Inter's brilliant start to the season sees them 15 points better off than this stage last season and within touching distance of top spot. Performances of new signings such as Milan Skriniar, Borja Valero, and Matias Vecino have been well documented, as have the exploits of existing players such as Mauro Icardi, and Ivan Perisic who are playing with renewed vigor.
The outstanding job done by the new manager Luciano Spalletti has also been rightfully praised as he has successfully molded the team and brought the best out of much maligned players such as Yuto Nagatomo and Danilo D'Ambrosio. However, this article aims to pump the brakes a little on all the Scudetto talk with the hope of curbing unrealistic expectations and avoiding the inevitable disappointment if things start going pear-shaped. The cautiousness is ironically borne out of some of the key strengths fueling the successful through matchday 14.
Over-reliance on Icardi
Icardi is the leading scorer in Serie A this season and his form has been beyond brilliant. While Icardi is on the pitch, Inter always have a chance of scoring and most of the times do. However, when compared to the likes of Napoli, Juventus, and Roma, Inter's goal scoring effort has been much more of a one-man show. Icardi has scored 15 out of Inter's 28 goals, with Perisic coming in next with four goals. This translates to more than 50% of Inter's goals come from just the captain.
Comparing this to Napoli, whose top scorer Dries Mertens has scored just ten (less than a third) of the team's 35 goals and a much more balanced contribution from Callejon and Insigne. Over at Juventus, top scorer Paulo Dybala has scored 12 (or one-third) of the team's 40 goals and Gonzalo Higuain is not far behind with eight. Roma are also pretty balanced in this regard with Edin Dzeko scoring seven of the team's 24 and El Shaarawy chipping in with four. The closest situation to Inter among the leading teams is Lazio for whom Ciro Immobile has scored over 45% of their 33 goals.
Thus, at least statistically speaking, Icardi as the team's top scorer is immensely more important to Inter than the equivalent situation at Roma, Napoli or Juventus. Any injury or loss of form could pretty much derail Inter's positive season. It is needless to say that goals must consistently start coming from elsewhere if Inter are to stay in the hunt for a top four finish. In a way, Icardi's value to Inter to Inter this season is tantamount to a quarterback for an American Football team and it is this over-reliance that makes it a bit of a stretch to consider Inter as true Scudetto challengers with such a large part of the season still to play.
Lack of adequate defensive cover
Milan Skriniar and Joao Miranda have formed an excellent partnership and Inter's defensive stability this season is one of the biggest improvements over recent campaigns. However, Spalletti has been somewhat fortunate that neither Skriniar nor Miranda have been out injured or suspended. That however changes this weekend, as Inter take on Chievo with Miranda out suspended. The Nerazzurri faithful are rightfully nervous not knowing what to expect from potentially seeing Rannochia partner young Skriniar at the back. If Spalletti is able to get the best out of Rannochia like he has with Nagatomo then he is a true genius and Inter's lack of adequate cover at the back becomes a slightly smaller headache.
Fortunately, Miranda is out for just a game and will be back for the Derby of Italy. However, until Inter can show that injuries or suspensions to the center back pairing can be handled without a dramatic reduction in defensive quality, this remains a genuine area of concern.
Over-achieving squad members
The form of D'Ambrosio and Nagatomo has been the highlight of the season for many fans. Players who were cast aside as no-hopers have put in near man of the match performances. However, it remains to be seen if players like them can they continue to maintain this high level or will they eventually creep back to their old (woeful) performances. If Inter is to compete for a Scudetto, the level of performances from supposed lesser squad members has to sustain until the end of the season.
Spalletti has recently used Davide Santon in place of Nagatomo, thus allowing him to test the depth of the squad in the eternally troublesome full-back area. While the performances of some players have come as a pleasant surprise, it would be a little unfair to heap equally high expectations for the remainder of the campaign. In a season as tight as the current one, the margins for error are too thin to confidently claim Inter can fight for the Scudetto.
Insufficient number of matches played
While going undefeated through the first 14 games of the season is no mean feat, it is not a large enough representation to accurately project how this team will handle the ups and downs of an entire season. Inter have not had a real wobble of sorts thus far and the ability of the team to recover from it has not been tested. One might argue the rusty performances to start the season provided some tough moments but it remains to be seen how the team will respond to a defeat or a string of draws. Building mental fortitude was always going to be one of Spalletti's biggest tasks and while early evidence suggests that the team is on the right track, it is definitely too early to claim they have the wherewithal to handle everything that will be thrown at them through 38 games. Napoli, Roma, and Juventus have the advantage of being more battle-hardened in this regard.
With all these factors considered, it seems a little premature to burden this team with Scudetto expectations at this point in time. If the results continue to build positively and the likes of Napoli, Roma and Juve have difficulties of their own, it may be time to revisit this topic in a few months. However, until then it might be prudent to simply enjoy the performances and watch the gap build to fifth place as Inter (Inter Milan) cement their position in the top four and return to the Champions League (which was the stated objective at the start of the season). This is by no means a criticism of the team, the coach, or the fans, but simply a point of view that aims to put some rather lofty (and potentially damaging) expectations in check. As always, Forza Inter!