For the second season running, Inter depart the Allianz Arena in Turin wondering perhaps what might have been. In 2017, following a 0-0 draw, Inter sat on top of the table and had pundits beginning to question whether Spalletti’s men could mount a serious Scudetto challenge.
Friday, following a disappointing 0-1 defeat, whatever hopes the Nerazzurri had for ending Juve’s championship winning run are over and the side risk falling eight points behind 2nd place Napoli by the end of the weekend.
The Gap Between The Sides Is Massive
Earlier this month Milan’s Pepe Reina came about with his own take on the Scudetto race: “Juve are the anti-Juve. If they remain in form they can win the league by April.” Forget all the junk we’ve read in the media, Inter are nowhere near where a club needs to be to challenge for the Scudetto. Last season we finished 23 points behind Juve, and then they added Ronaldo, Can and Cancelo to their side. Tonight we started Joao Mario and Roberto Gagliardini, while Juve had Douglas Costa come off the bench. Twitter users love to throw the phrase “There’s levels to this s**t” - well there are truly levels between the two squads at the moment.
That said, we matched them. Compare this match to our performance at the Camp Nou, and Inter improved immensely. In the first half we really should have taken the leave and, by the end of the match, we still had the more clear-cut chances. Inter lack the killer instinct and efficiency that make Juventus so good, but this only comes with experience. While the side dropped away, it’s easy to identify why that happened (to be discussed next) and how to avoid it in the future.
Spalletti Made A Huge Mistake
I like Luciano Spalletti. I think he’s the best manager we’ve had since Mourinho and he’s brought this club up a level from where we were prior to him. That said, his in-game substitutions leave a lot to be desired, and today his decision cost the team.
Inter’s best chances in the first half came from their most in-form winger, Matteo Politano. The Italian was causing havoc either cutting in from the right or staying wide and running at his man. Not only that, he was tirelessly running back and helping Vrsaljko deal with the threat of Ronaldo and (later in the half) Cancelo.
To take him off and replace him with Valero is absolutely criminal. A like for like substitution with someone like Keita Balde or Antonio Candreva would’ve been surprising in itself, but this change meant Joao Mario went out to the right wing where he achieved absolutely nothing either offensively or defensively. Following the goal (which, of course, came from his flank) the Portuguese midfielder was dragged and replaced by Keita Balde which begs the question, why wasn’t that done in the first place?
The FFP Punishments Still Haunt Inter
He may no longer be President, but the ghost of Eric Thohir and the decisions of previous management certainly still haunt Inter. Tonight we saw two examples of situations where UEFA’s punishments directly impacted Inter’s ability to perform in the Serie A despite the restrictions allegedly only affect European competitions.
First, we saw Joao Cancelo put in a masterclass down both flanks. The Portuguese winger arrived on loan at Inter full of potential but unsure of his best position. Fast forward to the end of the season, and Spalletti (along with his technical staff) had turned Cancelo into one of the best full-backs in Serie A.
I truly believe that Inter wanted to purchase him outright, but it just wasn’t possible. Inter had turned him into a player well worth the €40m valuation, however parting with that sum of money would’ve broken their agreement and caused the club to incur further punishments. Instead, Inter sat with their hands tied whilst Juventus swooped in and capitalised on their work. The Bianconeri have continued to develop the player, who must surely now be in the conversation as one of the best full backs on the continent.
Secondly, the reduced squad list for the CL impacted Spalletti’s squad selection. We heard after the game the Radja Nainggolan will certainly miss the return against PSV, whilst Matias Vecino is in doubt. This leaves the club with two fit midfielders to face the Dutch side: Marcelo Brozovic and Borja Valero. It is no wonder, therefore, that the Tuscan manager was forced to start Joao Mario and Gagliardini (effectively our second string midfield) in such a tough game. The PSV match marks the end of an extremely complicated list of fixtures where Spalletti was simply unable to rotate as much as he would without the same limitations. Fingers crossed we get the result there, otherwise his sacrifices will have been for nothing.
Write Lautaro Off At Your Peril
Once again, Inter’s most exciting summer signing failed to make an impact coming off the bench. The response to this has been quite remarkable, with some people suggesting that perhaps he’s more the next Gabigol than the next Icardi.
This is laughable and I’m relatively certain these people will be eating their words in a few years time. In his last two matches, Lautaro Martinez has come into the match late and been asked to deliver immediately. This is a big request for anyone, let alone a player with little Serie A or Champions League experience. Moreover, this a player accustomed to playing 90 minutes and having the time to work into a game, rather than being an impact sub. Given the seeming unwillingness to find a formation which fits both our Argentine strikers, Spalletti needs to work with El Toro to show him how to make an immediate impact. I wouldn’t be writing off the player because he didn’t dominate Juve in their own backyard, however.
For Interisti that are worried, I’d ask them to look at the way Juventus developed Rodrigo Bentancur. The Uruguayan arrived last season from Boca Juniors, and made only 27 appearances in all competitions - playing a full 90 minutes only five times. This season he is a much improved midfielder who has played 12 full matches in an improved side. If Inter show Lautaro the same patience and opportunity for development, he will certainly repay them.
Gabigol Could Be The Key For Inter
After an extremely successful spell in Brazil, Gabriel Barbosa could be the difference maker in the second half of the season - so long as he stays off the pitch. A lot of Interisti are clamouring to see the Brazilian in the black and blue hoping that he can light up the San Siro, but that just won’t happen. Inter don’t need that. Inter have enough ‘maybes’ - especially in attack. When I look at Barbosa, all I see is money.
Money that will hopefully come from a desperate EPL team with €20 million to spare. Chuck a buy-back clause if you want, but the club needs to chase that money. The budget is balanced at the moment and free-loans don’t get you good players. With an incoming transfer fee, the club could sign that midfielder we desperately need. Someone that can hold and distribute the ball so we can rest Brozovic. Or someone that can come in and be an effective #10 when Radja is out. Tonight’s match showed that Inter’s midfield is their weakness, and must be addressed if the side is going to remain in the CL spots at the end of the season.
What do you think? Post your comments below!