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SoM Staff Roundtable: Inter Season Preview

Talking mercato grade, season expectations and more

FC Internazionale v Futbol’nyj Klub Dynamo Kyiv - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Sportinfoto/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

With the start of Inter’s title defense days away, we at SoM convened to discuss the rapidly-approaching new season to give our thoughts on everything Inter-related ahead of Saturday’s opener against Genoa.

It’s almost go-time folks.

FC Internazionale v Futbol’nyj Klub Dynamo Kyiv - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Sportinfoto/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Let’s start by grading the summer mercato.

How content are you with the players brought in as Lukaku, Hakimi, and Eriksen replacements?

Who will be the most successful purchase?


Josh:

I’m not gonna sit here and praise Inter for fiduciary responsibility. It straight-up sucks that the three players mentioned above won’t be on the squad. Given that, Denzel Dumfries is the player I’m most interested in. The importance of his arrival can’t be overstated and while he’s a different player than Hakimi, the potential for quality is there.

Mario:

C-

It wasn’t an ideal market, but bringing in Calhanoglu on a free transfer was massive. Dzeko for virtually nothing is also a good signing. We have seen strikers feast at his age (Toni, Di Natale, Quagliarella...) losing Lukaku and Hakimi hurt, Dumfries I’m not sold on, but we have plenty of depth in the wing backs department to compensate. At least we did not lose any defenders or midfielders except Eriksen, but that situation is not Inter or Suning's fault.

David:

D

Losing Lukaku and Hakimi automatically makes this summer a bust but there’s ways Inter could have cushioned the blow. Waiting until so late in the window to make most of its signings will set back Inzaghi’s preparations and make it harder for new additions to gel. Inter still hasn’t replaced Lukaku fully either. If every signing turns out to be a home-run, my opinion will definitely warm to the mercato but as of now too much of the damage has been self-inflicted for anything better than a D.

I think Dzeko might be the most successful in the short term. The 35-year-old has been one of Europe’s best strikers over the last decade and even though he’s on the decline, he still has what it takes to hit double digits.

Dumfries is the biggest question mark. He has the potential to be great but there’s always need for patience when a player first enters a top-five league.

InterPool:

C+

I decided to grade Marotta and co. based on realistic expectations rather than the standard of a perfect dream transfer window. It seems self-evident that the Zhang ownership’s catastrophic financial situation earned them an F. Considering how our net transfer budget was openly confirmed to be NEGATIVE €80 million — it would be unfair to punish Marotta for that, so instead it seems both more interesting and fair to judge how well they navigated through such extremely unfavorable circumstances.

Realistically, our top “transfer target” was never going to be anything better than basic damage control. Conte’s departure indicated right at the start of the summer window that even just keeping the Scudetto squad together would be a major challenge.

I won’t dwell on this part, but the obvious reason why I refused to go higher than a C+ even despite grading generously is because we not only ended up selling TWO stars... even worse, those also were arguably the two most irreplaceable players in our entire squad!

(I personally would have ranked Brozovic on par with Lukaku, but Hakimi would still probably be third on my “untouchables” list.)

The selling side of this transfer window was a disaster, but fortunately, there wasn’t too much else to criticize. Marotta and co. managed to complete several acquisitions, all of which were at least decent transfers even by normal standards... and 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.

The potential end of Eriksen’s career in Italy exacerbated Inter’s concerns but just ten days later Marotta and co. somehow solved the impossible situation with a transfer market miracle — the best possible replacement was both identified AND signed with an unbelievably efficient speed... for a brilliant bargain... providing nearly identical qualities as Eriksen... and just as icing on the cake, he happened to be the star #10 for our city rivals.

I can’t think of any other signing that was more perfect in more difficult circumstances than this surprise acquisition of Calhanoglu with a “Beppe Marotta special” — a term that used to be common over at our arch rival’s SB Nation site B.W.R.A.O. in reference to Marotta’s mastery of acquiring quality players via free transfers!

Even grading generously, I will admit that settling on a C+ grade despite the Lukaku sale might simply reveal that within the Seven Stages of Grief, I’m still stuck on the very first one — “shock and denial.” That being said, at least Marotta gave us a few reasons to be excited (Dimarco and Dumfries), a declining-but-not-useless veteran Lukaku replacement (Dzeko), and the potentially genius free transfer for Calhanoglu.

Michael:

C

The summer deals we have made just give me a burning feeling of meh, Which, given the circumstances, is not the worst feeling. There is no true Lukaku replacement yet, so that could still bump up the rating in time. Dzeko is a good veteran to have, though, and will bring goals and a strong presence up top both on and off the field when needed. Martin Satriano will also be looked to for a few goals as a promoted academy player with Alexis down for who knows how long. The way things look now, a lot will be on the shoulders of Lautaro.

Out wide, Dumfries and Dimarco, the killer Ds, will both have to replace Hakimi’s production by committee. Dimarco’s delivery is sensational and Dumfries’ speed on the pitch as well as his enthusiasm off it will be much needed in this team.

The Eriksen situation was out of everyone’s hands and is something that we can all agree is bigger than football. Whatever he chooses next for his career and wellbeing will be accepted by everyone. I might be in the minority, but I am really intrigued by what Calhanoglu can do in Inzaghi’s team. In house options such as Sensi and Vecino will also play roles in replacing the Dane’s presence.

Parma Calcio v FC Internazionale - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Emmanuele Ciancaglini/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Do you see any players improving under Simone Inzaghi?

Will anyone have trouble adapting to his system?


Mario:

A few players stick out for this question — Perisic, Calhanoglu, and Lautaro.

Perisic may finally have the creative freedom I have been begging for. He has been trapped in systems that have never suited his strengths, but hopefully under Inzaghi, a more creative, free flowing system will be in place for him to be the attacking threat we always see in the Croatia jersey.

Calhanoglu struggled with inconsistency at Milan. When he was good, Milan looked excellent, but out of form, Hakan is a problem. If Inzaghi can work his Luis Alberto magic on Hakan, he might be the most exciting player to watch at Inter this season.

Lautaro, as said before, has more responsibility, but hopefully more freedom to be the dazzling player scouts fell in love with at Racing.

David:

One main split of Inzaghi from Conte’s system is how much of a role the midfield plays in attack. Luis Alberto and SMS were near the top of Lazio’s goals and assists charts, constantly popping up in dangerous areas.

Inter’s midfielders have already bagged a hefty tally of goals in preseason and I’m excited to see that trend play out further. Stefano Sensi, Hakan Calhanoglu, and Matias Vecino all have the potential to succeed in big ways under Inzaghi. Sensi catches my eye especially. If he can stay healthy, this might just be his year. Might. I won’t get my hopes up yet.

InterPool:

Based on the players whom Inzaghi most notably developed into stars — especially Luis Alberto, Milinkovic-Savic, and of course capocannoniere winner Immobile (who has generally underachieved for every other manager throughout his career) — I expect improvement primarily from our young players in similar positions and roles.

Like the others said, I fully agree that Calhanoglu should thrive — but I’ll save the full rambling elaboration for an upcoming article series (which I’ve already started) comparing him to Eriksen as well as Luis Alberto, who played a similar role under Inzaghi at Lazio.

Lautaro and (hopefully) Satriano could also potentially take the next steps to fulfill their superstar potential! Maybe not right away, but at least in the long run, both of them should benefit from the fact that Inzaghi was a striker during his own professional playing career.

(I would also include Pinamonti here, but a lot of rumors suggest that he will go out on loan this season to develop with more playing time)

As for trouble adapting... Inzaghi is similar enough to Conte that I think that managerial transition actually should be reasonably smooth. The bigger concern for me — at least in the early part of the season — is how our entire team adjusts after losing Lukaku as the perfect focal point of our build-up play. During that early adjustment period, Lautaro in particular deserves patience from our supporters if he initially struggles without the other half of his famous striker partnership from the last two seasons.

Michael:

I am honestly not too worried about players adapting to Inzaghi’s system. He and Conte are proprietors of variations of 3-5-2, with Inzaghi preferring to press and play horizontally. I think the squad is still suited for this change from Conte’s vertical football. This has held true through the preseason with players performing well in their new roles.

As for improvements, I think everyone in the midfield will benefit from being pushed a bit higher up the pitch. I think Sensi will excel now that he is out from the clutches of Conte’s training regimes while Vecino will get into the penalty box and use his stature to score a few more of those headers we know he can get to.

Parma Calcio v FC Internazionale - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Loris Roselli/NurPhoto via Getty Images

What is one thing you’re looking forward to about Inter’s 2021/22 season?


Josh:

Unleashed Lautaro. Not that he was stifled in any way under Conte and alongside Lukaku. But I’m just looking forward to seeing him with the weight of the world on his shoulders. From an attacking perspective, he’s going to be under immense pressure and I’m excited to see how he responds.

Mario:

Hakan will be crucial for this season. He can ball out and when he does, it’s so fun to watch. I expect great things from him this year. He will have a proper manager this season and be surrounded by a good supporting cast to make sure that he is as effective as possible. Would’ve been awesome to see him with Eriksen next to him, but sadly it won’t happen.

Secondly, the team's mentality. The players now know what it takes to win a Scudetto. They should have that hunger and fight to do it again. Conte gave them the blueprint, we only lost two players and the rest of them are mainstays in the lineup, and you get an experienced winner like Dzeko to make up for some of the Lukaku loss.

David:

New signings are always fun and spice things up. I’m looking forward to seeing Calhanoglu, Dzeko, Dumfries, and anyone else we bring in make their mark in Milan. while they won’t fully offset the losses of the past summer, I’m optimistic that all three will be successes.

Inzaghi’s system has looked fun in preseason and I have high hopes for his tenure as manager as well. Mainly, I’m just glad Inter’s back.

InterPool:

No matter what happens in the aftermath of this challenging offseason... I can at least look forward to being frequently reminded of our success under Conte last season every. single. time. that I get to see our players proudly displaying the Scudetto patch that they earned together!

Michael:

I am really looking forward to the tactical changes Inzaghi will make and how these players will adapt to it. A more attacking look will be fun to watch, especially with the creative players Inter have all over the pitch. Chances will be created from every position and it will be up to whether or not someone is there to put them away.

FC Internazionale v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Emilio Andreoli - Inter/Inter via Getty Images

What is one concern you have about the upcoming year?


Josh:

This might be dumb cause it’s not an on-the-pitch concern, but it’s the vibes around the team. Losing Conte, Lukaku, Hakimi, and Eriksen in one offseason is devastating on the pitch (obviously). Not having a chance to see this Inter team fully realized in the Champions League and with a chance to defend the Serie A title is depressing. So my biggest concern is the vibes around the team and the fanbase. Fans are starting to be more involved in football again and for the team to be a complete downer would be unfortunate.

Mario:

Dumfries losing the starting right back job to Darmian or D’Ambrosio. Euro-hyped player with red flags. Physically he’s a perfect fit, but technically and defensively I have my doubts. Joao Mario vibes, but cheaper.

David:

Scoring! Lukaku and Hakimi were two of Inter’s three most important players in the attacking third and it's going to take a team effort to replace them. Inzaghi is going to need Lautaro to step up, a greater final third presence from the midfield, and more from Perisic and Dumfries to get anywhere near last season’s goal tally.

InterPool:

I fully agree with Josh about how the vibes around a team and fanbase can make an important difference. As I mentioned earlier, I’m very optimistic about Lautaro’s development under Inzaghi in the long run... but within the next few months, it would be perfectly understandable if he needs some time and patience while adjusting to life without Lukaku.

Michael:

Finishing will be my concern until the window is closed. Lautaro is a great striker, but he has never seen a tap in miss he didn’t like. If Zapata comes in, I think we’ll have a better chance conversion rate and my concern will switch to the wings and defense. Handanovic is one year older, so the more the defense can keep the pressure off of him, the better.

ITALY-NAPLES-FOOTBALL-SERIE A-NAPOLI VS INTER MILAN Xinhua/Alberto Lingria via Getty Images

What are your expectations for Serie A, Champions League, and Coppa Italia?

What does a successful 2021/22 season look like to you?


Josh:

A great year would look like being in the top four in the league, with a chance at the top going into the second half of the season. Competing in the Coppa Italia and the Champions League are obviously key, but I don’t have high expectations in the CL and the Italia is hit or miss.

Mario:

Top 4 and don’t suck in Champions League. I don’t expect the title repeat, but I think we put on a good display in the league. I have us finishing 2nd because Allegri makes Juve that much better, losing Conte hurts, but its not end all be all, we still have a great foundation and Inzaghi is an excellent coach.

David:

Top four should be the minimum. Even minus Lukaku and Hakimi, the roster is more than enough for a European finish. I’d like to see Inter finally progress out of the Champions League group stage and make a deep run in the Coppa Italia, but a top-two/three finish is good enough considering all of the turbulence around Appiano.

Michael:

I am stuck between the usual year zero expectations and hoping for a bit more. I think top 2-3 in the league would show that the club is still within striking distance of another title. In the Champions League, I think expectations will be adjusted to whatever the group shapes up to be. In the first pot, we could either get a great group or be stuck with PSG from pot 2 and RB Leipzig from pot 3. Any other case, we should be getting out of the group. Looking at the Coppa Italia, I say the same thing almost every year, I think we can win it. I’m practically always wrong, but I’ll eventually be right. A final and maybe a win would be cool and a big boost to kicking off the Inzaghi era.


What do you think?

Let us know in the polls and comments below!

Poll

Question 1 — how would you grade the summer mercato?

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    A- or better
    (3 votes)
  • 5%
    B+
    (3 votes)
  • 3%
    B
    (2 votes)
  • 16%
    B-
    (9 votes)
  • 16%
    C+
    (9 votes)
  • 28%
    C
    (15 votes)
  • 9%
    C-
    (5 votes)
  • 3%
    D+
    (2 votes)
  • 9%
    D or worse
    (5 votes)
53 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which will be the most successful purchase?

This poll is closed

  • 38%
    Hakan Calhanoglu — 27 years old — free transfer
    (21 votes)
  • 16%
    Denzel Dumfries — 25 y.o. — €12.5 million
    (9 votes)
  • 25%
    Edin Dzeko — 35 y.o. — free transfer
    (14 votes)
  • 0%
    Matteo Darmian — 31 y.o. — €2.5 million (as agreed before his loan to us last season)
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    Zinho Vanheusden — 21 y.o. — €16 million (then loaned to Genoa for the upcoming season)
    (0 votes)
  • 18%
    Federico Dimarco — 23 y.o. — undisclosed details of return from loan with Hellas Verona (who had a €6.5 million option to buy)
    (10 votes)
54 votes total Vote Now