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Serpent Roundtable: A look ahead at the Champions League for Inter Milan

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

FC Internazionale Milano v FC Twente - UEFA Champions League
Esteban Cambiasso (R) of FC Internazionale Milano celebrates scoring the first goal during the UEFA Champions League Group A match between FC Internazionale Milano and FC Twente at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on November 24, 2010 in Milan, Italy.
Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images

Time flies doesn’t it? It’s been six years since we’ve last seen Internazionale Milano in the Champions League and eight years since we last won it.

I can still remember Diego Milito scoring a brace against Bayern Munich to complete a historic treble under Jose Mourinho. But, the upcoming week will see us return to Europe’s premier competition and compete against the finest teams across Europe. After such a successful transfer window and branded the team to watch in Serie A, Inter Milan will be expected to make an impression on this season’s competition.

Let’s see what the rest of the staff think!

After six year absence from the Champions League, Inter Milan has finally returned to Europe’s premier competition. How far have they come since then and how do they stack up against the likes of Tottenham Hotspur and Barcelona?

Abdullah: It’s been a long time since we last saw the team in the Champions League and we’ve gone through many ups and downs over the years. The past two seasons has looked positive and the success of the recent summer transfer window has given everyone reason to believe that Internazionale have taken two steps forward. We are nowhere near the level of Barcelona but I would like to think we can compete against teams of Tottenham Hotspur’s calibre. Man for man, Inter can compete against the tier two clubs: Mauro Icardi, Milan Škriniar, Ivan Perišić, Samir Handanovic and Radja Nainggolan are high level players who could walk into any top four club in Europe.

R. M. : There is a reason we’ve been out of the competition. With the departure of Davide Santon there are now no remnants of the 2010 team. We’ve struggled plenty with a slew of coaches that couldn’t handle the job. Plenty of the football was purposeless. Often boring enough to send fans to sleep. Only recently can we say that the team and coach has paid attention to the fire under their - butts - and responded by qualifying for the Champions League. Last season - in my opinion - is the furthest that we’ve come since being out of the competition. These players have no ties to the treble winning team and can hold their heads high at their achievement, but they must not stop there, they must continue to improve. In terms of potential matchups - I’m looking forward to Skriniar vs Kane/Messi and Icardi vs Pique. And with the unconfirmed rumours that Messi has problems with Icardi it will be fascinating to see who finishes on-top there.

Luca: Whilst it’s great to be back in the competition, I still consider us some way off the elite sides in Europe - Barcelona included. Realistically, though, we’re not competing with them as those sides would consider anything less than winning a failure. As for Tottenham, I think our respective starting elevens are of a similar standard although Spurs are a squad that has played together for some years under Pocchettino. Combine that with their greater experience in the Champions League, I think Inter are currently a step below Tottenham too. The only way we will make up ground is by competing in Europe regularly, though, so we’re heading in the right direction.

Nandy: The last time I saw Inter in the Champions League, they were being taken apart by a young man named Gareth Bale. Jose was great for the short term and after he left, the team needed to be rebuilt under a capable manager, instead the management made some questionable decisions and we dug ourselves into a deep,deep hole. We have come a long way since then, and as Inter fan, I feel happy at the moment.

I would say we are a top 15-20 club in Europe right now with the potential to be top 5 in 2-3 seasons time, but to compare ourselves to Tottenham and Barcelona is a bit far-fetched in my opinion.

Cam: Inter has gone through a massive turnaround over this past decade. The organization hit its biggest low, fielding subpar players and missing out on all European competitions in a ninth place showing in 2013. The club has been on the rise since then, under new ownership and management. While I don't believe we are on the same level as Barcelona, we should be highly competitive in this group. This Champions League campaign can vault Inter up to the next caliber of teams.

Matt: I think you can see a lot of growth at Inter in the last six years. Keep in mind, other teams in Europe are growing just as fast, if not faster, than the Nerazzurri, so for them to make the Champions League is a solid feat considering they were out of it for that time frame. In terms of competing, this is football and anything is possible. I think a lot of pundits have Inter dropping to the Europa League and potentially even getting some hardware there, but I wouldn’t necessarily count them out of qualifying for the knock-out stages of the Champions League.

Robbie: I am really optimistic when it comes to Inter. They got drawn into a tough group but there is no reason why they can’t get through. They are probably on the same level as Tottenham if not a little bit lower. Barcelona is winning this group, I am sure we can all agree with that. The battle for second place will be very fun to watch.

How does this Inter Milan squad compare to the 2010 winning squad?

Abdullah: The 2010 title winning squad was the best team to play in Europe and I don’t believe this squad is any where near their level. With the right tweak’s this team can begin to become a regular participant in the Champions League. Being linked with the likes of Luka Modrić and Arturo Vidal are the types of players who could push Inter over the edge. We have already have a spine that could become one of the world’s best in a year or two.

R. M. : The squad of 2010 was a very, very experienced squad with world class players. There is a big age difference between the squad we have now, which I believe is quite a bit younger. The players of Inter 2010 were ripe and ready for their moment. Players like Javier Zanetti and Esteban Cambiasso who are the exact opposite in nature to the mellenial players of today who often are blessed with talent, yet, have no discipline. They are more interested in lives of glamour and sports cars than football. Now think Javier Zanetti, one could be forgiven for thinking this guy must not know how to even take a selfie. Ok, that’s a little extreme but you get my point. In summary our current team needs to prove themselves while the team of 2010 was built mostly of proven players waiting for direction, which came in the form of Jose Mourinho.

Luca: Not even close. I really like the current squad, but 2010 was a team of champions. That team had dominated Italy for years, had great levels of Champions League experience and contained a number of international captains. They also had Mourinho in his prime. This current squad is one of huge potential and some fantastic players - but they’ve got some way to go before we mention them in the same breath as the treble winners.

Nandy: The 2010 squad was the perfect bunch, experienced but not ageing. They had an ideal captain in Zanetti, players in their peak like Cambiasso, Maicon and Milito. A world class orchestrator in Sneijder and Mourinho in the tactics room. I didn’t even mention guys like Lucio and Eto’o among others. If there is one guy who could walk into this historic team from our current squad, it would be Radja. Perisic, Skriniar and Icardi could probably make the bench. Our current squad is great, but nowhere close to what the 2009-10 team was, but I hope that they can be as good as them in the coming years.

Cam: The Inter Milan squad of 2010 is in another stratosphere. What that team achieved can only be a dream for the current squad. With that said, this is a GOOD team. Not great, but good. We have the attacking pieces to beat anyone as long as those pieces can work well together. However, I think we are still one or two players away from being able to compete with big boys of Europe.

Matt: I am not sure that this is even a comparison. The 2010 team was loaded with talent and it showed by Inter winning the treble. This is not a team that will be able to do that ... right now. Over time, however, I can see the team continuing to gel and work together and, barring any serious injuries or changes for the bad, competing for the Scudetto and even the Coppa.

Robbie: Honestly, these two teams should not be in the same sentence. One team is a generational team while this team should be forgotten among the years. This team can definitely grow and develop to be what that team was, it won’t be this year though.

Juventus has been the sole representative in the latter stages of the Champions League in recent years with the exception of Roma making a semi-final appearance last season. How far can Inter go against their Italian rivals?

Abdullah: I don’t know if we’ll make a semi final appearance this year but I expect hope Inter makes it to the Round of 16. I would think an ideal outcome would be a quarter final appearance which would give us a fantastic platform to build upon for next season. I expect this team to be finishing in the top four regularly making us Champions League regulars.

Luca: Juve have a squad built for the Champions League. If they don’t go (much) further in the competition than Inter, then they should be disgusted. Both Inter and Napoli have very difficult groups, and it remains to be seen whether they’re even able to make the knockout stage. Roma should get out of their group, but I don’t see them repeating last years success. I think their squad is weaker than it was, and I think the other clubs will be extra cautious when they face them. If Inter was in Roma’s group, I would expect us to qualify for the last 16.

Nandy: Unfortunately, both Juventus and Roma have been handed comparatively easier groups than Inter and Napoli. If we were in place of Roma or Juventus, I would have expected us to go through to the knockout stages. In our current situation, I don’t see us getting past the group stage, and I feel the same way about Napoli. Roma will probably exit the competition in the Round of 16. Juventus are the only Italian team that I see finishing first in their group and subsequently going through till at least the semi-finals.

Matt: Again, this is a difficult comparison to make as all the groups are different. I think Juventus has had the benefit of draws that helped them. Roma may have been lucky or just been at the right place at the right time. In a competition like the Champions League, anything is possible. Juventus could trip up in the group stage and Napoli or Inter could get into the knockout round because of one thing happening or another.

Robbie: Napoli is in the toughest group that is for sure. I think that Inter will probably be knocked out in the groups or Round of 16 at best so I don’t believe they stack up well against the Italian teams. Juventus should win their group, Napoli could get knocked out in groups but also could make a run, Roma should most certainly get out of their group as well so Inter are really in the worst spot of the four.

Cam: Coming out of the 4th pot, we were at a disadvantage before the groups were even drawn. The other serie A squads have more favorable groupings, so I find it hard for us to be one of the lead dogs of Italy in this tournament.

What would your ideal starting XI be for the Champions League now that we’ve seen the squad play over a few matchdays?

Abdullah: I would play a 3-4-3 formation with the following lineup:

Handanovic; Škriniar, Miranda, De Vrij; Vrsaljko, Nainggolan, Brozovic, Asamoah; Keita, Icardi, Perišić.

It’s a toss up between Politano and Keita who I believe will play an important role for us this season either off the bench or starting. I picked Keita for his versatility and dynamic style of play.

R. M. : I’m happy with Abdullah’s selection actually. Probably leaning more towards Politano than Keita due to form. This formation takes out Vecino also so i’m happy.

Luca: I’m really interested to see what Spalletti does for the match against Tottenham. I like the 3-4-3 described above, but I don’t believe he’ll go for it in our first game in the competition. Instead, I can see him sticking with the formation that brought him success last season, the 4-2-3-1.

Handanovic; Vrsaljko, Skriniar, De Vrij, Asamoah; Vecino, Brozovic; Perisic, Nainggolan, Politano; Icardi.

I think the Parma match will be a good indicator of Spalletti’s ideas. If we see a 3-4-3 on Saturday, then I think we’ll see the same against Spurs.

Nandy: Anything with Politano and without Vecino.

Matt: I honestly don’t see a lot of change here in the formation. The 3-4-3 would be a risk, so I can see the 4-2-3-1 being the way Spalletti goes.

Handanovic; Vrsaljlko, Skriniar, De Vrij, Asamoah; Brozovic, Nainggolan; Keita, Politano, Perisic; Icardi.

Robbie: I really want to see the 3-4-3 but I think Spalletti sticks to 4-2-3-1 which I am fine with. I would agree with Matt’s XI. Hopefully they can get us on the right foot.

Cam: It's gotta be a 4-2-3-1 for me. With no Gagliardini in the midfield, I would like to Asamoah in the middle with Brozo: Handanovic- Vrsaljko,DeVrij, Skriniar, D'ambrosio - Brozovic, Asamoah - Perisic, Nainggolan, Politano - Icardi.

What are your predictions for this season’s Champions League run for Inter Milan?

Abdullah: I’m going to be optimistic and predict a quarter final finish this season but realistically, I think we might just edge it into the Round of 16. The draw hasn’t been kind to us but saying that a drop down into the Europa League can be a blessing in disguise, giving us a more realistic chance of actually winning European silverware this year.

R. M. : Luciano Spalletti doesn’t have the best record in the competition even with Roma teams that he had the chance to work thoroughly with. During the Roberto Mancini era Inter Milan would often make the quarterfinals the furthest. We often even struggled to make round of 16. So I believe we are destined to repeat the cycle again, however, let’s keep our fingers crossed that we don’t have to wait another forty years before we taste Champions League glory again.

Luca: My heart says Last 16, but my head says we’ll go out in the group stage. Barca are Barca, and Tottenham are a team that deserves a lot of respect. That said, if we can win our first two games then I think we’re in the drivers seat to progress.

I don’t think getting knocked out is the worst thing in the world, either. These players have very little experience in cup competitions so a run in the Europa League would give them a chance to develop. Also, this team needs to win something - anything! Barring a miracle, we’re not going to take home the CL. I think we’re good enough to win the Europa League, though.

Nandy: Agree with Luca on this, the head does say we’ll go out in the group stage. I think we should win some silverware this year to give our squad a mental boost and that winning mentality. In the CL, we have to beat PSV twice (not as easy at it sounds), and make the home games against Tottenham and Barcelona count. If we don’t make it, we should go all in on the Europa League.

Matt: I really want to say we get out of the group and into the Round of 16, but realistically this draw doesn’t do us any favors. I think we will sneak in a win against either Tottenham or Barcelona — likely at home — but I can also see us trip up against PSV once. That said, I think we finish third in the group, drop to the Europa League and potentially compete for the trophy there.

Robbie: Before the draw, I was very optimistic and thought Inter would get through their group and maybe Round of 16. After the draw, the more I think about it, I really think we go out in groups. Tottenham is a really good team and I don’t think we get the full six points against PSV. Relying on Tottenham and Barcelona dropping points to PSV is not a reliable way of advancing. I think Europa would be good experience as well but I would not want to go all in on the competition. It can really hurt you having Thursday games and you have to decide if you want the league or the European cup. I prefer qualifying for champions by being Top 4 and not having to rely on winning Europa.

Cam: I am going to be an optimist here and predict a group success. After a 2nd place round behind Barcelona.. I think we will exit in the round of 16. For me, this will be a successful campaign! Hoping for the best.

What do you think? Post your comments below!