. That's a whopping 16 more than their money-crazy San Siro co-tenants. They've racked up impressive wins over Roma and Milan, while picking up results at Napoli and Juventus.
Inter’s success hasn't solely been Spalletti's handiwork. Skipper Mauro Icardi has been equally influential. Hitherto famed as a penalty area predator, the Argentine has expanded his repertoire, contributing far more. With 16 strikes and an assist, the 24-year-old is directly responsible for half his team's 33 goals. His superb understanding with the creative Ivan Perisic has driven Inter up the table.
At the other end of the pitch, centre-back Milan Skriniar has become an idol. The Slovakian signed from Sampdoria in the summer to little fanfare. Yet he has been a wall even Donald Trump would envy. His partnership with the uncompromising Brazilian, Miranda, has rekindled memories of Mourinho's impenetrable duo, Lucio and Walter Samuel.
Although it's rather too early for title talks, Spalletti’s team is setting forth its credentials. If the two blue-clad Premier League champions Leicester and Chelsea have taught us anything, it's that the Nerazzurri should be taken more seriously. Juventus manager Maximiliano Allegri, agrees.
“Inter is a competitive team to that will fight to the end of the title just like us."
A man who has seen both sides of Juventus' six-year dominance should know.