Oh how things have changed since our season preview. Coaching changes, management shakeups, plus ups and downs in form have certainly made this another Pazza Inter season. There is hope on the horizon that things might be settling down though and with that in mind we’ll once again present you with our thoughts, hopes, and fears about the remainder of this Inter Milan 16/17 campaign.
What’s the state of the club at this midway point?
Baraka: Focused. A majority of the first half of the season was pure chaos, splitting with Roberto Mancini, the struggles of Frank De Boer, sacking De Boer, board in-fighting over the next coach, Mauro Icardi’s book, need I go on? Since Stefano Pioli was hired and Suning sent over Steven Zhang to act as their representative in Milan, things have calmed down and everybody seems to have a better idea of what to do. The Lazio win really boosted the team’s morale and with the club (somehow) only 5 points off third place Pioli and company know that with enough focus and hard work in the second half of the campaign, Champions League football can be reached.
Will: After the disastrous six months that Baraka outlined above the club is still in a state of convalescence, but there are small signs emerging that we're finally on the right track. Pioli could not have had anything more realistically asked of him so far and has restored a very feint hope of a top-three finish (although I still think this is highly unlikely, because this team has problems that can't be solved in the space of just six months), while off the field Suning have at last put their stamp on proceedings and established a modicum of clarity. Some big questions remain unanswered, but we're in a better place than we were in July - that much is for sure.
Michael: A rough start in the beginning of the season hampered Inter as they failed to find consistency through the first half of the season. This lead to the sadly inevitable firing of the recently hired De Boer who did not possess nearly enough time to instill his philosophy on a team he received barely before the start of the season. Although the firing of De Boer should be questioned, it has lead to the hiring of Stefano Pioli. Thus far, Pioli has shown the ability to right the sinking ship that is Inter and has given many fans (including myself) hope for the rest of the season. The upswing in the performances of Inter following Pioli's hire has the club and everyone associated with the club feeling optimistic.
Tim: I’d say the state of the club is one of cautious optimism at the moment. As everyone has outlined above, the past six months have not been the easiest for Inter. That being said, Pioli has really done a good job of righting the ship since his arrival. Somehow, despite the tumultuous start the the season, Inter are only five points out of a Champions League spot. With only Serie A and the Coppa Italia left to play for, and the potential to add talent to the team in January, there’s reason optimistic about a top-three push.
Who has been Inter’s best summer signing so far?
Baraka: Antonio Candreva. The ex-Lazio winger has been a constant presence in this Inter team, and a lot of the team’s most promising attacking plays came through his flank. Recently he started to add goals to his good performances, and if he can get his crosses toward Icardi to be just a little more accurate those two will be an absolutely lethal combination.
Will: As much as I adore Joao Mario it has to be Candreva. There was a stat going round on Twitter during the summer that showed you how his output was slowly declining with each season that passed (fewer goals, fewer assists, fewer crosses etc.), so I was worried we had signed someone who was emphatically past his best, but so far we've seen nothing of the sort. With the team and club in a bit of a mess during the summer we needed someone who didn't require time to settle in and could hit the ground running, and Candreva has been just that, improving our offensive options while also taking on the responsibility of being a team leader when things are going wrong. But I do love Joao Mario. I really do.
Michael: Joao Mario is a versatile midfielder who is capable of dictating games, but has not been as consistent as the seasoned Antonio Candreva. Candreva has been a spark plug for the team throughout the season. Much of the offense comes through the Italian who has quickly become the team's most dangerous creator. Candreva, who has scored three times and provided an additional four assists, has proven that he is worth the money Inter spent for him in the summer transfer window.
Tim: Candreva. I agree completely with what Baraka has said above. Candreva has been one of the most consistent outlets in attack, and has added a couple very meaningful goals. I too believe he and Icardi have the potential to create a formidable attacking partnership in 2017.
Who has been Inter’s worst summer signing so far?
Baraka: As easy as it would be to say Gabriel Barbosa, he hasn’t actually seemed that bad in the few opportunities he’s had on the pitch. I guess I would have to go with Cristian Ansaldi? He has been better than the other fullbacks but only marginally, leaving that position as one that needs improving yet again.
Will: Can I say Caner Erkin? Anyone remember him? If not, I think it's impossible not to say Gabriel Barbosa. I haven't been particularly bothered by him never playing because it's clear we have other, bigger issues to solve, but if you're signed for €30m and make three cameo appearances before Christmas then we can't talk about anything other than a flop. I'm confident he won't end up being one, but at the moment there's nothing else we can call him.
Michael: So far, there has not been a horrendous signing. Ever Banega has not lived up to expectations, but he also did come in on a free transfer and against Lazio the midfielder showed what he is truly capable of. Ansaldi has not been great, but it has been so long since we have acquired a strong fullback that I no longer know what they look like. So I am going to cheat and declare Stevan Jovetic the worst signing. Now I know Inter acquired Jovetic before last season, but there was reportedly a stipulation in his initial deal that made the transfer obligatory after a certain number of appearances. At the beginning of this season, Jovetic reached that number and now Inter have to pay Manchester City a heinous amount of money for a player that does not play. Jovetic has failed to live up to expectations for a second year in a row and the only reminder that the Montenegrin attacker is still on the team comes from his agent who constantly complains about the team.
Tim: Though it’s through no fault of his own, the worst summer signing is Gabriel Barbosa right now. While, I truly wish he was a given a legitimate shot in the team, Gabigol has only made three appearances for Inter, playing just around 20 minutes of football. That’s simply not enough for a €29.5m signing to be viewed as anything but a disappointment. There’s no doubt that Gabriel is a promising player with a bright future—and I truly hope he gets his chance to succeed at Inter—but his lack of playing time makes him the worst signing thus far.
What was the team’s biggest win?
Baraka: The easy answer wins for me here, 2-1 against Juventus. The grit and determination shown by the Inter players to come back against the champions (ugh) after going down a goal was great to watch, especially after they were already shaky following the prior defeat in the opening Europa League match. Frank De Boer’s tactics worked in that match and though they didn’t ultimately work out in the long run/he wasn’t given a long run to let them work out, that was an evening Interisti all over the world could smile about.
Will: It's impossible to know the answer to this for sure until May, but I have a feeling it could be the Lazio match. Beating Juventus was a fantastic achievement and it injected some much-needed enthusiasm into the fan-base, but we soon saw that it was a flash in the pan and not something De Boer could genuinely build on, so looking back it's quite a hollow success. In contrast, when I was watching the Lazio game I got the impression that we were watching a turning point in our season - just as the exact same fixture last year turned out to be a turning point in our season, in a very different sense - because it was the crystallization of the slow improvements the team has been making under Pioli. That performance a fortnight ago felt more sustainable than the Juventus one, however brilliant it felt and however long we celebrated that victory for - but as I said, we might lose our next three games and show that it wasn't the start of something bigger. Time will tell...
Michael: The biggest win of the season has to be the 2-0 win over Genoa. Coming off the 3-0 demolition where Napoli beat down on us, the team could either continue on a bad run of form or turn their fortunes around. Now, it may not have been the prettiest or most dominant of wins, but Brozovic prominently displayed his talent and his brace won the game for Inter. Following the win over Genoa, Inter extended their string of clean sheet victories to three. The win over Genoa provided our squad with confidence and will hopefully lead to a streak of many more wins.
Tim: The Juventus win. After a slow start the the season, many Inter fans were expecting the match against champions to be a total disaster. Inter came from behind to snatch a thrilling victory. It was by far the brightest moment of De Boer’s short time with with the club, and allowed Interisti to forget about the rough start for just a moment.
Which defeat was hardest to swallow?
Baraka: Any of the Europa League losses to be honest (besides the one against Southampton). This was a group Inter wasn’t just expected to get out of, but to top the group with a number of quite comfortable matches. They were anything but. To see the team smacked around by opposition that shouldn’t be anywhere near Inter’s level was embarrassing. The only hint of a consolation was that Southampton also failed to make it out the group so we can try to say that it was just a weird group with overachieving underdogs, but we all know it was a case of extremely underachieving favorites.
Will: Goodness, this really is a depressingly difficult question. I genuinely don't know which one has caused me most pain. The Hapoel defeats were both incredibly embarrassing, but in a different way so were De Boer's last two defeats before being fired, away to Atalanta and Sampdoria, because there it really looked like the players had given up on him and were just waiting for him to leave. But I think I'll say the defeat at home to Cagliari, because everything about that match makes my blood boil. You had the Curva creating a poisonous atmosphere in the ground that day by singling out Icardi (who had made a huge mistake, let's be clear), in a very delicate moment of our season; you had our humiliating and totally unnecessary second-half collapse after finally breaking through thanks to Joao Mario; and you also have the fact that that match is one of the only two that Cagliari haven't lost away from home this season. They have the worst defense in the division and have lost seven out of nine games on the road so far - how did we conspire to lose to them?
Michael: There have been many difficult defeats to swallow this season (almost innumerable). The toughest for me to swallow was the defeat to Hapoel Beer Sheva in the penultimate group stage match in Europa. Although the majority of our Europa League matches were frankly disappointing, this one was excruciatingly painful because we lost after running out to a healthy two goal lead in the first twenty five minutes. After jumping out to this two goal lead, Inter capitulated and Hapoel stormed back to equalize the game, but that was not all as Hapoel went further by getting a goal in extra time to seal our disappointing exit from Europe. This defeat hurts even more in hindsight because if we had won this game, Inter would still be fighting in Europe. This may prove beneficial in the long run as Europa League was only distracting Inter from the league games where Inter also were underperforming.
Tim: While I agree that the Europa League losses were tough to swallow, the defeat that sticks out to me is losing at home to Cagliari. That was one of the most frustrating league matches Inter played this season because they had every opportunity to win. Inter dominated possession and created several chances, but could not finish. Instead, the team blew a 1-0 lead late in the second half to lose 2-1. That just can’t happen at the San Siro to a newly-promoted team.
If you could sell Marcelo Brozovic for over €45m in order to comply with FFP and buy two competent fullbacks (or one top fullback) in January, would you?
Baraka: Yup. Brozovic has been great since Pioli took over, but central midfield is not a position where the club is lacking in alternatives. With Joao Mario and Ever Banega, creativity and calmness on the ball can be provided through other means and the loss of the Croatian midfielder would hurt but it wouldn’t be a killer blow. The fullback situation on the other hand has been the team’s Achilles heel for season after season, and that problem needs to be solved ASAP.
Will: It's tempting, but I would say no. He's our most in-form midfielder and is more important to the team's current success than perhaps it seems; after Handanovic and Icardi I expect he's the first name Pioli writes on his team-sheet at the moment. But if someone comes along and pays that €50m release clause then there's not a lot we would be able to do - if that did happen, and I hope it doesn't, then I'm sure a couple of new full-backs wouldn't go amiss.
Michael: I love watching Brozovic play, especially when he is in form, but fullback has been a weakness for Inter for far too many seasons. Although Danilo D'Ambrosio and Davide Santon have been adequate at fullback this season, they do have their flaws. D'Ambrosio has been solid defensively, but his crossing leaves much to be desired (aside from the beauty in the Lazio game) and Santon has struggled to start multiple games in a row. So, if I was told that the sale of Brozovic would directly lead to the arrival of quality fullback(s), I would tell management to sell. Brozovic has a sensational shot in his repertoire and can boss a game, but Inter still have Kondogbia who has shown some promise in his limited appearances, Banega who shined against Lazio, and Joao Mario who has also shown the ability to dictate play with his exceptional dribbling. Yes, I would reluctantly sell Brozovic for a competent fullback or two.
Tim: I really do like Brozovic—and letting him go would be a difficult decision—but yes, I would take the €45m. Inter have several players who can play in central midfield, and desperately need new fullbacks. As disappointing as selling Brozovic would be, €45m would allow Inter to bring in two high-quality fullbacks to solve what’s been the main issue for years now. You simply have to take the money.
Scale of 1-10, what are the chances Inter will make the top 3 this season?
Baraka: 6. Pioli’s team is only 5 points off 3rd place but there are three teams in between them and Napoli (Lazio, AC Milan, and Atalanta). I doubt Atalanta will stay in the top 6 through the rest of the season and I expect/hope Lazio and Milan pull a Mancini-second half of the season implosion. Inter sneaking into the top 3 requires those teams to slip up, Ausilio and co. to bring in the right reinforcements for Pioli, and for the team to be much more consistent than they were in the first half of the season. All three of those things happening might seem a little unlikely, but I’m an optimist so I’m putting the odds ever so slightly in the Nerazzurri’s favor.
Will: 3. I find it very difficult to imagine this Inter team finishing above either Roma or Napoli, and we’ll need to get the jump on one of them in order to finish third. They're simply better teams than we are, and they have a headstart on us in the table heading into 2017; something strange will have to happen to allow us to overtake them (perhaps being distracted by their European commitments, which we no longer have). And then on top of that you have Milan and Lazio, who both seem more settled than we are (albeit with an inferior level of individual talent) and will both have to start slipping up to open the door for Inter. To qualify for the Champions League we are going to need to put together a run of at least six or seven wins in a row, at some point between now and May, and I don't trust us to do that at this moment in time. But who knows, stranger things have happened.
Michael: 7. Inter have the quality within the team to surge up to the Champions League places. Many, including myself, initially thought Inter had the quality in their ranks to be contenders for the title but chemistry was the main issue during De Boer's tenure. Under De Boer, Inter simply could not defend and the attacks far too often sputtered to a stop due to a lack of imagination. Now that Pioli has arrived Inter have exhibited an ability to get clean sheets and win even if they do not defend perfectly. If Pioli can get the defense working together, the midfield playing cohesively, and if Icardi keeps playing like a superstar; then Inter has every chance in the world of reaching the cherished Champions League places.
Tim: 5. Inter’s performances since Pioli took over have been much improved, so I’m cautiously optimistic about a Champions League push. That being said—and objectively speaking—I view Juventus, Roma, and Napoli as more complete teams than Inter at the moment. My opinion is, of course, subject to change if we can bring in the right reinforcements in January. With a seemingly easy upcoming schedule, Inter’s top-three chances could be much improved when the transfer window closes. I’m optimistic, but also aware that things can go wrong quickly.
What is your one wish for 2017?
Baraka: Besides the club signing a fullback that doesn’t make Giacinto Facchetti roll over in his grave? That Inter management finally achieves stability and sticks to whatever plans they come up with. For too long this club has been seen as a madhouse. I wish that perception dies with 2016.
Will: For Inter to choose a path and stick to it. Any path will do; we cannot keep repeating Year Zero. Signing Marco Verratti or Domenico Berardi in the summer would also be nice, but let's not get greedy.
Michael: Other than reaching the Champions League places, I would like for Pioli to feature these youngsters I keep hearing about and seeing little of. Under De Boer, Senna Miangue featured in a few game showing glimpses of his potential. Andrea Pinamonti proved in his one Europa League appearance that he can be an integral player for Inter in the future. Last and most importantly, can Gabriel Barbosa please receive more playing time. Eder and Palacio seemingly are ahead of Gabigol in the pecking order even though neither of them have offered anything substantial throughout the season. Now I know many people do not appreciate the flashy skills that Gabigol displayed against Lazio, but I loved it. Not only did he strike fear into his Lazio opponents, but he also did whatever he could to get the ball. Gabriel Barbosa wanted the ball, he wanted to be a threat, and he wanted to strike at the heart of Lazio's defense. I believe all these youngsters can offer something to Inter. If they can feature prominently for the remainder of the season I would be happy.
Tim: Of course I’d like Inter to finish in a Champions League spot, but my wish at the moment is to give Gabriel Barbosa the chance his obvious talent deserves. He has the potential to become a superstar—and Inter did spend a significant amount of money to bring him to the San Siro—so I hope he gets a chance under Pioli in the second half. A couple new fullbacks would be nice too!