Inter Milan began the Antonio Conte era with a mega 4-0 victory over his hometown club Lecce.
The 18-time Italian champions, who are aiming to end a decade-long title drought, had Marcelo Brozović, new boy Stefano Sensi, marquee signing Romelu Lukaku and old face Antonio Candreva to thank for the goals.
This meeting also represented Conte’s first game in Italy’s top division since leaving Juventus for the Italy national team after lifting three consecutive Serie A titles. Nothing less than collecting all three points would have sufficed and he got his wish as well as saw his new charges atop of the embryonic Serie A table.
As for Lecce they weren’t pushovers, despite what the scoreline suggested, though finished the game with 10 men after Diego Farias saw red late on. This wasn’t a battle they needed to win.
With the dust now settled here are five things we learned from the final game of the first week of the 2019/20 Serie A season.
1. Familiar Conte strategy
Since the departure of Jose Mourinho, who brought home Inter’s last championship in 2010, the Nerazzurri have gone through 13 different managers ranging from those with a successful CV to not so but with enough promise to steer the club into a new direction.
Until now Andrea Stramaccioni, Walter Mazzarri, Roberto Mancini and Luciano Spalletti have completed a full season but they were unable to close the gap on runaway force Juventus, where Conte got the ball rolling in their most recent era of domination.
Given his relationship with Inter’s greatest adversary you’d think he wouldn’t be welcomed, but needs must. Wherever Conte has been he has shown the wherewithal to maximise those under his tutelage – if they follow him that is. His mission, which he chose to accept, is clawing Juve back whilst staving off the rest.
Inter’s squad isn’t terrible, when matched against the majority of Serie A teams, but Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it could take a while before they’re firing on all cylinders. Yes, they can be even better than tonight’s showing. His first XI was deployed in the now familiar Conte 3-5-2 and of the 11 starting there was just two new faces.
2. New faces off the mark
All eyes were always going to be on who led Inter’s forward line. Reports in the build-up suggested big summer acquisition Lukaku would not be making his debut here on the count of being ‘overweight’. It turned out that story had no legs to run on.
Lukaku, who left the Premier League having bagged 113 goals across 252 appearances, dreamed of this moment since falling in love with Italian football. Donning the No. 9 jersey which his idol Ronaldo wore with great distinction, it was intriguing to see how the Belgian marksman would fare on the first day of the rest of his life.
August 17th: Romelu Lukaku reported to be too 'overweight' to start Inter Milan's first game of the season.
August 26th: Romelu Lukaku starts Inter Milan's first game of the season.
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) August 26, 2019
He, naturally, scored on debut. But not before fellow new boy Sensi – who joined from Sassuolo – broke his own duck first, the 24-year-old Italian midfielder registered two Serie A goals last season, he’s already halfway to matching that figure.
As for ‘Big Rom’ it was a frustrating opening 45 minutes; his application wasn’t an issue rather he was unable to get into goalscoring positions, that somewhat changed after half-time.
His opportunist instinct came to the fore when he slotted home a parried Lautaro Martínez effort. Having rarely played in a two-forward system throughout his career it could be a while before he truly finds his feet. But this was a positive start nonetheless.
3. Icardi & Godin absent
Conspicuous by his absence was Inter’s former captain and golden boy Mauro Icardi who continues to be linked with a move away from Milan, though he’s not keen to leave anytime soon. He has even been handed the No. 7 jersey, pouring some doubt over their pursuit of Alexis Sanchez, who still remains a Man Utd player with few days left of the European transfer window.
OFFICIAL: Inter Milan have confirmed Mauro Icardi will wear the No.7 shirt for the 2019/20 Serie A season. pic.twitter.com/UVQDXqYrsx
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) August 23, 2019
It remains to be seen whether he’s truly part of Conte’s plan, the fact he has not been involved during pre-season suggests the Argentine marksman is on the back burner for now. Someone who will ease in once available is Uruguayan central defender Diego Godín who is presently sidelined with a thigh problem. His presence in Inter’s back three could turn out to be pivotal as the season develops.
4. Lecce capable of competing
Very few would have backed newly-promoted Lecce, who have returned to Italy’s top division after a seven-year hiatus, from getting something from this game. History was never on their side; their last seven visits to Inter seen them lose in each with a combined score of 16-3. But, of course, history is always there to be made. Not this evening. Saying that, Fabio Liverani’s team gave a good account of themselves.
They often gave Inter ‘keeper Samir Handanović something to think about and had 17 shots on goal to their hosts 24. In truth, this game was a freebie, it’s against the sides battling relegation they need to take points from.
If they can do so regularly then expect a second consecutive season in the big time. However, they must do without forward Farias for their next game against Verona after he was shown a straight red following a reckless challenge.
5. Inter relish ‘outsider’ status
As touched upon, Inter’s last Scudetto came in Mourinho’s final season, from those glory days they’ve managed one runners-up finish before languishing between fourth and ninth. A despondent return for one of Italy’s most decorated clubs.
Even though the 2019/20 season is one game old, few are betting against Juventus from winning a ninth championship on the bounce, with Napoli expected to push them close.
— Premier Sports ? (@PremierSportsTV) August 26, 2019
It could be between them yet again. Inter have to build on the last couple of seasons which produced a maximum points total of 72 (in 2017/18).
Being an outsider can aid Conte’s work as there’s no overarching pressure for instant success, he could borrow a quote from old Premier League pal Jurgen Klopp by creating an atmosphere that can start to turn doubters into believers.