It seems like it was just yesterday when Inter Milan fell excruciatingly short of a Europa League title to Sevilla. That loss capped off a wild summer of three games a week in route to a second place finish in Serie A. And yet, the 2020/21 season is somehow already right around the corner.
First, let’s review Inter’s summer/fall mercato adventures. To say things started out hectically would be a bit of an understatement, but then again, what else would you expect? Antonio Conte’s spirited outburst over the lack of “protection from the club” after the Atalanta game sparked rumours of his departure that lingered throughout the Europa League run. The saga culminated in an one-on-one meeting between President Steven Zhang and Antonio Conte in which it was decided that the Italian would stay.
Since then investment has catered to Conte’s desires. Experienced veterans Aleksandar Kolarov and Arturo Vidal have been brought in in lieu of youngsters like Sandro Tonali. It was painful seeing the 20-year-old and his huge potential slip out of Inter’s grasp and into Milan’s, but perhaps it’s necessary if Inter is to win the Scudetto this year. The Chilean and Serbian will provide excellent depth, and it’s practically impossible to find younger players of similar quality that cost the same. Inter paid just $2 million for that duo.
One Thing to Look Forward to
Despite much fuss made about Inter becoming a “retirement home” and such thanks to the signings of soon to be 35-year-old Kolarov and 33-year-old Vidal, Inter in fact has a fantastic young core. From center-back to striker, Inter has a player who may be around for quite some time.
Alessandro Bastoni (21), Nicolo Barella (23), and Lautaro Martinez (23) were all major contributors last season, and totaled 87 appearances among themselves. Bastoni was a big part of Inter’s league best defense, while we all remember his exquisite ball playing skills. Barella’s campaign was slightly disrupted by injury, but when he was on the field, his presence was unmistakable. Lautaro Martinez was Inter’s second highest goalscorer with 14 tallies, despite enduring a dire run of form lasting from January to August. If he can rediscover the level of play he showed in 2019, he may be in even greater demand than ever. There is a new guest to the party this season. Achraf Hakimi, of just 21 years, joined from Real Madrid over the offseason. The Moroccan wingback notched 9 goals and 10 assists across all comps on loan at Borussia Dortmund, and will provide a massive upgrade at right back (no disrespect to D’Ambrosio, of course). If he can replicate that form to Serie A, Inter will have a gem on the right flank.
I, for one, am excited to see how this U-23 quartet progresses and continues to show their quality. One thing’s for sure, though. These four player’s performances will go a long way in determining Inter’s fortunes in the coming campaign.
As always with Antonio Conte, the 51-year-old is the center of attention. He had a foot out the door at the end of last season, and although he did stick around, there’s no telling what will be the case this year. The current signings made so far have all been Conte’s wishes, unlike the Christian Eriksen deal. That level of dedication on Steven Zhang’s part hopefully is signs of a long term future at the San Siro for Conte, but it could terribly backfire if the Italian quits mid-season, leaving Inter drowning in 30 year olds that have no place under the new manager. And although that is a worse case scenario, it’s not entirely implausible, knowing Conte’s habits.
Whether Antonio Conte keeps a cool head even, and in fact especially, in stressful situations will be one of the deciding factors in whether or not there is a title race, let alone the outcome of it.
2020/21 Predicted Starting XI *
* Subject to change since the transfer window doesn’t close until the fifth of October
Samir Handanovic is once again the clear first choice despite his 36 years of age. Andrei Radu returns from loan to Parma, and provides some much needed depth at that position. Daniele Padelli can be trusted with the odd Coppa Italia match, but nothing more as he showed when he was on the pitch last season.
Bastoni and Stefan de Vrij should slot right back into the starting eleven, but the third spot is a question mark. Milan Skriniar seemingly had issues adapting to Conte’s back-three system, and eventually lost his starting role to Diego Godin at the end of last season, but the Uruguayan now looks set for a move to Cagliari. Although that may open the doors to Skriniar’s return, plenty of transfer rumours circled over the Slovak’s exit. Nothing has come to pass yet, though, so hopefully Conte and Skriniar spent the summer rolling out any bumps between them and the 25-year-old comes back adjusted to the 3-5-2.
InterPool put it much better than I can in this excellent article, but I think the trio of Barella-Brozovic-Sensi will be Conte’s first choice when they’re all fit. Which, knowing Sensi, unfortunately won’t be all that often. Even so, that position is well stacked in depth, so Conte will likely have quite a few selection headaches to sort out.
Up front, though, there’s no question as to who the starters are. Romelu Lukaku (23g, 2a) and Lautaro Martinez (14g, 3a) were instrumental in last year’s title push, and more of the same will be needed this time out. Those two may be the best options up front by far, but at least Conte has some choices this season. Alexis Sanchez’ loan from Manchester United was made permanent, while Andrea Pinamonti was bought back from Genoa. We all saw what a healthy Sanchez can do after the restart, and while Pinamonti may not be near as flashy, he too can contribute in what is sure to be a jam packed 2020/21.
To say Inter has to win the Scudetto this season may be a bit of a reach. Although Juventus is in flux, it is still very much Juventus, the club that has won nine straight Scudettos. And if Andrea Pirlo’s coaching debut, a 3-0 win over Sampdoria, is anything to go by, the Old Lady is perhaps in better hands than Maurizio Sarri’s. With that said, Inter’s squad is arguably the most talented in the league, and at the least it must push Juve all the way to the end.
As for Europe, Inter is again likely to be put in a Champions League Group of Death thanks to its Pot 3 status (the draw is October 1st). Still, the Nerazzurri can very much compete in such a group, as shown by last year, when only a draw vs Slavia Praha kept Inter out of the Round of 16. Quite simply, anything less than a knockout round appearance would be a major disappointment, no matter who Inter is drawn with.
What are your thoughts on the coming season? Should it be “Scudetto or bust” for Inter? Will Conte make it until the season’s end? Let us know in the comments!