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Serpent Roundtable: A look ahead at the season for Inter Milan

The staff of Serpents of Madonnina look at the upcoming season for the Nerazzurri.

Udinese Calcio v FC Internazionale - Serie A
Antonio Candreva of FC Internazionale in action during the Serie A match between Udinese Calcio and FC Internazionale at Stadio Friuli on May 6, 2018 in Udine, Italy.
Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Man, that went fast!

It seems it was just yesterday we were celebrating Inter Milan’s stunning win at Lazio to secure fourth-place in Serie A and a spot in the Champions League.

But, just a little more than two months later and we are ready to get back into the swing of things as the start to the 2018-19 Serie A campaign begins Sunday with Inter travelling to Sassuolo.

It’s been a busy summer for the Nerazzurri and the staff of Serpents of Madonnina gathered ‘round to look ahead to what can only be described as a promising season.

AS Roma v Juventus - Serie A
Radja Nainggolan joins Inter after a successful stint at AS Roma.
Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

Rate the biggest signing of the summer transfer window for Inter and why?

Matt: This is a tough one. Inter had a strong transfer season with pickups like Stefan De Vrij and Kwadwo Asamoah for free along with Lautaro Martinez from Argentina, Sime Vrsaljko from Atletico, Radja Nainggolan from Roma and Matteo Politano from Sassuolo. But, in looking at all of the signings, I would have to say the one with the biggest promise to me is Keita Balde. Here is a player who took Serie A by storm two seasons ago. While his play at Monaco was limited last season, I think he has the determination to make a huge impact this year.

Cam: Well, we have a lot of choices this summer. Inter added players across the board, contributing to the defense, midfield, and attack. While I believe Lautaro Martinez will continue his rise to stardom, we must not forget about our biggest transfer: Radja Nainggolan. With the continued links to top tier midfielders, this signing has undeservedly lost some luster. This man is an absolute beast and will prove to be the Nerrazzuri’s most valuable signing this season.

Abdullah: The transfer window has been such a rousing success for Inter. They’ve added players in the positions that needed it and it’s been quality over quantity. Radja Nainggolan, Sime Vrsaljko, Keita Baldé and Kwadwo Asamoah are just some of the fantastic signings to join the squad. Fans have been buzzing, eagerly anticipating match day one! Saying that, I’ll have to go with Stefan De Vrij, who’s been the forgotten man since Inter Milan signed up some of Europe’s most exciting talent. His experience and youth will be an incredibly useful asset in the quest to conquer and challenge all competitions this season. He provides an excellent rotation option to Miranda and Milan Škriniar.

Edouard: My favorite signing so far might be Keita Balde Diao. He provides another goal threat for the offense, taking some of the heavy workload off Icardi and Perisic’s shoulders. He's incredibly fast, really versatile, and an excellent dribbler (Something this squad lacks). His style of play brings some change on the table, which means that if he takes Candreva’s starting spot, the team will play faster, and better, relying on quick passes, counterattacking, and chances creation from open play instead of the constant crossing and set pieces addiction from last year. I do like the fact that he's young, with room to grow: his defense needs work, like his in-game focus. He hasn't had the most success in Monaco, never regaining his incredible form from two years ago. But now, he has a fresh start with us. The loan-to-buy transfer was a good idea: If this doesn’t work out, we send him back, if it does, we get an excellent young player at a relatively cheap price(compared to the 100m€ fees going around). Good business.

Robbie: Before the season if you told me that Radja Naingollan was going to be playing for the Nerazzurri, I would be ecstatic. He is one of the few players that I always wanted to see in the black and blue. Now we get that chance. The craziest thing to me is that I don’t think he is the biggest signing. I believe that title will go to Lautaro Martinez. The more and more I watch him play, the more excited I get. He is going to be special. The fact that he scored a goal like he did against Atletico Madrid already has me dreaming of what’s to come. The potential is there, the talent should develop well and I can’t wait to watch him become a superstar.

Mario: I’m stuck between Asamoah and Martinez, but I’m gonna go with Asamoah because I think he might have more of an impact on the season. Asamoah offers us a lot of tactical versatility as he can play as a left back, left mid and center mid allowing Spalletti to switch formations to adapt to any situation. Martinez is a spectacular player, but our attack is crowded with players right now so I don’t know how often he will realistically be featured this season.

Will: Lautaro Martinez. You could make a convincing case for every signing we’ve made - which means the club have worked extremely well this summer - but he is likely to resolve what was Inter’s biggest problem last season: an over-reliance on Icardi (and Perisic) for goals.

FC Internazionale v US Sassuolo - Serie A
Mauro Icardi will be another vital piece to Inter’s attack this season.
Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

Juventus reloaded with Cristiano Ronaldo and our rivals, AC Milan, picked up Gonzalo Higuain. Will Inter’s attack keep pace with others in Serie A this season?

Matt: I would have to say definitely, yes. Martinez has the potential to be a beast and Ivan Perisic’s World Cup showed what he can do. Add in Balde and Mauro Icardi and I think Inter has one of the best attacks in the league.

Cam: Absolutely. Mauro Icardi will continue to be a goal machine. He now has improved help on the right side dishing in crosses. In addition to the captain, Perisic is possibly at the peak of his career. Pairing that duo with the youngsters we have coming off of the bench, I say our attack is on par with Juventus.

Abdullah: Undoubtedly. Mauro Icardi has proven himself to be a goal machine over the past few seasons. He has 55 goals in the last two seasons alone! Ivan Perišić should chip in with timely goals and the addition of Keita Balde should only increase our goal tally. Not to mention Lautaro Martinez, Politano and Karamoh to come off to bench. Even Radja Nainggolan scored 10 goals for Roma last season. I’d say Inter can keep up with the pack.

Edouard: Last year was good for Cap’n Mauro Icardi who was the Capocannoniere with 29 goals, but not that good for the team: the Nerazzurri scored 66 goals, 4th-best in the Serie A, sure, but it was 11 less than 3rd place Napoli, and Lazio who had the best attack, scored 23 more goals. Talk about a gap. This year, with the maturation of Karamoh, the additions of Martinez, Politano, Nainggolan, and Keita, Inter should have a better offense. But at least three of these guys must hit the ground running, Icardi and Perisic mustn't decline a single bit(improving would be sweet), and we should probably switch away from that cross-heavy offense we've been running. These are doable, and the leap isn't impossible. I say we keep up with Milan, but Juventus has Ronaldo, whom you can never bet against, Napoli has a new coach, and Lazio still has Cirro Immobile. Hopefully we will crack the 75+ goals barrier. That's all I'm asking for.

Mario: In theory, Inter should have a better attack with all these new additions. Unfortunately, I don’t believe any of them will start over Candreva. I’m not saying Candreva is a better player than them, but we’ve seen this situation so many times where players were brought in to “replace” or “improve” a certain position but the manager continuously chose the player that suits what he wants to do. The only difference is, we have a little more depth than we did last season, which is good specifically for fixture congestion. I’m still expecting the team to force balls to Icardi for no reason with no real plan B, because Icardi is too one dimensional to allow us to play any other way.

Robbie: Inter’s attack should be better over the course of the season. Although, I am not so sure that will result in better overall numbers. I think with so much talent added to the team this mercato, the goals will be shared more. I can see Icardi scoring 20-25 goals instead of 29 while also seeing Keita Balde Diao, Matteo Politano, Yann Karamoh, and Lautaro Martinez chipping in a good amount. Last season, the team was extremely reliant on Mauro Icardi and I think the wealth will be spread around as he isn’t the only one who can finish now. I also expect Ivan Perisic to finish right around that 10-goal mark like last year. My prediction for the season would be around 70-75 goals. A slight increase on last season but Juventus are still far better, especially with Cristiano Ronaldo now at the helm.

Will: Absolutely. Icardi, Lautaro, Keita, Politano and Perisic are five players you can easily imagine reaching double figures this season. And then there’s Radja, whose best ever season in terms of goals came under Spalletti at Roma.

France v Croatia - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Final
Croatian international Sime Vrsaljko fills a crucial right back gap for Inter.
Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images

One of the biggest hurdles for Inter during the transfer season was finding a right back. Now that Vrsaljko is here, what kind of an impact do you think he will have?

Matt: I can see him being even stronger than Joao Cancelo was for us last year. He has pace and can dominate the right side. Feeding into Perisic, Icardi, Martinez or Balde will only make Vrsaljko look that much better.

Cam: I think Danilo D’Ambrosio was better than people gave him credit for last season. I think overall, that right flank will see tremendous improvement of build-up play and crosses. Let’s just hope that Vrsaljko gains quick chemistry with our RW. All in all, he should be solid.

Abdullah: In my opinion, Sime Vrsaljko is much better signing than Joao Cancelo was last season. His performances at the World Cup gave us a glimpse of the type of player we’ve signed and if he can replicate his form then we have strong right back for years to come. He has his issues with consistency but if he can iron those out then we have a wonderfully gifted player on our hands, one that could potentially replace Maicon (finally).

Robbie: I am not the biggest fan of judging a player’s performances at the international stage and expecting them to translate back to the club. I think Sime Vrsaljko is a very good player and will do well for the team but I am not sure he will be as good as Joao Cancelo. Signing a RB was very important and thankfully the Nerazzurri did just that. Will Vrsaljko be better than expected? In my opinion, probably not. I think there is a better chance he fails to meet expectations rather than exceed them. I am not saying he is going to be the next Joao Mario but I am not sold on him yet.

Mario: I don’t think he will start over D’Ambrosio unless Danilo has to play as a left back. Vrsaljko may be a slight improvement offensively, but defensively D’Ambrosio is much better and I think that may be a deal breaker.

Edouard: He's better defensively than Joao “I-am-a-winger-at-heart” Cancelo, and arguably better than Danilo D’Ambrosio overrall. I expect him to make the Inter defense even better if he keeps his World Cup form, but I'm not hoping for no Dani Carvajal. Simple, efficient is what I'm hoping for. My main concern is that maybe he won't be able to work his magic if he doesn't have a winger ahead of him who's constantly pressing like Ante Rebiç or Angel Correa/Vitolo. If this works out and he's fully integrated in the back four, good.

RM: I think Vrsaljko will be solid yet unspectacular. Potentially an improvement over D’Ambrosio who is limited in comparison and also an improvement over Cancelo defensively. I think his chemistry with his Croatian compatriots will be great for the locker room and he will know how to operate with them when they take to the field.

Will: Vrsaljko’s arrival is key as it gives Spalletti more freedom in terms of what systems he wishes to use this season. Inter are likely to use both a back four and a back three, which made it crucial that they brought in someone capable of playing both as a full-back and as a wing-back. Vrsaljko ticks that box.

Juventus v AC Milan - TIM Cup Final
Kwadwo Asamoah joined Inter on a free transfer from Juventus this summer.
Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

That said, the defense was upgraded with De Vrij and Asamoah. How do you think Inter’s defense stacks up this season?

Matt: Even better than last. Keeping ahold of Milan Skriniar was huge as he and Miranda really anchor the squad. Toss in De Vrij, Asamoah and Danilo D’Ambrosio and the Nerazzurri have a solid line in front of Samir Handanovic. I think this is a line that can put a stop to most attacks in Serie A and in Europe.

Cam: When you look around at the league, it is certainly hard to find a defense as strong as this. This defensive roster looks absolutely menacing, at least on paper. The new addition of Stefan De Vrij gives Spalletti the flexibility of a 4 or 3 man defense. If Handanovic continues his form, expect plenty of clean sheets this season.

Abdullah: I mentioned this earlier, I think Stefan De Vrij could become Inter’s summer signing of the season because of his experience in Serie A. You’ll have to turn to Juventus as the only team with real depth and quality across their back line - I’d even argue in Europe. Asamoah brings in versatility and a winning mentality from Juventus which will be needed in tough Champions League away games. Handanovic has been quietly going about his business and I expect another solid season from the Slovenian keeper.

Robbie: I already thought Inter’s defense was one of the better units in the league. With the addition of Stefan De Vrij, it could be the best in the league. He adds much needed depth where last year could have gone a very different way with an injury or two. De Vrij can slot in easily for Miranda or Milan Skriniar if either need to miss a match for some reason. As for Asamoah, I believe he will end up playing a lot more midfield than originally anticipated. They have played him there in friendlies and he has looked very good. He, like De Vrij, adds in much needed depth where if anything happens, we are covered.

Mario: Our defence has been solid the past few years, handing pressure because of our lackluster attack. I think Asamoah will play more of a midfield role this season but having De Vrij Skriniar and Miranda allows us to play a 3 in the back if needed. Handanovic continues to be one of the best keepers in the world keeping us safe and organized.

Edouard: With the return of Samir Handanovic, Skriniar, Miranda we get the three best defenders of last year. That's good news to me. If Skriniar becomes even better, we're looking at a great defense there. Now, this might seem like too many if’s to you, but it's reasonable to expect this. Also, even though Asamoah looks like he'll be getting most of his minutes as a midfielder, I’d like to see him as a left-back: his experience, incredible stamina, and versatility would work wonders there. He would also be less of a defensive liability than Dalbert. We actually overperformed on defense last year, conceding 7 goals less than our expected xG, per; but overall, it's a good defense we're looking at.

Will: On paper it’s one of the best defences in the league, but football on paper and football on the pitch are not the same thing and that’s no truer than when it comes to defending, where everything is about the collective. Changing three members of your starting back four is always a risk, no matter how good the players you’ve brought in are individually: we should have an excellent defence this season, but it’ll need a lot of hard work on the training ground.

The midfield still may have a hole to fill. But, adding Nainggolan will have an impact. If Inter stays with its current midfield, how do you see it working out?

Matt: I know we were looking for a top drawer midfielder to sign and we lost out on Arturo Vidal and Luka Modric, but Nainggolan along with Matias Vecino and Borja Valero are nothing to scoff at. Granted, I think we are still missing a true trequartista as Valero could not fit the bill last year. That said, I think we will be more aggressive in the midfield than we were last season.

Cam: Some flirtations from Ausilio didn’t pan out. However, we still have some studs in Nainggolan and Marcelo Brozovic. We then have an underappreciated Matias Vecino, a slowing Valero, and defensive minded Gagliardini. Each of these three will see play time with the two mainstays. Yet, I believe Spalletti will be pairing Kwadwo Asamoah with Brozovic behind Ninja as the choice lineup. You know what that means for LB.. hello Dalbert!

Abdullah: You win some, you lose some in the case of Arturo Vidal and in all likelihood, Luka Modrić. Brozovic deserves some more recognition after his World Cup exploits and paired with Nainggolan and Vecino in midfield we could most teams a run for their money. Gagliardini will be more than useful when we play tough away games around Europe and in Serie A when we need to shut up shop and hold on to a lead.

Robbie: I would have loved if Inter somehow added Luka Modric. Sadly, it does not look like it will happen. I think this midfield looks a lot more threatening than the last campaign though. Inter lacked the secondary scoring from the midfield all last season and Nainggollan will help immensely. With Borja Valero, Matias Vecino, and Roberto Gagliardini coming off the bench, the midfield is set up well to succeed in any game Inter fields a team.

Edouard: Nainggolan playing as an attacking midfielder which is the position where he had the most success, two seasons ago, under Spaletti’s orders at Roma. The belgian midfielder scored 11 goals, made 5 assists, to go along with 1.9 key passes per game, according to; I don't know if he's capable of the same impact this season. Last year, his numbers were a bit down, but maybe it's not regression, but just a case of not having the same importance in a different tactical scheme, under a different coach. Based on the transfer targets, I guess that Spaletti planned on acquiring a more offensive-minded midfielder able to break down opposing defenses and start him next to Brozovic/Vecino/Gagliardini. Without said midfielder, the midfield is still stable defensively but lacks an offensive punch. I still think we should get someone before the transfer window closes.

Mario: The midfield we have going into this season looks solid, defensively at least. I expect Asamoah to be used in the midfield quite often, rather than a left back like at Juventus. Nainggolan seems to be a great signing, and expectations are high for him this season, we can only hope he fulfills that. I can only hope that they can find a way to link up with the attack as it has not been as fluid as I’d like it to be in the past.

RM: I’ve seen many comments by Inter fans recently stating their worry that Inter will lack creativity in their midfield. Nobody mentions that Nainggolan has had the most successful through balls reach their target over the past few seasons. Brozovic has finally found consistency, the most important trait missing from his game. Asamoah looks like he’s so excited to express himself after being repressed a bit at Juve (I also think he’s been our best midfielder in pre-season) and, lastly, I think even Gagliardini can come good if he is given a task as defensive midfielder.

Will: I’ll quote Spalletti here - without Modric we’ll be a good team; with Modric we’ll be a great team. Ideally we’d have brought in a deep-lying play-maker to relieve the pressure on Brozovic somewhat, but I don’t think it’s a season-defining issue for us. We’re not as short as we were in that department last year and Marcelo seems to be a player we can rely on now.

Real Madrid v AC Milan - Pre-Season Friendly
Did Inter miss a big signing or dodge a bullet with Luka Modric?
Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Who was a player you hoped Inter would have signed during the transfer season?

Matt: Rafinha Alcantara. I have said it before and I will say it again, he is a player that fits the system and he wanted to play for Inter. But, things apparently didn’t work out as they should have. Yes, Modric would have been great, but I like Rafinha’s passion on and off the field as well as his ability to play Luciano Spalletti’s system.

Cam: Arturo Vidal. I know Luka Modric is the best midfielder in the world, and Rafinha was a true Interista. But the idea of bringing in Vidal with Nainggolan really just got the juices flowing. Those couple of days of rumors had the right balance of pure excitement and actual probability. If it weren’t for the Modric saga, fans would be up in arms over the missed opportunity. For me, Vidal’s energy and physicality make him the top signing that I wish had happened.

Abdullah: Luka Modrić. The experience and attributes the Croatian would have brought with him from Real Madrid would have been invaluable. A multi-time European Cup winner and World Cup runner up, the Golden Ball winner is undeniably the best central midfielder in the world right now. I still haven’t given up hope!

Robbie: Luka Modric for sure. As soon as I saw Fabrizio Romano’s tweet saying there was a chance, I started dreaming about it. If that signing happened, Inter could not only compete with Juventus for the scudetto, they may have been able to make a deep run at the UEFA Champions League. He is one of the best central midfielders in the world and to have him on Inter would have been amazing.

Edouard: Luka Modric. I think Rafinha would've been a more realistic option, but if we had gotten Modric...he's just another class of footballer, a Galactico. But it never felt like Inter was gonna get him, with his gigantic buyout fee and Financial Fair Play lurking around the corner. But it would've been nice.

Mario: Belotti or Immobile. I think we’ve signed players we need at all the positions we needed to reinforce, but I do not think Icardi will compliment those signings. This has become a team where we essentially play a man down for 89 minutes because Icardi lacks any presence on the field and gets involved minimally throughout a 90 minute period averaging less than 20 touches a game, less than Eder had as a sub. Would have rather sold him for big bucks and reinvested for a striker that can work with the rest of our team.

RM: I’ve been following Modric since his Tottenham days (I don’t even think following was a thing then, I don’t think Twitter was invented yet!) Then there was Croatia in the various other Euros and World Cups. I can still remember when he was briefly linked to Inter before Madrid snapped him up. I was so excited at the possibility. Real Madrid is not one of my favourite teams so I let him go. Obviously sneaking peeks at him the odd time over the years. At Madrid the attack was always so eager to get forward that Modric became a subtlety. That’s why I was so glad to see him get the recognition that he deserved at the World Cup this year. Not surrounded by superstars but he himself being the superstar. All of this is what made the potential of seeing his sunset years out in the colours of Black and Blue so enticing for me.

Will: Modric would have been extraordinary, but that was always more of a dream than a realistic target. On that basis I’d say Rafinha - although Nainggolan’s arrival makes it slightly less disappointing that we didn’t resign him. He loved Inter and we loved him. And still do.

SS Lazio v FC Internazionale - Serie A
Can Inter repeat its same magic from the first half of last season?
Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

Last season, Inter rattled off 16 straight unbeaten in Serie A. Can they repeat that?

Matt: The realist in me says ‘no.’ I think we had a luck of the draw last season, but many teams in Serie A have improved and I think it will be difficult for the Nerazzurri to repeat that feat.

Cam: I don't think something like that will happen this season. Although a run of that nature may be necessary to keep up with the top dogs, consistency is what I'm hoping for.

Abdullah: I don’t think so. All our rivals have strengthened and it may be a tall order for this Inter team. Consistency will be key and carving out smaller runs across the season will be needed to keep us near the top of the table.

Robbie: Inter are most certainly a better team than last season but I don’t think they will. They may come close but I believe they will be much more consistent throughout the entire campaign. Last year was very up and down while this year should be steady.

Mario: I don’t rule this out, and there have been moves made to back this up. What would worry me is the other games outside the 16 game unbeaten... We saw it happen last year, and before that under Mancini.

Edouard: It's doable, but it would require extremely good defense and offense: I don't want ten draws and six wins. That's not a sexy unbeaten streak, and it means death in the Scudetto race, from the start. This squad can manage such a feat, but it wouldn't (and shouldn't) be a priority.

Will: They can, but they almost certainly won’t. The Champions League is an energy-sapping tournament - both on a physical and a psychological level - so it’s nigh-on impossible to imagine us making it to December without a slip-up in the league.

SS Lazio v FC Internazionale - Serie A
Inter squeaked into the top four last season. Can they do better this time around?
Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

Does Inter finish in the top four this season and, if so, where?

Matt: I really think Inter not only finish in the top four, but challenge for the Scudetto. I can realistically see a top two finish, barring any serious issues like injury.

Cam: Top four for sure! This season relies heavily on our new signings blending in with the team. If everything clicks we can be in the hunt for the Scudetto. My realistic vision is challenging Napoli for 2nd place.

Abdullah: Absolutely. I’m expecting a top 3 finish with the additions that have been made over the summer. Napoli will be our biggest challengers this season but AC Milan have pushed themselves up with some smart signings too. Roma are always in and around the top 4 so it will be tough but I believe this squad is now capable of taking on the best.

Robbie: With Juventus adding Cristiano Ronaldo, I think the Scudetto is still too far out of reach. The Nerazzurri should compete for 2nd with Napoli and Roma. Both those teams saw some big losses in the mercato and it is going to take some adjusting. I think Inter will finish in 3rd just behind Napoli but comfortably ahead of Roma.

Mario: Juventus might as well be crowned champions now and until the next scandal that pops up. I can see Inter fight for 2nd place at best, if not we struggle for 4th, repeating what happened last year. A small part of me says we may finish 5th, but I’m just going to ignore that until March.

Edouard: Anything less than Top 4 should be considered a failure with the current investments and the buzz surrounding the squad. Where exactly is a question mark. With Roma, Lazio, Napoli still fighting behind Juventus, it's hard to make a statement. I'd say 2nd or -heavy sighs- 3rd place would be fine.

*quietly whispers Internazionale 2019 Serie A Champions*

RM: I’m gunna say second or third unless we get Modric, then i’m looking at the Scudetto.

Will: I’d be pretty surprised if we didn’t - although there are five highly competitive teams going for three places this season, so it’s not impossible. On paper we have enough to finish second, but I wouldn’t underestimate the challenge of getting used to playing in the Champions League again. Third.

What do you think? Post your comments below!