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SoM Staff Roundtable: Inter Season Recap

The gang is back with an end of season extravaganza roundtable

Juventus FC v FC Internazionale - Coppa Italia Final Photo by Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

With the 2021-22 season finally wrapped up, let’s get a feel for how the staff felt about the Inter season. There was plenty of turnover in the offseason and it resulted in a fascinating season, let’s chat about it.

FC Internazionale v UC Sampdoria - Serie A Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

What are your final takeaways and lasting impressions from last season?

Josh: Setting the tone for Inter being a staple at the top of Italian football again. This wasn’t a one-off Antonio Conte miracle project, this team has a core that can support itself for years if maintained properly.

Mario: I think this season was typical to what I expected. We saw the highs of Inzaghiball and the lows of the Pazza Inter winter struggle. Even with our struggles, I am content with how the season went. We lost a ton of power with our player sales and losing Antonio Conte, but the replacements have shown encouraging signs to remain right at the top of Serie A and even make a dent in the Champions League scene. Inzaghi took this team and refined it into an exciting fast-paced team you want to watch every week. He managed to get the most out of old man Edin Dzeko, unlock the potential of Ivan Perisic and allow Brozovic and Barella to produce a healthy amount of chances, assists, and goals throughout the season. This season was to be treated as a building block or an audition of the things to come. I am more than happy with how it finished, although squandering too many chances to go atop of Serie A was the only drawback that I can think of. It was right there for the taking but the players couldn’t get it done when they needed to. Lastly, Handanovic will still be our starter going forward. Accept it.

David: This is still a very good team that can play well without Conte at the helm and Inzaghi is a very good coach, but it’s also not the world-beater it was last year, nor will it be anytime soon. I admit that’s a bit obvious but I do think we’re at a bit of a turning point. If we add some starting-caliber players this summer, we’ll stay in Scudetto contention for the next few years but more sales would mean top-four is the ceiling. As Josh and Mario said, the core of this team is high-quality but it all comes down to how it’s maintained.

Michael: This was another year zero for a club that averages a lot of them. Losing the players and manager that we did was always going to be at least a small step back and at worst something that set the club back half a decade. Luckily, it was the former. Inter played themselves into a position as favorites for the league, but faltered early in 2022 as goalscoring without Romelu Lukaku became the issue we assumed it could be. However, the trophies won and the progress made in the Champions League set a very solid foundation for what Simone Inzaghi’s Inter project will look like.

FC Internazionale v UC Sampdoria - Serie A Photo by Fabrizio Carabelli/LiveMedia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

How happy are you with Simone Inzaghi? Is he a long-term fit for the Meazza, and what does he need to work on?

Josh: Over the moon. If you had told me of the results of the season after we signed Edin Džeko as a replacement for freaking Romelu Lukaku and losing the aforementioned Eriksen and Hakimi, I would have laughed. The best I was hoping for this season was a confidence-boosting Inzaghi campaign wherein he set the tone of the future, results could come but that wasn’t my priority. Turns out, we got both.

Mario: I am happy with Inzaghi. I think he has a lot to work on, he’s nowhere near as refined as Antonio Conte which is a hard task to accomplish. The work he has done with this squad has gone unnoticed and you have to give him credit. He was set up to fail, and you can say he did by not winning a Scudetto when it was clearly in our own hands, sure, but in the meantime, he has promoted a style of play where we look unstoppable at times. With time and patience, this can be improved.

With some new signings to fit more into Inzaghi’s style and to fix the broken link between Dzeko and Lautaro, I think that Inzaghi can find success with this team. He has built a foundation with the core players, a lot of whom have won with this team and know what it takes to be the best team in Italy.

David: Very. He could have done a better job managing games but he accomplished just about everything we asked of him in August, and then some. Inzaghi dealt with the pressure and expectations of a big club well (no Conte-style explosions sure felt nice) and got Inter to play a mostly successful and almost always entertaining style of play. A Plan B would have been nice here and there but Inzaghi’s Plan A worked more often than not. His best moments probably came against Juventus, who he went 3W-1T-0L against. You can say all you want about how weak Juve is this year, but it’s been a while since Inter’s gotten results against the bianconeri on multiple occasions, much less in two cup finals.

Inzaghi is also young for a manager (46) and only going to get better. It’s up to Inter to give him the squad to succeed though - yeah his subs weren’t great, but when your bench consists of Gagliardini and Vecino there’s only so much you can do. It wouldn't surprise me if he leaves (to the EPL most likely) in a season or two if we go through another summer of sales and that would be a disaster.

Michael: I’m very happy with what I have seen from Inzaghi one year into his Inter tenure. He’s still a young manager who is learning on the fly what it takes to compete at the very top of Italian football. His Champions League campaign this season proved he is the most equipped of any Italian manager to tactically compete with the best from across Europe. He just needs some support from management and some more patience from the fans to really be a top class manager.

FC Internazionale v AC Milan - Serie A Photo by Emilio Andreoli - Inter/Inter via Getty Images

Who was your season MVP?

Josh: Ivan Perisic. Regardless of his staying or going, he’s been a treat to watch this year. You can easily make the case for a few other players, but when I recall this year, I’ll consider the class of Perisic on the outside. True class.

Mario: Perisic. The guy has been so consistent. I’ve been saying it for years since we signed him that he needs to be allowed to do whatever he wants to do and it will benefit the team. Inzaghi finally gave him the freedom to attack how he pleases and he has rewarded us with so much production. I don’t recall any games where I was thinking Perisic had a bad game or an off night. He is always a danger to the opposition and we heavily relied on his presence throughout the year.

David: Brozovic. Those draws against Torino and Fiorentina without Brozovic in the lineup probably added another million or two to his newly negotiated salary. Perisic and Lautaro had higher peaks and game-winning moments than the Croatian, but Inter’s floor without Brozovic on the pitch was near the relegation zone. No one else is relied upon as constantly as Brozovic (which begs the question of why a backup for the 29-year-old is nowhere to be seen, but that’s a discussion for another day).

Michael: Perisic and Brozovic are getting plenty of deserved plaudits, but I want to spare a minute for Hakan Calhanoglu. The guy had the nerve to step up to some of the biggest penalties of the season, even taking the ball for one against his former club. A whopping 21 goal contributions across all competitions all season for a guy who crossed to city divide to replace Christian Eriksen is a feat no one expected from him this season. The amount of vitriol Milan fans have for him is just a plus. He’s in their heads rent free forever.

FBL-ITA-CUP-JUVENTUS-INTER-FINAL Photo by ISABELLA BONOTTO/AFP via Getty Images

What do you make of last summer’s transfer window now that we've had a reason to see how it played out? What signings have impressed/disappointed the most?

Mario: I think the signings we brought in were successful. Sure, we hated Dzeko towards the end of the season, but we asked for 15 goals (on Inter Worldwide) and we got exactly that. The connection with Lautaro needs to be addressed by Inzaghi because it simply fell flat since January.

Hakan was an excellent signing, top of my list. He came in and hit the ground running. Consistently performed and was clutch in situations when we needed him to be.

Dumfries… I was very scared with this signing. I questioned it up and down to the point where I didn’t think he should continue a career in football. He came in as a raw player, couldn’t even dribble a ball and keep it in bounds! It seemed like the staff was committed to improving Dumfries' game, and it showed. He turned out to be a helpful player and showed great signs of improvement. Hopefully we can turn a profit for him soon. I think he’s one of the most replaceable players and can have a significant transfer value.

Correa was a disappointment, he started off with a bang, 2 goals in his debut then got injured and couldn’t solidify a starting spot in the lineup when we desperately needed a replacement between Dzeko/Lautaro not working for a run of games.

David: Considering the budget Marotta had at his disposal, it was a success. Calhanoglu has surpassed expectations and proved to be that guy in big games. Dumfries isn’t exactly starter quality but he’s usually serviceable after he got his early season struggles out of the way. Dzeko looked great for half the year and then fell off a cliff, but he still gave some important goals as Inter sorted out a post-Lukaku world. Correa is the only complete disappointment thanks to his substantial price tag, but hopefully he can find some consistency in terms of fitness next year.

Michael: We were able to tread water after a firesale and a tragedy in the case of Eriksen. Beppe Marotta is a legend of the Italian game and last summer is just another example of that. Most clubs would have been decimated, but Inter were able to make it work. I just hope this summer is more about improvement than subtraction. If it isn’t, last summer doesn’t matter.

Udinese Calcio v FC Internazionale - Serie A Photo by Mattia Ozbot - Inter/Inter via Getty Images

Who/what was the biggest surprise of the past 10 months? On the flip side, who and what has been the most disappointing so far?

Josh: Edin Džeko. Now, I know he turned into a walking mannequin in the last half of the season, HOWEVER, he was legitimately a force starting out the campaign. He gave Inter some vital goals when Lautaro was still figuring things out in the post-Lukaku world and I’m convinced gave Inzaghi a chance to figure some things out.

Mario: I’m just gonna give a two for one with this answer. The biggest surprise was how bad Radu is he also is the most disappointing for being terrible in the two times we needed him to start. I’m not going to fully blame him for losing the scudetto, we dropped too many points for that. But my God, he sucks and I am so happy to have Handanovic.

David: I’ll start with disappointment. de Vrij and Barella both failed to find their top form but I’ll go with the latter. The Italian wasn’t bad by any means, but for his high standards, 21/22 wasn’t up to snuff. Barella never quite found a role in Inzaghi’s system the same way he did under Conte, and instead was more active in the final third than midfield. You’d think/hope he improves in his second year with Inzaghi at the helm as he becomes more comfortable with a new system. As for surprise, Perisic. He was good last year but no one expected him to improve so much and maybe even be Inter’s MVP. Perisic was almost always one of Inter’s most dangerous players and had one of his best seasons production-wise in recent memory.

Michael: Lautaro really disappointed me for large parts of the season. Every striker’s growth trajectory is different, but I really expected him to blossom this season as the main man. Perhaps it was the lack of a complimentary partner, but I expected more out of him. He finally picked things up after the goal in Liverpool and I hope that is more of who we see next season.

The biggest surprise has to be how Ivan Perisic performed all season. He nearly dragged this team to a Scudetto with some of his late season goals, but he showed a level of form we used to only see for about three weeks per season over the last seven years. Perhaps he was playing for that final lucrative contract and will regress next season, but I wish him the best wherever he ends up.

Juventus v Torino FC - Serie A Photo by Stefano Guidi/Getty Images

And lastly, let’s look ahead to the future. What signings do you want to see happen this summer? Any areas where the squad desperately needs reinforcing?

Josh: I don’t know enough about football tactics to tell you if Paulo Dybala and Lautaro can work together as a pair in attack. The lack of height in the box tells me no, the talent tells me yes. But I want to see it.

Mario: We need a striker first and foremost. We lose Alexis’ depth, Correa is probably not cut out for the starter role on a full time basis and will need a rotation with someone to fill in who can be productive when called upon and potentially steal the starting spot next to Lautaro.

Alternatively, I think another central midfielder should be added. Our backups are not good enough to be inserted into the lineup and provide the spark we need. Gagliardini is good against smaller/relegation sides, which is important because we struggle with some of those games, but the quality isn’t there for the better opponents and we will need to heavily rely on the starters. We don’t have a player who can change the style. We have depth on the wings and in the back line, maybe another CB can be helpful but its not on the top of my list. Seek replacement for that fraud de Vrij and you have my attention.

David: Striker is a must obviously, and a centerback like Bremer sure would be nice, but I think overall squad depth is most important. Vidal, Vecino, Sanchez, Ranocchia, and Perisic are all leaving, so some young backups are desperately needed. With the wages saved from those five departing, Inter can probably afford someone(s) like Kristjan Asllani, Mattia Viti, Raoul Bellanova, and Andrea Cambiaso. All four are in their early twenties at the latest and would give Inzaghi some depth other than aging veterans. Plus, if Inter needs sales in the future, all four could more likely than not be sold for a profit rather than leave on a free because no one wants their wages like Inter’s past backups.

Michael: I think getting Bremer makes this team the favorite for next season. His tenacity and speed as a defender will allow Inzaghi to suffocate the opposition with a high line and hard pressing. We really need to see some more attacking quality come in, though. Joaquin Correa was abysmal and injured outside of a few random braces while Lautaro took longer than we had hoped to adjust. I think Paulo Dybala could help, but we also needed a big number nine to do what Dzeko did at the beginning of the season before his body gave up on him. The main name floating around is Gianluca Scamacca, but it is still early in the summer, so who knows what will pop up in the coming weeks.