Well, what a difference a year makes.
Wednesday’s 3-0 victory over Lazio saw the Nerazzurri end a disastrous 2016 calendar year on a high note as the club enters Serie A’s winter break.
The victory should come as a relief to Inter fans, yet a strong sense of disappointment about what could have been persists. Of course, Inter were top of the Serie A table at this stage last year.
While I’m sure most Inter fans are excited to turn the page to 2017—and eager to forget 2016 altogether—there is reason to be optimistic about the club.
Inter have played six league matches since manager Stefano Pioli took over in early November, earning 13 of a possible 18 points, and outscoring opponents 12-7 in that span.
While some will be disappointed that Inter were unable to beat AC Milan, and embarrassed to lose to Napoli 3-0, dropping points in the Milan Derby and away to Napoli is certainly acceptable, if not expected, given the inconstancy and turmoil plaguing the team this season.
Further, if you isolate the league since Pioli’s arrival, Inter’s performances may even seem impressive. In the six matches since taking charge of the club, Pioli’s Inter have accumulated the second highest point total in the league. The Nerazzurri’s 13 points are topped only by Napoli’s 14. Inter’s +5 goal differential during this span is also the third best in Serie A, trailing only Napoli (+11) and Juventus (+6).
These stats, along with improved performances and Pioli’s willingness to experiment tactically, give reason for optimism as we enter 2017.
After Wednesday’s victory, Mauro Icardi commented on the club’s push for a top-three finish, saying:
“The important thing is that we don’t return from the winter break and throw everything away, just as we did last year. I hope we have learned from those mistakes… We’ll take it one game at a time, keep climbing the table and look forward.”
-Mauro Icardi; source: Football Italia
Entering the break, Inter trail third-place Napoli by just five points with 20 league matches remaining. In January, Inter will play Udinese, Chievo Verona, Bologna, Palermo, and Pescara—with three of the five matches taking place at the San Siro. Those clubs are currently 10th, 11th, 15th, 18th, and 20th in the league respectively.
On the surface, this looks like a favorable schedule for Inter; especially if Pioli can utilize the two-and-a-half week break to mold the players to his style of play, and continue the momentum the team has built in its four-match winning streak.
All of this is to say, that if Inter players heed the advice of their captain, and focus game-by-game, the table could look much more promising at the end of January. Then, without having to focus on the Europa League, Inter’s push towards a top-three Serie A finish, and a place in the Champions League, could very well be underway.