This is part two of two in a month-by-month look in the rearview mirror at Inter’s 2020/21 season. You can read the first segment here
The first half of the 2020/21 season resembled a typical Pazza Inter roller coaster. The Nerazzurri went from a bumpy start to Serie A, to an embarrassing Champions League exit, to a month-long winning streak to close out the year. By the time January rolled around, Italy’s top-flight’s title race was in full gear with Milan (43 points), Inter (41), and Juventus (37) all vying for the title. With Juve playing both Milanese clubs after the winter break, the first month of 2021 promised to give us a much clearer look at who would be champions come May.
- 6-2 vs Crotone
- 1-2 @ Sampdoria
- 2-2 @ Roma
- 2-1 @ Fiorentina (Coppa)
- 2-0 vs Juventus
- 0-0 @ Udinese
- 2-1 vs Milan (Coppa Italia)
While Inter did come out victorious in the Derby d’Italia, January was an up and down journey for Conte’s outfit. Conceding six goals in the first three games of 2021 was a sign of concern and Inter lacked the cohesion it displayed prior to the winter break. Inter stumbled to its second loss of the season away to Sampdoria, sandwiched between victory over Crotone and a draw vs Roma.
A win against Fiorentina in the Coppa Italia thanks to Lukaku’s 119th winner steadied the ship ahead of the pivotal meeting with Juventus. And in the most important game yet, Inter laid down a marker with a commanding 2-0 win. That was the moment when a 19th Scudetto first seemed realistic, though in typical Inter fashion, the Nerazzurri were held to a 0-0 draw against midtable Udinese the following week. Despite Milan’s 3-0 loss to Atalanta the same day, the Rossoneri edged Inter for the Winter Scudetto by one point. The Coppa Italia quarterfinals offered Inter a chance at revenge over its cousins. A late Christian Eriksen freekick game-winner proved the difference in a very memorable derby, with Lukaku and Zlatan coming close to exchanging blows at halftime. Not only did Inter get bragging rights on the day, but Eriksen’s resurgence caught fire then as well.
- 4-0 vs Benevento
- 1-2 vs Juventus (Coppa Italia)
- 2-0 @ Fiorentina
- 0-0 @ Juventus (Coppa Italia)
- 3-1 vs Lazio
- 3-0 @ Milan
- 3-0 vs Genoa
With five league wins out of five, February was the month where Inter went from contenders to leaders. The Nerazzurri rolled through Benevento, Fiorentina, and Lazio with a combined score of 9-1 before the last and most important Derby Della Madonnina of the season. And for the first time all season, Inter was in first place coming into a Matchday. The Nerazzurri had a one-point lead over Milan ahead of the derby, and despite a Coppa Italia semifinal exit to Juve, all of the momentum was in Inter’s favor. Conte’s side further stamped its authority on the title with a resounding 3-0 victory over its cross-town rivals. Handanovic put in his game of the season with three superb saves within minutes while Lukaku and Lautaro gave Milan’s backline nightmares for weeks. The biggest surprise of February came in the form of Perisic and Eriksen. Both stepped up into roles as reliable parts of the starting XI and had major parts to play in the Nerazzzuri’s stretch of victories.
Inter kept its perfect record alive, though without near as much beauty. Whereas the Nerazzurri scored over three goals a game in February, March boasted a trio of one-goal victories. Two ugly wins over Parma and Torino sandwiched a high-stakes meeting with Atalanta. The two best attacks played out a 1-0 win in Inter’s favor thanks to a herculean defensive effort from the Nerazzurri. Inter’s last game of the month against Sassuolo was postponed thanks to a coronavirus outbreak throughout the squad. Even so, Inter had six and ten point leads over Milan and Juve respectively by the time the penultimate month of the season arrived.
A 2-1 loss to Bologna and a 3-3 draw with Sassuolo within a week last season spelled doom for Inter’s title chances. This season, however, the Nerazzurri only continued its march towards the title with wins over both midtable sides. Though two draws against Napoli and Spezia slowed it down, a win over Verona meant Inter ended April with one hand on the trophy. With fatigue taking a toll, the Nerazzurri’s attack wasn’t at its best and notched a mere seven goals in six games. But thanks to Inter’s unbeatable defense, a goal a game was all that was needed for three points. With Inter scoring by committee, Matteo Darmian became a hero in Milan with two late gamewinners against Cagliari and Verona that meant the Nerazzurri needed only five points in May to clinch the title.
It took only two days of May to pass until Inter clinched the title once and for all. The Nerazzurri had no trouble against bottom-dweller Crotone and with a little help from Sassuolo’s draw against Atalanta, the Scudetto was ours. And rather fittingly, it was Eriksen who scored the title-clincher at the Ezio Scida. The remainder of the month was nothing more than a formality for Inter. Heavy rotation led to high-scoring wins over Sampdoria, Roma, and Udinese and sent Inter above the 90-point threshold. A narrow Derby d’Italia defeat to Juve thanks to some, uh, peculiar refereeing decisions stung, especially as it gave the bianconeri a route into the Champions League. The following weekend’s trophy lift soon wiped away any regrets, however, and the future seemed bright in Milan.
The events of the past week are as painful as they are shocking. From Scudetto winners to dismantling the team in a matter of days, the Inter universe has gone on quite a roller coaster. And it’s only just starting. Who knows what this summer and next season will hold for the Nerazzurri. But for now, let’s take some time to appreciate an incredible 2020/21 season.
It was only fitting that Inter’s 19th Scudetto would be won with 91 points. And truth be told, the Nerazzurri never looked in doubt from February onwards. While few Inter fans, me included, would have felt confident in the title that far back, Conte’s machine was leaving the rest of the league in the dust. Inter went from having the 5th-best defense at the midway point of the season to the unrivaled first by May. The Nerazzurri conceded only twelve goals in the entire second half of the campaign and co-led Serie A with 14 clean sheets. Its strength at the back proved especially crucial during the eleven game winning run that separated Inter from the pack. In fact, Inter won all but six games since the New Year and beat every team in the league at least once. Safe to say, the Nerazzurri were the dominant force on the peninsula.
Who knows when Inter will be back atop the trophy podium. The water in Appiano Gentile is murky, to say the least. As Inter knows all too well, the next trophy could take some waiting. But this season is not one that will soon be forgotten. Breaking Juve’s death-grip on Serie A along with Inter’s own ten-year silverware drought makes this season’s Scudetto all the more memorable.
Grazie to everyone from player to staff member who contributed to the Nerazzurri’s moment of glory!