With the midway point of Inter’s 2021/22 campaign officially upon us, we took the opportunity to convene the SoM staff and look back on the season so far. We talk about our season MVPs so far, who needs to improve, what our expectations for the remainder of the season are, and more.
We’re now five months into the Simone Inzaghi era. What have been your early takeaways from his tenure? What’s surprised you the most so far?
David: I’ll be honest, I thought a Scudetto push was pretty much out of the question back in August. Losing Lukaku, Hakimi, and Eriksen in one summer seemed like too big a blow to recover from, and that wasn’t even considering the possible friction a coaching change might have caused. But Inzaghi has blown my expectations out of the water, and then some. He’s managed to soften the blow of what would have been huge weaknesses under Conte (no Lukaku or Hakimi) thanks to his more expansive tactics and key contributions from the entire squad. There were a few concerning moments in the first month or so of the campaign but Inzaghi has adapted and come up with the fix each time of asking. Perhaps the clearest sign of changing times was that Inter finally escaped the Champions League group stage and even went into the final matchday with advancement secured. So far, so good.
InterPool: The biggest takeaway for me has been learning the differences between Inzaghi and his predecessor. Considering how Inzaghi’s preferred system is built around the same 3-5-2 formation, as soon as he was appointed it appeared to be the perfect choice for “Conte-nuity” to build on the rock-solid Scudetto-conquering foundation left behind by the “Serial Winner” manager. What surprised me, however, was how Inzaghi’s tactical philosophy is significantly less similar to Conte’s than I expected. Specifically, Inzaghi tends to be more aggressive — not only in terms of a more possession-based attacking approach but ALSO in terms of his “in-game management” by making more proactive substitutions earlier within matches.
Mario: So far Inzaghi has been excellent. He has managed to bring a winning team to the next level, something that is extremely hard to do in the first season. Inzaghi has managed to get just as many points as Conte did last year, in a convincing fashion. He has the team firing from all cylinders despite losing two of our most important players, Lukaku and Hakimi. To make things better, he managed to put us through to the knockout rounds of the Champions League, something Inter has not managed to do in as long as I can remember.
Josh: As someone who didn’t start following and rooting for Inter until the Antonio Conte era, it’s been a history lesson. How Inzaghi has deployed this version of Inter Milan is a more classic representation of the Italian giants. That’s not me trying to diminish the Conte era at all, Conte remains one of my favorite managers to root for. It’s simply me saying I’m enjoying this version of Inter and find it to be something that is sustainable long-term.
Michael: So far, Simone Inzaghi has proved himself to be the real deal. In Serie A and in the Champions League, his Inter are scoring more and conceding less with an attractive and free-flowing style of play. We know the stories of the departures, but it is their replacements that have largely made everyone forget about the near catastrophe of a summer. His transformation of Hakan Calhanoglu has to be one of the biggest revitalizations at the club since Luciano Spaletti put Marcelo Brozovic on a track to become one of the best registas in the world. Edin Dzeko has set out to prove Roma wrong with 16 goal contributions in all competitions so far. Now recently, Denzel Dumfries has rounded into a serious threat on the right. This team is extremely likable, extremely talented, and extremely fun to watch.
Have any players stood out to you so far? Who would be in your MVP discussions if the season ended today?
David: There’s been no clear standout this season, rather a full team effort. It’s a great testament to Inzaghi that he’s gotten so much out of so many players. Hakan Calhanoglu, Edin Dzeko, Milan Skriniar, and Marcelo Brozovic pop out to me, and if I had to choose I’d go with Calhanoglu.
InterPool: Regarding the team MVP question... my answer is — to the surprise of absolutely nobody — Marcelo “Epic” Brozovic! As for the other question, one stand-out that I predicted would turn out to be a brilliant transfer: 27 year old Hakan Çalhanoğlu
The specific wording I used was:
“...one of which actually might have been nothing short of genius — potentially among the most brilliant acquisitions that I’ve ever seen, all things considered”
...and another stand-out that I honestly had significantly underestimated: 35-year-old Edin Džeko.
Mario: Standout players - too many to name if I’m being honest... Everyone has done their part and done it well. Even Gagliardini is putting in decent shifts when called upon. The two most influential players have been Brozovic and Calhanoglu. Brozovic is the most important piece to this team, as he has been for years now. He sets the pace of our attacks and is very influential on the defensive side as well, proving he is one of the best defensive midfielders in the world. Hakan has produced crazy numbers in the attack with goals and assists, something we expected from him, but not so much so quickly! He has grown tremendously since his inconsistent days at Milan and has proven to be an asset in this lineup.
Josh: Despite the many names who could be listed for this award, I’ve gotta go with Brozovic. When Inter are at their best Brozovic is the motor. Extending his contract is vital to the success and honestly the vibes of the club the rest of the season.
Michael: Someone who may not get as much praise for me has been Ivan Perisic. While the right side of the midfield five has been a question mark at times, the left has been rock solid with the Croatian having a bit of a career renaissance over the past few seasons. He is currently on four goals and two assists and has been a wall in defense.
On the flip side, is there anyone you want to see more from? Who needs to take their game to the next level in the new year?
David: Maybe it’s unfair to someone that is joint top of Inter’s goalscoring charts with 11 goals, but the first half of Lautaro Martinez’s 21/22 campaign has left a bit to be desired. He’s failed to take the step up we thought he might with the spotlight fully on him, rather than Lukaku. Instead, he’s about as inconsistent as ever, remains an iffy finisher, and is still a mess from the penalty spot. The Argentine also failed to score a single goal in Inter’s Champions League group stage (not great!). The pieces are all there for a one-of-a-kind striker but you do start to wonder when Lautaro will put it all together. Luckily for Inter, he’s still a menace to opposing defenses on his day and has a respectable haul of eleven goals to his name. Along with some general consistency (no more months-long goal droughts please!), I’d especially like to see him show up in the big games in 2022.
InterPool: I’ve openly and consistently been a strong advocate for El Toro — speaking of which, I plan to publish a sequel to my “Lautaro Martinez vs Recency Bias” article soon, hopefully within the next month or two! The 24-year-old is arguably a top ten striker in the entire world already, on the verge of superstardom... but he isn’t quite there yet. I have high hopes that under Inzaghi — who himself was a striker during his playing days — Lautaro can take that next step to the very highest level and truly fulfill his world class potential.
Mario: I need to see more from Dumfries, I know he’s been finding himself these past few weeks but I want him to be a consistent performer against teams at all levels, not just relegation sides. We saw him struggle so badly against Madrid that he was pulled at halftime. Need him to step up in bigger games going forward. The building blocks are there, and I hope it can be completed sooner rather than later.
Josh: I’d have to agree with the above assessments of Lautaro. But just to be different I’ll say Handanović. There’s going to be a moment in the Liverpool matches where his play either saves us or destroys us, and his ability to turn back the clock for a match or two in the new year is what I’m hoping for.
Michael: Stefan de Vrij has some room to improve on his first half of the season. Some mistakes crept into his game and he has dealt with injury. If he can stay healthy, the entire back three will be back to their usual best after some early season growing pains.
What’s been your favorite moment of the season so far?
David: Scoring against Shakhtar. Not even winning, just getting the ball into the back of the net and having it count. When Lautaro’s goal got ruled out for a marginal foul in the home leg, it seemed like history was once again repeating itself in a disastrous fashion. But Dzeko’s goal in the 61st minute was the culmination of 331 minutes of scoreless actions across two Champions League seasons and put Inter into the Round of 16 at long last.
Mario: My favorite moment was Hakan’s Olimpico. Love to see him doing this kinda stuff, having fun, and winning games.
Josh: This is going to be a weird answer, but the first 88 minutes of the first match against Real Madrid. I can’t explain it other than saying I was so happy with how they were playing so early in the season against Real Madrid in the Champions League.
Michael: The win over Napoli really showed what this Inter is really capable of. Everyone snapped into form and really took it to the league leaders of the time. Each of Inter’s three goals in that match were inch perfect. Hakan’s penalty kissing the post, Perisic with the ridiculous angle flick, and Joaquin Correa taking the ball down the field for Lautaro to slot home. Since then, Inter have pulled away a bit in the league. That will likely be the match we point to at the end of the season as being the one that this team turned the corner in.
What does a successful second half of the season look like for Inter?
David: I think it has to end with a trophy come May. The team has been way too good so far to come home empty-handed. Milan will make it back into a title race and we’ll drop a few points here and there but Inter has been so much better than the rest that anything less than the Scudetto would be a disappointment. As for the Champions League, I doubt Inter will get past Liverpool but hopefully, the Nerazzurri can give the Reds a run for their money. A Coppa run would be nice too but I won’t hold my breath.
InterPool: Winning the triplete!!! Just kidding... kinda... sorta... mostly... ish. (knock on wood)
The treble is technically still possible, and our chances of getting past Liverpool are better than many people realize...
But that being said, Liverpool is arguably the very best team in the entire world right now — I think most neutrals would agree that they’re at least top three, along with Bayern Munich and Manchester £ity — so we’re definitely still underdogs to even get past the Round of 16 because of such a difficult draw. If we are going to beat Liverpool, then it will almost certainly require MUCH more clinical finishing.
According to UEFA’s official website itself, out of ALL teams in the entire Champions League group stage, Inzaghi’s squad ranked:
- 1st for shot attempts but only 16th for actual goals scored
...probably in large part because we also ranked:
- 1st for shots OFF target
- 6th for shots ON target — Liverpool ranked 1st in this category by the way
- 1st for shots that hit the crossbar
- 3rd for shots that hit the post
- 3rd for shots that were blocked
Regardless of what happens in the Champions League though, the fact that we finally have returned to the knockout stages for the first time in 11 years is a huge accomplishment and as a more realistic target, a domestic double actually might be legitimately attainable!
Mario: The Scudetto is Inter’s to lose. I think we have a team capable of winning and at this point, I am expecting a repeat, based on how good we look and the depth we have.
Josh: Most Inter fans if they’re being honest at this point of the year would say Scudetto or bust. That’s all I really care about. I’d love to see them challenge Liverpool and look confident in the Champions League, but I won’t lose any sleep over a team like Liverpool advancing. I’d be pretty disappointed if Inter aren’t able to continue this form in Italy and come away with the repeat. That being said, at the start of the year I would have taken simple contention, so I’m a happy man today.
Michael: It may not be the biggest trophy or the end goal of the season, but a win in the Supercoppa against Juventus in a couple of weeks would really put Inter in the driver seat for more trophies this season. Seeing a trophy being lifted would be a great way to legitimize Inzaghi’s Inter. That confidence could perhaps lead to a league and cup double as well.
What do you think? Is this season Scudetto or bust? Any major takeaways on Inzaghi’s tenure so far? Let us know in the comments below.