After months of waiting, Inter’s season is about to begin. The Nerazzurri have high hopes and expectations but also a little uncertainty (ok maybe a lot of uncertainty) due to last minute changes in the coaching staff. The team is back in European competitions but are still aiming higher, and this season has the potential to return this club to the Champions League. There’s a tug of war going on between optimism and pessimism in the minds of many Inter fans and in order to help, we’re presenting you our thoughts, hopes, and fears about this coming campaign in our Inter Milan 16/17 season preview.
What is the state of the club approaching the season opener?
Baraka: Cautiously optimistic. The current squad is probably the best that this team has been in years and Inter must be considered a serious challenger for the Champions League places. On the other hand the club just signed a new coach and there are questions as to how long it will take the players to understand the new philosophy.
Will: There are a lot more questions than answers at the moment. Suning might well go on to do fantastic things for Inter in the next few years, but their first two months in charge have not exactly gone to plan, to put it mildly. Despite making some good signings in the transfer market and managing to keep all of our big players, this summer has been a bit of a shambles from an image point of view, and it's created a worrying atmosphere of uncertainty on the eve of a season in which we're obliged to challenge Napoli and Roma for a Champions League place. The club hierarchy will have to hope Frank de Boer adapts to Italian football in super-quick time, having put him in an incredibly difficult spot after bringing him in two months too late, otherwise they are going to end up looking rather silly. The owners have changed but at the moment Inter looks like the same club as ever to me: full of unnecessary disorder and confusion.
Luca: I can't say much at the moment since the mercato hasn't finished yet but the situation at Inter is not as bright as it should be. Mancini should still be our coach or he should have left much earlier to allow the team to approach the season with more peacefulness. Also, will Inter be able to keep steady ownership for the next 10 years at least? I surely hope so because for me, not knowing who is making the rules is even worse than having no rules at all.
Who will be Inter’s key signing?
Luca: Ever Banega. He is exactly what we needed to fill the playmaking void from last season and the fact that he arrived in exchange for nothing basically makes this a steal.
Baraka: No other options really. De Boer might use him a little deeper than we originally expected but he will still bear the majority of the team’s creative burdens. It wouldn’t be much of an exaggeration to say that his performances could shape where this team ends up at the end of the season.
Will: Candreva is an important signing that fills the gaping void we had on the right wing last season, but you can't look past Banega. There's no point trying to play down expectations because we all think he's the player who could and should transform this team. To have got him without even having to pay a transfer fee is magnificent work from Piero and Pupi.
On a scale of 1-10, how much pressure will FdB have on him this season?
Baraka: 7. On one hand, De Boer arrived at the club with barely any time to work with his new charges before the start of the season so he should be afforded a more wiggle room than Roberto Mancini would have been granted. On the other hand the goal for Inter this season is still returning to the Champions League and that would have been made very clear to the new manager before he signed his contract.
Will: I don't expect miracles from him personally, but Inter is Inter and the squad is good so I'll say 8. But from me 5. If this season goes wrong it's Thohir who will have to take most responsibility for it, not FdB.
Luca: I will have to assign two different grades because I feel that the pressure De Boer will have on him is going to grow every week. I would say 6 for the first month or two, just because he has been given the job at the very last minute and he is new to Serie A’s style of football. After that period, it would probably be more like an 8 or 8.5. Inter fans are very demanding and De Boer will have to bring home some very good results to keep them happy and quiet and satisfied with his work.
Where is Inter’s weakest link?
Baraka: Unfortunately it still seems to be the fullbacks. Caner Erkin and Cristian Ansaldi haven’t really impressed in preseason, and nobody is really sure what’s going on with Davide Santon (who I still feel can be a good player for us if he gets consistent playing time).
Will: The full-backs. Ansaldi was fantastic for Genoa last season so I have faith in him to do well for us, but it's an area of the team that we've failed to adequately address ever since Mancini returned and switched us back to a four-man defence. We have depth there, but it's not particularly good depth. Something is still missing in central midfield as well.
Luca: I totally agree with my boys here. Our full-back situation is borderline atrocious. Do you think the fact that Mancini chose every single one of them - Nagatomo excluded - has anything to do with it? I absolutely think so.
How many goals will Mauro Icardi score in Serie A?
Baraka: 20. I think Ivan Perisic, Antonio Candreva, and Ever Banega will provide Mauro Icardi with chances galore. The only reason I didn’t say that he would score even more and break his Inter record of 22 goals is because it might take him a little time to get used to FDB’s new system plus fighting on three fronts means he might sit a few Serie A matches for Stevan Jovetic or Eder.
Will: He will have a lot more service this season than he's ever had since joining Inter, so there's no reason he can't surpass the 22 goals he scored in 2014-15. But I don't want to put excessive pressure on him, so let's say 23 for coherence's sake.
Luca: Hardest prediction of the whole pack. Icardi can score, that's a fact. I do not agree with the people who say that he needs 4-5 great chances to be able to score, just because most often than not (especially last season) Inter don’t create that many chances in a single match.
I'd say he will score more than 20 goals, but less than 30 and Banega's efficiency in De Boer's system will have a lot to do with this number.
Which player has the most to prove?
Baraka: I’m torn between Stevan Jovetic and Eder, but I have to go with the Montenegrin. Eder only had a half a season to disappoint while Jovetic floundered for most of 15/16 campaign (plus Eder had a fairly promising Euro campaign to give Inter fans some hope). Jovetic needs to do a lot of improving, mainly related to his goalscoring and his attitude (no I still haven’t forgotten about that). Honorable mention goes to Andrea Ranocchia because even though I know I shouldn’t, I hold a faint hope within my heart that FDB can coax back to life Ranocchia the footballer instead of Ranocchia the “what-in-gods-name-are-you-doing” heart-attack inducer.
Will: Icardi. Inter fans are not going to forgive his behavior this summer in a hurry.
Luca: Andrea Ranocchia. And Stevan Jovetic.
The first one will have to cope his psychological meltdown that prevented him from blossoming in the rock solid defender everyone thought he could became back when he played at Bari. He need to regain his confidence and I can see Miranda help him do that. Murillo's tendency at being too impulsive could give him many chances to prove what it's actually worth so this could be a huge season for Andrea and I hope, both for him and Inter, that he will be a reliable player in this coming season.
I totally agree with Baraka about Jovetic. He needs to prove more on the pitch rather than off it, and his talented feet needs to move much more than his lips if he wants to be considered a great player like he has shown he can be.
With the club fighting on three fronts which babies do you think will get a shot this season (aka does Assane Gnoukouri actually exist, or did we all just imagine him)?
Baraka: Considering the fact that the squad is pretty small in the midfield (only 5 not including the wingers-which apparently some people do) Gnoukouri has a pretty good chance of picking up serious minutes this season. Axel Bakayoko was impressive during the USA summer tour (as impressive as anybody could be during that debacle) but there are enough wingers in the squad that he probably won’t get a sniff of the bench unless there is an injury or two.
Will: None of them, in all likelihood. Miangue or Pinamonti might get some sporadic minutes in the Europa League or Coppa Italia if we're lucky. Gnoukouri is the kind of player De Boer will like, but I expect him to leave before the end of the transfer window.
Luca: I'm not that familiar with our Primavera team and I'm very sorry for that. I liked Pinamonti's attitude in this summer's friendlies and he already has the body to compete at the Serie A level so I can see De Boer allowing him to do some sporadic appearances when possible. Gnoukouri is a giant question mark for me. He played with confidence two season ago, when Mancini made him start against Milan and Roma, then he barely played last season and the few times he was on the pitch he looked careless and sloppy, so I'm unsure about how good he actually is.
However, De Boer started his coaching career as manager of the youth team at Ajax and he also had to work with a lot of young talents when transferred to the first team and I'm sure he con't hesitate if he will have the chance to make some young guns play and I hope he will finally make good use of our great Primavera program.
Will Inter finish in the top 3 and/or win a trophy this season?
Luca: For me, only Juventus has a better squad than Inter in the Serie A this season. The two teams that finished ahead of the Nerazzurri last season, Napoli and Roma, lost their key players, Higuain and Pjanic, and failed to find adequate replacements for them. So it would be only right for Inter to finish at least third in Serie A and reach at least the Coppa Italia semifinals.
The Europa League is a whole other story. De Boer is known for struggling in non-national competition so I think it would be hard to see our team advance to the very last stages. At the same time I think he could surprise everyone and finally be able to impress even at the European level thanks to a more talented and experienced squad. Banega's presence will be vital for this, since he won the competition back-to-back in the last two years.
Baraka: I pretty much agree with Luca. On paper Inter has the second best squad in Serie A, though picking up a new manager so late in preseason can really hurt a team so I’m willing to give the team a bit of a shaky start. Provided Napoli and Roma don’t make any last minute super-signings and the team hits the ground running (or at least not falling flat on their faces), at least third and the Coppa Italia semifinals should be expected (in case you forgot we have an incredibly forgiving side of the bracket this season). When it comes to the EL it really comes down to chance. As long as a bunch of big clubs don’t fall in after the CL group stage and Inter is lucky enough to avoid an bad pairing in the knockout rounds (I’m looking at you Manchester United), I think this team can reach the quarterfinals if not semifinals.
Will: The squad is good enough to finish in the top three, but I'm very sceptical over how well De Boer will cope with the club he's just walked into and Serie A as a whole. Champions League qualification would come as a pleasant surprise to me. From the Europa League I expect the quarter-finals at best (although the draw will determine a lot, as ever), but the Coppa Italia draw has been kind to us for once so perhaps this year will be our year. Unfortunately I find it really difficult to imagine us having a successful season after such a ridiculous summer - but football's greatness lies in the fact that it doesn't always make sense, so here's hoping I'm wrong. It wouldn't be the first time...