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Why it’s okay if Inter and Spalletti get off to a slow start in Serie A

A five-year look at how teams that have finished in Serie A’s top-four started their campaigns.

FC Internationale Official Training & Press Conference - 2017 International Champions Cup China Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

This past Wednesday, Serie A released its official fixture schedule for the 2017/18 season. As a result, Inter Milan and new manager Luciano Spalletti know their fate. The Nerazzurri will face a less than ideal start to the season, hosting Fiorentina on match day one and then clashing with Roma away in what will be Spalletti’s first trip back to the Stadio Olimpico as Inter manager.

With kick-off now under a month away, fans—and hopefully the club—are eagerly awaiting the chance to welcome competitive football back once again (sorry, ICC). As the build-up to August 20th intensifies, much of the focus will be put on the first two matches of Spalletti’s tenure.

Atalanta BC v FC Internazionale - Serie A
Frank De Boer and Inter got off to s slow start last season, but this isn’t 2016.
Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

They may not be Juventus and Napoli away, but Inter’s opening two fixtures are undoubtedly challenging matches that will test the progress and readiness of Spalletti’s side. Fans will justifiably be concerned over the possibility of another slow start from Inter. After all, last year’s doomed Frank De Boer era started with an unceremonious defeat away to Chievo Verona on opening day, followed by troublesome home draw against now relegated Palermo. It wasn’t until Inter’s thrilling Derby D’Italia victory over Juventus that we had any sense of life under De Boer (and let’s not talk about how short-lived that was).

I have no doubt that fans will hope a better start for Inter this season under Luciano Spalletti, and while the club hitting the ground running would be great to see, historically and statistically speaking, doing so isn’t crucial. If recent seasons are any indication, Inter can start slowly and still achieve their goal of a top-four finish.

Ahead of the schedule release, I took some time to analyze a five-year look at how teams that have finished in Serie A’s top-four started their campaigns (taking their first five league matches into consideration). The results are interesting. Here are some key takeaways.

Of the 20 teams to achieve a top-four Serie A finish in the past five seasons:

  • 14 (70%) earned 8 or more points from their first five matches
  • 12 (60%) earned 10 points or more
  • 8 (40%) earned fewer than 10 points
  • 6 (30%) earned 6 points or fewer
  • 12 (60%) won at least three of their first five matches
  • 9 (45%) won at least four
  • 9 (45%) went undefeated in their first five matches
  • Only 4 teams (2015/16 Inter, 2014/15 Juve, 2014/15 Roma, and 2013/14 Roma) started perfectly
  • In 4 of the last 5 seasons, at least one top-four team started with 6 or fewer points
  • And the worst start to a season came last year, when Atalanta earned just 3 out of 15 points

To me, these stats are telling.

If 40 percent of the teams that finish in the top-four started their seasons with single-digit point totals; only four teams began perfectly; and of those four, only one actually went on to win the league title; a club’s start to the season simply isn’t as important as we make it out to be. It’s overrated, for lack of a better term.

ICC Singapore - FC Internazionale v Chelsea FC
If Spalletti and Inter finish in the top-four, it will be a marathon, not a sprint.
Photo by Stanley Chou/Getty Images for ICC

With this in mind, it’s important for fans and the club to give Luciano Spalletti and his Inter proper time to gel. After the difficult matches against Fiorentina and Roma, Inter will host SPAL and then visit Crotone and Bologna. That’s not terrible, and Inter should be able to gain at least eight points from their first five matches. While that may seem like a slow start to some, it’s worth keeping in mind that 30 percent of the teams that finished in the top-four since 2013 have done so from an inferior position.

While I’ve already expressed my concerns over whether or not Inter are truly setting Spalletti up to be successful, we shouldn’t jump to any conclusions—good or bad—right away. A slow start won’t completely derail Inter’s season, and a perfect one isn’t a guarantee of ultimate success.

For so many reasons (our collective sanity chief among them), seeing the club win matches right from the get-go would be encouraging, if not therapeutic. But we shouldn’t overreact if Inter are a little slower out of the gates. If they fail to win against Fiorentina or Roma, it’s not the end of the world.

A fast start would be great for Spalletti and his Inter, but it’s not crucial. Recent history tells us so.


How many points do you expect Inter to earn from their first five matches?

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