Inter Milan’s long wait for competitive football is nearly over! After one of the best preseasons in club history, the Nerazzurri are now just days away from Sunday’s opening match against Fiorentina at the San Siro. We at SoM couldn’t be more excited. A new season and a new manager offer a clean slate for the club; one that is desperately needed after the embarrassing 2016/17 campaign.
As we inch closer to Sunday’s match, the writers here at SoM share our thoughts and predictions for Inter’s 2017/18 season. Some will be right, others will be horribly wrong, so you can take these with a grain of salt, but we hope you enjoy reading our outlook nonetheless!
How optimistic are you as Inter approach the start of the new season?
M.A Clark: I would like to think I am optimistic about the season, but my cautious optimism and $7 will get you a latte at Starbucks. Realistically, we have a solid manager in Luciano Spalletti. I can’t really think of another manager best suited for Inter at this point. During the summer transfer window, the club has prized Borja Valero and Matias Vecino away from the Viola and also picked up Milan Skriniar from Sampdoria and Dalbert from Nice — all very good signings. It appears Ivan Perisic is staying and, so long as his head is in the game and not in beach volleyball we will be fine. All that said, you really can’t judge a team until they are in a game ... and I’m not really sure how much the preseason should count. That said, I will feel good about the team ... until they give me a substantial reason not to.
Will Beckman: Cautious optimism is the order of the day. While Inter’s activity in the transfer market this summer has left a little to be desired, our activity on the pitch during pre-season has given us reason to be hopeful that this year will finally be the year we return to the Champions League (especially given that there’s now an extra place up for grabs). Our new signings are settling in nicely and the team is beginning to look like, well, a team, which puts us several light-years ahead of where we were at this stage a year ago. Incredible what having a normal pre-season can do, isn’t it. We’re winning and we’re playing interesting attacking football - a combination that’s been practically unheard of at Inter in recent seasons. Luciano Spalletti has certainly got off to a good start.
But what encourages me more than the brand of football Spalletti teams play is his track record in league campaigns. He has never won the Scudetto but he has also never flopped in Serie A: history teaches us that he’s a coach who guarantees you a solid placing in the final table, and that’s fundamentally all we’re after this season. That’s the greatest source of optimism for me at the moment. If everybody at the club pulls in the same direction and gives our new coach unconditional support from August to May, then we might just have a successful season. Here’s hoping - I’ve been too burned by the past seven years to say I’m ‘expecting’ anything.
Tim Kraus: I’m cautiously optimistic entering the new season. Judging from the preseason (which is always risky) it seems like Luciano Spalletti has already done wonders with the current group of players. He’s is a top manager and I have faith that Spalletti will be able to get the most out of the squad. While I also think the club were able to make several good additions this offseason – Borja Valero, Milan Skriniar, and Dalbert chief among them – I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about the team’s depth, especially in defense. Nothing is a given, but I’m carefully hopeful about Inter’s chances to finish in the top-four this season.
Bryan Nelson: Cautiously optimistic. In the past I would be very optimistic and excited, but right now I am not too sure. Depth is something that is lacking, and leaves me wanting more. Great managers are made of moments like this, and if Spalletti can get a high finish out of these players, there is no doubt in my mind that great things are to come. Guess what? Inter has already shown serious signs of improvement in their attacking play. Now if only we could solifiy that darned defense. That is truly my only continuous gripe about this past window and this club in general. Hopefully the defense can make do until January, where hopefully more defensive signings will come.
Torin Walters: Although I’m rather hesitant to say it, I feel very good about this team and manager. Going into last year’s campaign, all the bad signs were there: the last-minute hiring of de Boer (who’s not exactly off to a rip-roaring start at Crystal Palace, might I add), the preseason beatdowns, and the rift between the Curva Nord and Mauro Icardi. Even after spending loads of money, there was still that looming feeling that the team would underperform. And boy, did they. As we start preparing for the opener on the weekend, that looming feeling has seemingly evaporated. Spalletti didn’t meet our preseason expectations ... he blew them away. After shedding certain dead-weight players, as I like to call them, I think it’s reasonable to believe that Inter can carry this success into the Serie A season this Sunday at the San Siro.
Sanat Talmaki: While one can never read too much into pre-season form, the results have been very encouraging. Who knew giving a coach the entire summer to work with the squad could actually help! I am cautiously optimistic for a few reasons: First, Inter's coach is proven in the league and has done well with big teams over a consistent period of time. Second, our squad which I think has been half decent is definitely improved with a few smart additions over the summer. Third, I have genuine belief that Spalletti has the ability to make our player's reach their true potential as there is no escaping that most have massively under-achieved the past few seasons. Our defense remains a concern (as always) but let's hope we are in for a positive surprise there as well.
What’s your greatest concern entering the new campaign?
Matt: I would be lying to myself and everyone in SoM nation if I didn’t say the defense was the biggest concern thus far. Of course we have Dalbert who isn’t proven but good Lord is he quick and talented. There is also Skriniar who has impressed both in his time at Sampdoria and during the summer preseason. After that ... Yugotomo worries me with his age and lack of ability to hang on to the ball. I have no doubt his heart is in it, but sometimes heart just isn’t enough. Joao Miranda has the potential to do great things and with Skriniar I think that can happen, but Gary Medel is gone, D’Ambrosio and Ansaldi haven’t shown enough for me to not think the defense is the biggest question mark this season.
Will: I have two concerns. Firstly, that the club and the fans will jump on Spalletti’s back at the first sign of difficulty. He is not superman so he is going to make mistakes during the course of this season - heaven forbid, we may even lose a few matches because of said mistakes - but we mustn’t sack him if things get rough. There was absolutely no point in signing Skriniar, Borja Valero or Vecino if we’re just going to get rid of the man who asked for them because of a bad run of form. If the coach is given an important role in transfer activity then you are obliged - morally more than anything else - to stick with him through thick and thin. (Unless we’re bottom at Christmas or something.)
Secondly, that we’ve left our fate for this season - a hugely important season - in the hands of essentially the same group of players that failed so horrifically last year. Between managing to keep the good players and being unable to shift some of the bad ones, our squad has experienced nothing like the drastic overhaul that most Interisti were expecting back in May, which justifies and reinforces something Spalletti said during our pre-season tour of Asia - it’s up to those who were already here to make the difference this season, not those who have just arrived. And that is a risky position to put yourself in. These guys spent most of last season acting like a bunch of disgraceful and disinterested layabouts, who insisted on putting ‘I’ over ‘we’ and were completely devoid of professional pride... and now these are the guys who will have to work night and day to turn our fortunes around under Spalletti. We’re reliant upon the human and moral values of people who went missing for two thirds of last season - is that a wager we’re likely to win?
Tim: Defensive depth. In Serie A, having a strong defense is the foundation upon which successful seasons are built. I like the Dalbert signing, but the fullbacks are still a concern if he gets hurt or is ineffective. I’ve also been impressed with how well Miranda and Skriniar have looked together this preseason, but Inter’s center backs are noticeably thin now that Medel is gone, not to mention they will become even thinner if Jeison Murillo departs for Valencia. As a result, I still would like to see the club add at least one more defender before the transfer window closes at the end of the month.
Bryan: I believe I said this in the first section but let’s get round two started: Defense. With clubs in Serie A boasting strong attacking lineups, if your defense isn’t up to par, you will get destroyed. If there is no improvement, I shutter at the possibilities.
Torin: The defense is the pretty obvious choice here. Although the signings of Dalbert and Skriniar are definitely encouraging, it’s still a bit terrifying that D’Ambrosio is our first choice right back and that Nagatomo is the next man in line should D’Ambrosio or Dalbert miss time. If Milan Skriniar ends up experiencing some growing pains, it could be a tumultuous year at the back.
Sanat: I was tempted to go with the 'Defense' but 'Impatience' is my biggest fear for this season. Fans are likely to expect relatively instant success due to our coach's pedigree but given how mentally fragile this team is, I am fairly confident of more than a few rough patches this season. If Inter's management exhibits its customary impatience we will be back to the drawing board and some. This might be a long and sometimes painful journey but showing patience and sticking with the coaching team for an extended period is our only way out.
Of Inter’s summer signings, who will make the biggest impact?
Matt: As of right now (notwithstanding other potential signings), the answer here is Dalbert. You have a young player who wanted to come to Inter so bad from Nice. Now, he has his wish and he has to make the best of that. I, for one, think he will do just that. Tossing him in with another impact player in Skriniar and our defense could be the quickest in the league by a long margin. Dalbert can defend and is quick enough to push the ball ahead, leading into strong counter-attacks. Of course, Spalletti is a strong summer signing for Inter, but that would be a little too obvious!
Will: Borja Valero. He may not have cost as much as the others but I’m convinced this is the most significant signing we’ve made this summer. With that €5.5m fee we’ve not only bought one of Serie A’s most consistently excellent midfielders during the last five years, but also a philosophical shift that many Interisti have long since been begging for. Remember when Roberto Mancini selected a three-man midfield of Felipe Melo, Gary Medel and Geoffrey Kondogbia in the Derby d’Italia last February? Those were the days. If that line-up represented one end of the footballing spectrum, where brawn takes absolute precedence over brain, this signing is a fast-track pass to the opposite end. It confirms that the club no longer sees grit, muscles and brute force as the primary qualities required in its midfielders; now we actually want people who can play a bit too. Borja is the one player Spalletti probably wouldn’t have been able to do without this season, if he is to get us playing in the way he wants, and he’s also (potentially) the man we’ve needed anyway since Cambiasso left. By handing over the keys of your midfield to him, you stop being a team that wants to play good football and become a team that is condemned to play good football.
Tim: While I’m very excited to see Borja Valero’s creativity in Spalletti’s side, I have to go with Dalbert. Left back has been one of the most glaring weaknesses for Inter in recent seasons, so having a competent player at that position would make a noticeable difference for the club. From all that I’ve seen, Dalbert seems to be the type of fullback that can help improve both the club’s defense and attack. Given Spalletti’s recent track record with developing left backs (just look at what he was able to get out of Emerson Palmieri at AS Roma last season), I think Dalbert will be a much-needed difference-maker for Inter this year.
Bryan: Dalbert. Why? Defense. I believe that Dalbert will often be the difference between a win and a loss this season. With our defense the way that it is, there is no doubt in my mind that Dalbert will be the one getting in the way of goals going against Inter. I think that at a young age as well, Dalbert can improve and become much more valuable to Inter than he is already.
Torin: As obvious as a “Luciano Spalletti” answer would be here, Milan Skriniar is our best on-pitch addition. At the ripe age of 22, Skriniar has ample time to develop into one of the best center-halves in Serie A. He already possesses skills that most defenders do not: Skriniar showed in preseason how easily he can pick out a long ball and ping a pass upfield. Moreover, under Miranda’s tutelage, the young Slovakian will learn the art of defending. Because of our current lack of depth in the defense, he’ll rack up plenty of minutes alongside the Brazilian veteran. While far from a truly polished center back, Milan Skriniar was a good purchase for the present and a great purchase for the future.
Sanat: Both Skriniar and Dalbert have equally good opportunities to make a massive impact. However, given how atrocious we have been at the full back slot, Dalbert really does not need to do much to make a big impact. Spalletti's system is also one where the full backs will have ample opportunity to shine and that again gives the edge to Dalbert.
Who will be Inter’s breakout player this season?
Matt: I really want this to be Joao Mario. Here is a player that can be a game-changer. I think Spalletti sees this and has tried to find the right schemes to make that happen. He may not score a ton of goals, but he has the potential to feed the ball smartly to those who will. Putting him in the center to direct traffic or behind Perisic could be a dangerous combination for any defense to try to contain.
Will: I too would love it to be Joao Mario, as I boast an unhealthy amount of love for that man, but I think it’s more likely to be Milan Skriniar. Not a lot of people were enthusiastic about this signing when it was announced at the start of July, because he didn’t have any media fanfare surrounding him, but he’s since won over everybody with his brilliant performances in pre-season. Given that we’re currently very short on centre-backs one imagines Skriniar will be starting alongside Miranda for the majority of this season, so let’s hope he can keep up his pre-season form. It’s a big responsibility to put on the shoulders of someone as young as him, with only one full season of Serie A matches under his belt, but he’s got the talent to become our surprise of the season.
Tim: Milan Skriniar. Despite being just 22-years-old, the Slovakian center back already has 38 Serie A appearances to his name, and looked great this preseason. I don’t think it will be long before Skriniar solidifies his place as Spalletti’s first-choice partner for Miranda at the heart of Inter’s defense. He could be a breakout, impact player for the club this season.
Bryan: Joao Mario. I believe the 24-year-old will certainly break out of his shell and really help lead Inter to something special this year. I think he has the potential to not only create goals, but score them. And that’s going to be crucial in a league like Serie A. Mario boasts a versatility that I admire. I think everyone else will soon admire that this season as well.
Torin: Joao Mario. After Ever Banega’s return to Sevilla, Joao Mario is now the main man to look to in an attacking-midfield sense. He’s more than ready to take on that burden. While I could’ve used him as my “most to prove” player (remember the €40 million price tag?) I don’t believe there’s as much pressure on him to impress as certain other players. Although the 24-year-old Portugese midfielder had a rather inconsistent 2016/17 season, I expect him to be Inter’s brilliant breakout star as the trequartista in Spalletti’s 4-2-3-1. The man is undeniably talented, just ask Matias Vecino. Coincidentally, the addition of Vecino and fellow former-Viola Borja Valero should take considerable defensive pressure off of Joao this season, allowing him to solely focus on picking the ball up and charging forward. Under the right management, and with the right players behind him in defensive midfield, he can be our most important attacking player this season.
Sanat: If Perisic ends up staying, I really think this might be his year. He has no doubt shown flashes of brilliance during his time thus far at Inter but inconsistency has plagued him like many of his team-mates. However, his ceiling is really high and if he can improve his finishing, I can see him scoring bucket-loads of goals in Spalletti's system that often favors wing play. In spite of the summer long saga with Manchester Red making an approach, his professionalism has been very refreshing indeed (are you listening Geoffrey?). Icardi cannot lead us to the promise land all on his own and he desperately needs goals and assists from Perisic if we are to break into the top four this season.
Which player has the most to prove this season?
Matt: While Ivan Perisic does have a lot to prove, I would say Mauro Icardi is the one with the most to prove. Not necessarily because he has to churn out a bunch of goals, but because he is the leader of this team. Yes, Spalletti controls things on the sidelines, but the captain has to dictate the tempo on the field. If Icardi has the respect of the rest of the team, that should not be a problem. However, if Icardi cannot be authoritative on the field and dictate Spalletti’s schemes, the whole thing could fall apart. Last year, you could blame team turmoil (mainly Frank DeBoer), but that excuse is gone. Perisic is staying, Joao Mario is developing into that attacking midfielder that we all hoped he would and the defense, while not there yet, has the potential to get better. So, if Icardi can’t help put those pieces together on the field, it could be a rocky season for the Nerazzurri.
Will: Miranda has a lot to prove this season. He had a truly abysmal campaign last year for a player of his standards, yet Inter have decided to renew their faith in him and keep him as the leader of the defence. The club are living in hope that next summer’s incoming World Cup will be enough to ensure he rediscovers the hunger, concentration and leadership skills that went missing for large chunks of last season. Having not signed a top quality defender to address our issues at the back, the biggest burden lies on his shoulders. Sticking with the Brazilian theme, Dalbert is under a lot of pressure to prove that it was worth enduring two agonising months of negotiations with Nice - and leaving Ricardo Rodriguez to sign for Milan - to sign him. And that’s without factoring in our recent travails in the full-back department...
Tim: Ivan Perisic. No matter how you look at it, Inter continually turned down significant transfer offers for their star winger this offseason. I’m delighted that the club were able to retain the Croatian, and am very excited to see how his partnership with Dalbert develops on the left flank, but there’s undoubtedly pressure on the player to perform and prove that he’s worth upwards of €50 million. Perisic will be 29 years old by the end of the season, so Inter will likely not see another €40-45 million offer for him again. While I give the club credit for taking such a firm stance in the negotiations with Manchester United, the onus is on Perisic to prove keeping him was worth the commitment and headache for Inter.
Bryan: Joao Mario. He was my breakout player, but I still believe that he has a lot to prove this season. He has a huge price tag, and Inter need him to prove to the fans and to the ownership that he is truly worth that price tag. I believe that he will live up to the excitement that his signing brought, but he definitely needs to put all that creativity and attacking prowess on the field this season, or else he may be considered nothing more than an overpriced attacking midfielder.
Torin: If he doesn’t end up leaving, Geoffrey Kondogbia. For the past two seasons, the story has remained the same. Nerazzurri faithful have waited and waited for Kondogbia to become the player we all expected him to be when Inter bought him from Monaco for €31 million in 2015. For two seasons, his general incompetence in the midfield has overshadowed his handful of good performances. Finally, it looked as if Geoffrey had shown signs of turning the corner under Spalletti this preseason, if you don’t count the one … well … anyways. Puzzlingly enough, he now wants out. If Spalletti & Co. somehow end up convincing K-Dog to remain in black and blue, he is absolutely the player with the most to prove. For the third season running.
Sanat: Joao Mario. The Portugese came in with a big price tag and a fair amount of hype. He definitely has a lot to offer to the team and games where he performed well last season more often than not led to positive results. Some of his mediocre performances can be put down to the constant chopping and changing and being played in a few different positions. However, he needs to find a consistent spot in the team and chip in with the odd goal to justify his price tag and transfer hype. There are rumors of PSG being interested in his services but I really hope he stays and proves that Inter did the right thing signing him last summer.
Will Inter achieve a top-four finish? Why or why not?
Matt: I want a top-four finish and the Nerazzurri are completely capable of it this season (not like they weren’t last season). The ingredients are there, but more importantly, only rivals AC Milan have done any extensive upgrading to their team and there is little guarantee that will generate anything for the Red and Black. Juventus, Roma and Atalanta have done nothing in the off-season I would consider improvements. But, at the end of the day, Inter has to control Inter. The attacking and midfield seem to be there, but unless the defense is addressed, the Champions League may not be within the grasp this season. I still think top four is possible.
Will: I don’t like admitting it but yes, I think Inter are more likely to finish in the top four than they are to finish out of it. I expect that this season will come down to four clubs - Milan, Inter, Roma and Lazio - fighting for the last two Champions League spots, with Juventus and Napoli way off in the distance, and in that scenario we would need to finish ahead of two of them. I’m confident we can do that, both because of what I said earlier about Spalletti and because of the fact we have no European commitments this season. Milan and Lazio will fancy their chances too, but playing in the Europa League can be a tough grind and I’m hoping this will give us an advantage in the long run. Having said that, I wouldn’t be surprised by a fifth or sixth-placed finish either: this is Inter we’re dealing with here.
Tim: My confidence in this prediction is so fragile that merely writing it down makes me nervous, but yes, I believe Inter will finish in the top-four this season. My reasoning is simple; Inter have not have a better manager than Luciano Spalletti since Jose Mourinho left for Real Madrid in 2010. The team massively underperformed last season, so it’s reasonable to expect many of the players to positively regress to their normal forms. That, coupled with a strengthened squad, and weakened rivals (such as Roma and Lazio) gives me hope that Inter can return to the Champions League.
Bryan: No. And apparently I have to give a reason for this. I just don’t think that the club at this point in time is up to par for a top four finish. The club is building something special, but I don’t think we’ll the fruits of their labor really begin to flourish until next season. I believe that a lot of other Serie A clubs that can compete for the top four are more well-rounded. And I may get a lot of flak for saying that. But I truly believe that if Inter wants to aim for that high a finish, depth is key. And that’s just something we don’t have much of right now.
Torin: Yes, but it doesn’t necessarily have to do with how good Inter will be. To me, this comes down to how strong the competition is. Juventus and Napoli are still leaps and bounds ahead of Inter in terms of quality; they should have little-to-no problem finishing first and second respectively. However, teams like Roma and Fiorentina are considerably weaker than they’ve been in years. Some of their most significant losses have even been our direct gains. Additionally, the 4th place finishers who took everyone by surprise last season, Atalanta, have lost a number of players in key positions. Inter will finish in the top-four because of other contenders’ drop in quality, not because of their quality.
Sanat: Yes. I think Spalletti's experience and success with Roma will help tremendously. He will help us traverse troubled waters more gracefully when we inevitably hit a rough patch during the season. I wouldn't expect the wheels to come off our season like they have in the past couple. Milan might take time to gel as a team and a lot of new egos in the squad might not necessarily result in the most harmonious of dressing rooms. Having said that, I view them as our toughest competition for third. Roma have been weakened by loss of manager and players (Salah, Rudiger to name a few) and I see them slipping down a bit. That makes me want to believe that after Juventus and Napoli, Inter has as good a chance as anyone to finish in the top three.
Rapid Fire Predictions:
What will Serie A’s top six look like at the end of the season?
Matt: Napoli, Juventus, Milan, Inter, Lazio, Roma.
Will: Juventus, Napoli, Roma, Inter, Milan, Lazio.
Tim: Juventus, Napoli, Milan, Inter, Roma, Lazio.
Bryan: Juventus, Milan, Napoli, Roma, Inter, Atalanta
Torin: Juventus, Napoli, Inter, Milan, Roma, Torino
Sanat: Napoli, Juventus, Inter, Milan, Roma, Atalanta
Who will win the Capocannoniere (Serie A’s Golden Boot)?
Matt: Gonzalo Higuain
Will: Mauro Icardi
Tim: Gonzalo Higuain
Bryan: Mauro Icardi
Torin: Gonzalo Higuain (by a landslide)
Sanat: Mauro Icardi
Which team will win the Coppa Italia?
Matt: Juventus will beat AC Milan (I really hate myself for that).
Will: Milan (after beating us in the quarter-finals. Ouch.)
Tim: Juventus (defeating Inter… sorry)
Torin: In a Juventus vs. Milan final that will make us want to gouge our eyes out, I’m going with Juventus
So there you have it; our predictions for the new season. Let us know what you think in the comments below. And of course, Forza Inter!