A campaign which started on the high of a 16-match unbeaten run has quickly turned into a troubling situation (no wins and only two goals scored in over a month will do that for you), but the good news is that Inter are currently achieving their goal of Champions League qualification, however so slightly. With Serie A’s winter break upon us, and 20 league matches in the books, we at SoM thought this week would be a good opportunity to take a closer look at the first half of Inter’s season.
Just a reminder, here are a few key stats to sum up the current league status of the club this season:
- 20 matches played
- 12 wins, 6 draws, 2 losses
- 35 goals scored, 15 goals conceded, +20 goal difference
- 42 points
- Third-place in the league
While they certainly provide a snapshot of season thus far, stats alone don’t tell the full story of what has been one of the most compelling six months in the recent history of the club. Luckily, without a match to cover this week, the writers at SoM have put our heads together to recap what we’ve seen so far and answer some of the most pressing questions about Inter’s season.
We hope you enjoy our midseason community roundtable!
Now that we’ve reached the halfway point, how would you categorize Inter’s season so far?
Matt: To answer this question, you have to take the last five games and combine it with the previous 15. If you look at the season as a whole, Inter has exceeded expectations. I don’t think many expected us to have the run we had when the season started. However, a lack of depth has started to rear its ugly head and the recent downturn is a result. I would say my confidence is shaky, but not gone. My confidence that our depth problem is going to be fixed is a little lower. I get why the Suning Group are hesitant to spend money. It isn’t because they don’t want to field a good team, it’s because they aren’t interested in hemorrhaging money like many Italian teams have in the past.
Tim: In the broad scheme of things, I think if you told any Inter supporter that the club would be third in the league, with only two losses and a +20 goal differential, at the winter break, he/she would’ve been delighted, so Inter are certainly meeting or exceeding expectations at the moment. That said, our December nightmare is extremely concerning, and nearly erased all the progress the club made during the first four months of the season. This year’s Inter are a good, but not great, team that have put themselves in a strong position to fight for a Champions League place. Considering what we’ve been through in recent seasons, this is certainly progress, and about all we could ask for given the holes in our squad.
Torin: Inter have undoubtedly impressed me so far this season, and I don’t think I’m the only one. After a 7th place finish in the league last year and a summer void of big name signings, sitting in third place in Serie A going into 2018 is almost more than any Inter fan could’ve hoped for. What’s even more encouraging is the sentiment that this Inter team could, and maybe should, be doing even better if not for a tumultuous month of December.
Sanat: Without a shadow of a doubt Inter’s performance thus far has exceeded my expectations. If you had offered any (reasonable) Inter fan third place in the league at the end of December, they would have bitten your hand off. Having said that, because the team did so well leading up to December, the recent downturn in form is all the more alarming. Many of us are having a sense of deja vu, having experienced Mancini’s “winter of discontent” a couple of seasons ago. However, the majority of performances in the 16 match unbeaten run were positive and not lucky wins and so I still have faith in Spalletti to right the ship come second half of the season.
Eduardo: After a disastrous campaign a year ago, in which supporters protested by walking out, I’d say this year the club has exceeded expectations. Also, with no major moves over the last two transfer windows, Luciano Spalletti has done a masterful task in keeping Inter competitive, and as of right now, they currently occupy a Champions League spot, which any Inter supporter would take.
Will: The glass can’t not be half-full. A month ago it was practically overflowing. Inter only have one job this season, and as things stand they’re doing it - all that has happened in the last month is a regression to the mean. Quite where this slide will end is another issue altogether - Sanat certainly isn’t the only one looking nervously over his shoulder at what happened two seasons ago - but considering the quality and quantity of the players at our disposal it would have been quite simply impossible to ask for anything more. I’m content, if not confident.
What’s been your biggest surprise of the season so far?
Matt: The biggest surprise this season has been the play of Milan Skriniar. When he was signed in the summer, there was little question he had some talent, but Spalletti has allowed him to flourish in defense and, aside from Spalletti himself, has turned out to be the best signing we had in the off-season.
Tim: I have to agree, Milan Skriniar has been the biggest and most pleasant surprises of the season. While he was clearly a talented prospect at Sampdoria, everyone would’ve expected a few growing pains that come with a move to a club the size of Inter. Instead, Skriniar has been the most consistent player on the roster this season. He’s been immensely important to Inter’s backline and it’s hard to image where the club would be without him. When he was signed, we all thought Skriniar could be good, but no one expected him to become such a defensive cornerstone for the club so quickly.
Torin: While our new Slovakian center back’s mercurial play has certainly been somewhat of a shock to us all, I think the way Antonio Candreva has responded to constant criticism is what’s pleasantly surprised me most. Nerazzurri and Azzurri fans alike love to rag on Candreva, and sometimes, for good reason. During his first season in an Inter shirt, his performances often left a lot to be desired. But look at the numbers he’s putting up so far this year: Candreva currently leads Serie A in assists with eight and averages more key passes per game (3.1) than any other player in the league. That’s cause for a bit of recognition.
Sanat: Two words - Milan Skriniar. Our problems at center back have been well documented and I honestly thought that would be our undoing this season (it might still be). The performances of Skriniar have garnered him rave reviews across Europe and his partnership with Miranda were one of the best aspects of the season’s first half. Another (pleasing) surprise was the way Ivan Perisic buttoned down and became one of the most productive members of the team after his supposed move to Manchester red broke down. He has certainly set a good example.
Eduardo: I’ll go off the board here, but the squad has only a few players that they can count on to produce offense. Therefore, my biggest surprise this season as Inter’s ability to maintain an offensive threat through their fixtures. Mauro Icardi and Ivan Perisic are the only consistent threats and for the squad to win these games with no other threats and little depth off the bench is quite miraculous.
Will: Milan Skriniar was the best signing made by any club in Serie A this summer, let alone Inter - anyone who says that they knew he’d be this good for us this fast is probably lying. Given that he’s already received enough praise though, I’d like to give a special mention to another member of our back four: Danilo D’Ambrosio. I wanted him out two summers ago but in hindsight I’m glad we kept him - he was in the form of his life up until his injury just before Christmas. Our problems at left-back this season are significantly bigger than our problems at right-back.
What’s been your biggest disappointment?
Matt: I think the biggest disappointment has been the play at midfield. Borja Valero and Matias Vecino have had flashes of very good play, but nothing consistent. Joao Mario has been relegated to the bench and there remain talks of selling him during the winter mercato. Marcelo Brozovic and Roberto Gagliardini have also failed to impress. In fact, with the exception of opening his own coffee bar (or whatever it is), Brozo hasn’t done anything since Oct. 2 when he scored a brace against Benevento.
Tim: Joao Mario. This was supposed to be the season for Joao Mario to truly break through and demonstrate he was worthy of the €40 million price tag Inter shelled out for the Portuguese after he impressed at Euro 2016. While there’s no doubt that he has talent, Joao Mario has been one of the most frustrating players to watch. So often he drifts in and out of matches, and has done little to alleviate Inter’s problems building up play through the midfield. A popular “x-factor” pick this preseason, Joao Mario hasn’t yet lived up to his potential, and may very well be on his way out of the San Siro sooner than anyone would’ve liked.
Torin: In our season preview, I predicted that Joao Mario would be Inter’s breakout player this season. Well, oof. After making a string of encouraging appearances coming off the bench in the early part of the season, Joao Mario has largely faded away. He’s got a mere five starts under his belt, and after some alarming highlights from the Fiorentina match last week, it’s starting to look like Joao doesn’t have too promising a future at the San Siro.
Oh, and Dalbert’s been pretty disappointing too.
Sanat: I have to agree with the guys here, Inter’s midfield on the whole has been a bit of a letdown. For me, Joao Mario and to a lesser extent Roberto Gagliardini are the main disappointments here. The stage appeared to be set for Mario and he even when given opportunities to start, he has well and truly fluffed his lines. Given his market value, I would not be surprised to see him leave. But sadly, I would also not be surprised to see him live up to his value at a different club. Gagliardini has been another disappointment. Last season, he was this effervescent player that could do no wrong but then the injuries came, and his performances trended downward. I am not sure if he is completely fit or not, but it is fair to say he has not looked like the same player in Spalletti’s setup.
Eduardo: I’ll echo what everyone has already said in Joao Mario, who hasn’t lived up the price tag Inter paid for him. He’s the squad's number 10, and when you look at his offensive contributions, they aren’t good enough, and then you add the mental mistakes... not a good season for the Portuguese. At this rate, Inter will have to consider selling and see if the recoup any their money to invest in other areas of need for the squad.
Will: There’s only one answer possible here, and it’s already been covered in abundance. (Although someone is going to have to own up to making a mistake over Dalbert sooner rather than later.)
Who’s your mid-season MVP?
Matt: I have to say Skriniar. Icardi would be a popular choice, but Skriniar has been consistent. He has thwarted offensive attacks and even gotten into the scoring rhythm. While Icardi had a very hot start to the season, his scoring prowess has seemingly cooled thanks to a lack of decent crosses from the wings and defenses likely figuring out how to stop him. Skriniar, on the other hand, has been a force on defense and has been an additional threat on set pieces inside the area with his force and physical presence.
Tim: While Skriniar has been outstanding, I have to go with Mauro Icardi. Simply put, there is no one more important to Inter than their talisman striker. When he plays well, Inter win. When he doesn’t, the team struggles. You can’t get much more valuable than that.
Torin: Mauro Icardi. Just like Tim said, when Mauro plays well, we play well, and vice versa. He’s been scoring at a blistering rate: 18 goals in 20 league games. That’s good enough for second in Serie A behind only Ciro Immobile, and third in all of Europe’s top five leagues behind Immobile and Edinson Cavani. Milan Skriniar’s been wonderful, of course, but the thought of where we’d be without Mauro Icardi is truly the stuff of nightmares.
Sanat: As much as Skriniar has impressed, it has to be Mauro Icardi. Take away his goals, take away even half his goals and Inter’s league position is very firmly mid-table. Make no mistake, Icardi is the main reason why we are third and not sixth, seventh or eighth.
Eduardo: Mauro Icardi, he’s the straw that stirs the drink. As he goes, so does Inter. The squad has scored 35 goals, Icardi has 18, so he’s contributed 51% to the offense. Without him, who knows where they’d be on the Serie A table?
Will: Milan Skriniar, on the basis of consistency and the ability to exceed expectations. Icardi has scored over half of our goals this season, yes, but he’s also failed to score in (virtually) half of our matches - 9 times out of 20, to be precise - and let’s face it, we already knew he was an otherworldly creature in the opposition penalty box. Skriniar meanwhile has put in 7/10 performances almost every single week, and it was far, far less simple for him to come in and do that (with one good season at Sampdoria to his name) than it has been for Icardi to keep doing his thing up front.
(To be clear, I’m playing Devil’s Advocate here: Icardi is the obvious choice. I’m just trying to make a case for Skriniar - please don’t shout at me.)
What’s your most enduring memory or favorite moment from the first half?
Matt: There are a lot of Interisti who believe our recent winless run has ruined the season. I disagree. Let’s look at where we were during last season’s disaster and compare that to where we are now. I know we all want year after year of Scudettos, the Champions League and all the other glories to be had, but we have to face reality. To suggest it will take just one season to erase the mistakes and issues of the past few is shortsighted to say the least. We had a fantastic start to the season, including a 3-2 win in the Derby della Madonnina and a place in the top 3 at the winter break. All-in-all, I would say the entire first half of the season has been enduring.
Tim: Well, considering that the image of Mauro Icardi holding up his number 9 shirt after scoring his hat-trick goal to with the Milan Derby is currently the screensaver on my phone, I have to go with the Derby della Madonnina win from October. That match, and Icardi’s performance in particular, will long live in the memory. It was outstanding football, and an even more exceptional individual display.
Torin: The 5-0 drubbing of Chievo (our last league win, coincidentally). That game was simply pure euphoria. Almost as if I were playing with Inter on FIFA 18. Any time you feel like you’re right there having as much fun as the players, it’s an incredible feeling. From Perisic’s hat-trick to Milan Skriniar’s magical run and diving header, that day had it all. I haven’t had that much fun watching a game of football in a long time.
Sanat: I am going to cheat here and pick an enduring memory and a favorite game. My favorite memory was Icardi’s hat-trick celebration against the other Milanese club. My favorite game of the season’s first half is the 5-0 win against Chievo. Even though it came against Chievo, it showed a model of what Spalletti’s Inter could look like once he has the right players and enough time. If nothing else, it was damn good fun watching Inter play such entertaining football.
Eduardo: I’ll also go with Icardi’s hat-trick celebration because it not only added misery to AC Milan’s season but I am huge supporter of the “Messi” celebration, which tends to occur in big games. Also, it reinstates the arguments that Icardi is one heck of striker and it’s fun to watch him go on these hot-streaks, because when he’s on, he’s on.
Will: Maurito’s derby hat-trick and Inter-Chievo have already been covered so let’s go for something else: the first 64 minutes of Inter-Sampdoria. We ended up having to sweat for the win because of an alarming physical and/or psychological collapse in the latter stages of the game, but the hour of football that preceded it was about as close to perfection as Inter have got in the post-Triplete era. It’s so rare to see an Inter team turning on the style - playing ‘well’ as well as winning - so when everything works like it did on that night it’s all the more enjoyable. It was a symphony. More than the Chievo game I think that match was the greatest exhibition of Spalletti’s football we’ve seen this season.
We know Inter don’t have money to spend, but if you could sign one player before the January transfer window closes, who would it be and why?
Matt: I would like to see us sign a true trequartista. Valero is okay, but a trequartista he is not. The same can be said for Vecino. Brozo and Mario ... well ... The problem is the role is increasingly difficult to fill and there aren’t many who can actually be good at it. Someone like AS Monaco’s Joao Moutinho or Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil would likely fit the bill nicely.
Tim: It’s unlikely to happen, but I would love for Inter to find a way to lure Stefan de Vrij from Lazio, even if it’s just on a Bosman pre-contract. Inter need all the help they can get on defense, and currently don’t have a left-footed center back at the club. With Miranda already 33-years-old, de Vrij would be a perfect addition to Inter for both the present and the future.
Torin: A trequartista to do what Joao Mario, Marcelo Brozovic, and Borja Valero have failed to do (although I do think Borja’s played wonderfully when in one of the defensive midfield positions). It’s been a few months since the Mesut Ozil rumors came and went, but in a perfect world, he’d be my top choice.
Sanat: Championships are won by good defenses and so I think our threadbare center-back position needs reinforcing as I think we are one Skriniar injury away from spiraling out of control. Have to agree with Tim here and go for Stefan de Vrij from Lazio.
Eduardo: Only player I could see coming in is Stefan de Vrij from Lazio, but other than him, I don’t see anyone else joining this month. Inter doesn’t have much to spend. Although, in a perfect world I’d love for them to bring in Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil.
Will: Of all the players we’ve been linked to since the transfer window reopened the name that intrigues me the most is Gerard Deulofeu. We won’t sign him because we’d need actual money to do that, but I think he’d be a very useful pick-up. He’s not the trequartista we need, granted, but he’d give us a good alternative to Candreva and Perisic on the wings - not just in terms of numbers but also in terms of characteristics. Deulofeu is a far more technical (and less athletic) player than they are, and so even if we didn’t have a good no. 10 it would enable us to be far less predictable when we’re attacking. Plus he already knows Serie A, having been at Milan last season.
Lastly, prediction time... Will Inter achieve a top-four finish to qualify for the Champions League, why or why not?
Matt: I think they will -- albeit likely in fourth place. There is already separation between Juventus and Napoli with the rest of the pack. After AS Roma — currently in fifth place, three points back of Inter — there is a huge gap. Barring a big run by Sampdoria, Atalanta, Udinese, Fiorentina or AC Milan, the Nerazzurri sit in a pretty good position, so long as they can keep the wheels from completely falling off in the second half of the season.
Tim: In our community season preview piece, I had Inter finishing fourth in the league and I’m going to stick with that prediction. The past month has absolutely shaken my confidence in Inter, but this skid can’t last forever, right? I think Spalletti will get the team back on track in (just) enough time to save the season. Champions League qualification is all we have left to play for after all, so we need to make it happen.
Torin: I’m confident that we can hang onto our third place spot. I know, I know: recent performances have been far from reassuring. What is reassuring, however, is the fact that our three toughest fixtures of the year (away to Roma, away to Napoli, and away to Juve) are out of the way. Additionally, we have Luciano Spalletti at the helm. If anyone can turn this current mess around, it’s him.
Sanat: I think we will finish in the top four. Our main challengers for top four are the Roman clubs. Roma are not as strong as last season, and their recent inconsistencies exemplify that. Lazio are currently doing well but have a similarly small squad like ours. A couple of injuries can easily derail their season. Behind them are the likes of Samp, Atalanta and co. That group currently sits around 12 points back and I do not think Inter will drop that many points or even if we do, I see this group of teams dropping the same amount.
Eduardo: With Spalletti, the squad will remain in games, and this cold streak of offense cannot keep going, so I expect them to break out of this offensive funk they find themselves in. If they can win some of these matches that they continue to draw, then I am confident they’ll remain in the top-four and qualify for the Champions League next season.
Will: I’ll follow Tim’s lead and stick with my pre-season prediction - yes, Inter will finish 4th. Roma have more potential than we do and I still get the feeling a lot of people are underestimating Lazio - they aren’t going to just disappear - but let’s be positive despite what’s happened in the last month. If Spalletti can’t get us over the line then no one can.
Well, there you have it. Thanks to all of the SoM writers who contributed to this post.
Here’s hoping that Inter’s final 18 matches of the season more closely resemble their first 16 than their last seven. Share your predictions for the second half of the season in the comments below, and as always… Forza Inter!