It’s no secret that in Serie A successful seasons are built on upon the foundation of a club’s defense.
Over the past five league campaigns, the most goals allowed by a team that qualified for the Champions League was 41 (AS Roma in 2015/16). That’s eight fewer goals than Inter conceded last year. The most allowed by a Scudetto winner in that time span was 27 (Juventus in 2016/17), 22 fewer goals than Inter conceded last season. Needless to say, if the Nerazzurri want to accomplish anything of note in 2017/18, the club desperately need to improve their back line.
Thankfully, Luciano Spalletti and Walter Sabatini recognized this glaring weakness and worked to address it during the Mercato. Inter have added center back Milan Skriniar, (defensive) midfielder Matias Vecino, and Brazilian left back Dalbert during the transfer window. While these new faces could provide a much-needed reset for the club’s defense, each is under 25-years-old, and has yet to play for a club with the pressure and expectations of Inter Milan.
Skriniar, Dalbert, and Vecino could (and very well should) help, but at the end of the day, an improved Inter defense in 2017/18 will rely on one man: the club’s vice captain, 32-year-old Brazilian center back Joao Miranda. After a summer of change, his importance to Inter is both undeniable and inescapable. Miranda consistently preforming to up to his standard and serving as a true leader will be the key that unlocks Inter’s season. Anything less could see the club fall short of expectations once again.
With Gary Medel gone and Jeison Murillo’s future very much up-in-the-air, Inter’s defense is thin and noticeably inexperienced. Dalbert, while talented and promising, is 23 and has just two seasons of European football under his belt. While Skiniar has made 38 Serie A appearances since joining Sampdoria in January 2016, he is still just 22-years-old, and thus prone to growing pains. At this point, Danilo D'Ambrosio is a known commodity — what you see is what you’re going to get. The Italian is always going to work hard and give his all, but he’s never going to be able to shutdown a top winger that has pace. I’d also rather not waste time mentioning Yuto Nagatomo, and no one knows if Spalletti is going to actually include Davide Santon in his plans.
With all do respect to superstar Mauro Icardi and the ever-talented Ivan Perisic, scoring and creating goals has not been a problem for Inter. The club’s 74 in 2016/17 were just three shy of champions Juventus, and firmly in the top-four of the league. Historically speaking, Luciano’s Spalletti’s sides also rarely struggle to find the back of the net — as a result the offense shouldn’t be a concern for Inter fans right now.
Despite possessing clear quality, Miranda, like most of Inter’s defense last season, struggled. He had flashes of brilliance (the 2-1 win over Juve comes to mind), but far too often Miranda couldn’t right the ship when Inter were leaking goals. If the club are to be successful this season, that simply cannot happen.
Before joining Inter in 2015, Miranda was one of the most sought-after defenders in Europe. The Brazilian center back was a key contributor for both club and country, and played a vital role in Atletico Madrid’s 2014 La Liga winning side — the only time since 2004 a club not named Barcelona or Real Madrid won the Spanish title. For his efforts, Miranda was nominated as the best defender in La Liga, alongside teammate Filipe Luís and Madrid's Sergio Ramos, though the Spanish center back won.
Miranda was also impressive in his first year at the San Siro. Before becoming infected with the malaise of compliancy that plagued nearly ever Inter player last season, Miranda was a defensive standout in 2015/16. His partnership Murillo worked well, and the club were in first place as late as January, conceding just 38 total goals, and ultimately finishing in fourth place (their best league result since 2012).
Inter desperately need Miranda to return to the form he showed in that 2015/16 campaign. He’s the club’s vice-captain for a reason, and Inter are relying on the Brazilian to be a leader both on and off the pitch. In a back line that should feature two budding, albeit unproved, stars (Dalbert and Skiniar), and a solid, but unspectacular, right back (D'Ambrosio), Miranda is simply crucial.
In Italy, a club can only go as far as its defense takes them. For Inter this season, there is no player more important to that defense than Miranda.
If he succeeds and is able to inspire top performances from his teammates, the club should be able to achieve their goal of finishing in the top-four. If Miranda fails, and the defense crumbles, Inter will disappoint once again. As a result, Miranda is critical to Inter this year. In a league where you’re only as good as your defense, the club need Miranda to preform. He simply is the key to Inter’s season.