The last decade has left Inter Milan desperate for Serie A glory.
Antonio Conte nearly ended their 10-year drought last term when the Nerazzurri finished a point behind record Serie A champions Juventus.
Inter have been active in the market and show little sign of stopping but the time has come to deliver. Following a sudden managerial change at rivals Juve, will the Scudetto finally find a new home? Here are five predictions.
William Hill’s 2020/21 Serie A title favourites:
- Juventus – 17/20
- Inter Milan – 2/1
- Atalanta – 10/1
- Napoli – 12/1
- Lazio – 20/1
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1. Inter’s first-choice starting XI will be…
There are very few certainties involving Conte, but we can be sure his Inter side will be lining up with a back-three.
That said, as transfer rumours continue to create uncertainties, which prominent faces will make up his 3-5-2? There are some names we can be highly confident of seeing on the teamsheet, including Samir Handanović, Stefan de Vrij, Nicolò Barella, Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martínez.
And if the transfer window were to close now, Inter might line up something like this:
The aforementioned Barella completed a permanent move from boyhood club Cagliari this summer (after spending last season at Inter on loan) and is expected to play a big role in midfield this forthcoming season. Likewise, Stefano Sensi, also a central midfielder, was signed permanently from Sassuolo and could assume a more prominent status.
Inter have, according to the Guardian, unsuccessfully offered Christian Eriksen and Marcelo Brozovic to Chelsea in a part-exchange deal to sign N’Golo Kante. Meanwhile, Arturo Vidal, a former Juve player Conte once said he would “go to war” with, could arrive from Barcelona to add to midfield options that currently include Roberto Gagliardini, Matias Vecino, Joao Mario and Radja Nainggolan (although most, if not all, of those should be sold).
New signing Aleksandar Kolarov and Ashley Young will compete for the left wing-back spot while doubts hang over the left-most position in the back three. Milan Skriniar is yet another player supposedly up for sale, but at a high cost, while Diego Godin is reportedly close to joining Cagliari.
2. Hakimi will top the team’s assists chart
Before losing to Europa League darlings Sevilla in August’s final, it was announced Achraf Hakimi had joined from Real Madrid. He was a surprising acquisition but no less a coup for it, given his recent performances at Borussia Dortmund on loan.
Last term, he assisted 10 Bundesliga goals while scoring five himself across 36 appearances for BVB. He also completed no fewer than 72 take-ons and produced 36 goalscoring opportunities. Only two right-backs set up more shots in Serie A last season, Atalanta’s Hans Hateboer (44) and Stefano Sabelli (41) of Brescia, while no defender comes close to Hakimi’s dribbling output.
He will find Serie A to be a less open league than the Bundesliga, but that doesn’t mean Hakimi loses his attacking instincts under Conte. Much of Inter’s chance creation last season did come from right-wing-back, where former first-choice Antonio Candreva recorded the most passes into the box per-90 (8.82) at Inter, as well as their third-highest per-90 rate of assists (0.32) and chances created (2.12).
With respect, Hakimi is an upgrade and, if assimilation does not impede him, he could end the season as their most productive creator.
He has potential competition, however, in the guise of the much-maligned Alexis Sanchez, who recently completed a permanent move from Manchester United. The 31-year-old Chilean forward was sparsely used on loan initially last season but, after the league restarted in June, played 13 games (718 minutes), assisted seven goals and scored three himself.
This late-season form means, excluding those who played fewer than 800 minutes, Sanchez made the most assists (0.79) and created the most chances (3.24) per 90 minutes played across Serie A in 2019/20. How Conte will use him remains a mystery, because he fell out of the line-up for their run to the Europa League final. However, a fresh Sanchez with regular playing time could end up being Inter’s ‘assist king’.
3. Lukaku to surpass a Ronaldo record
Lukaku was on another level in his debut Serie A campaign, where he scored 23 times across 36 appearances.
He scored nine of those in his first 11 outings and fittingly, because the man was his boyhood idol, matched a record set by legendary striker Ronaldo Nazario in doing so. Lukaku also equalled Ronaldo’s record for most goals scored across all competitions in a debut season at Inter (34).
Romelu Lukaku has now scored 34 goals across all competitions in 2019-20, equalling Ronaldo’s record for most scored in a debut season for Inter.
RON 🤝ROM pic.twitter.com/5vXIMg4I0L
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) August 21, 2020
This season, Lukaku has a chance to go one better than matching Il Fenomeno. It took Ronaldo 77 games to score 50 goals in all competitions for Inter, making him their fastest player to hit that milestone according to research published by the Daily Mail.
Lukaku enters the 2020/21 campaign on 34 goals in 51 appearances. If he maintains or improves his average of 0.67 goals per game, which is easier said than done of course, he will surpass Ronaldo’s record.
William Hill’s 2020/21 Serie A top goalscorer favourites:
- Cristiano Ronaldo – 2/1
- Romelu Lukaku – 4/1
- Ciro Immobile – 6/1
- Duvan Zapata – 10/1
- Lautaro Martinez – 14/1
4. An unbeaten season at the San Siro
Conte is a proven winner. He guided former club Juventus to Serie A glory, winning the first three championships in their historic (on-going) nine-peat, before lifting the Premier League as Chelsea boss. In those four seasons combined, he suffered just 10 losses and went an entire campaign (2011/12) unbeaten. Inter fell to four defeats last season and in the end one measly point denied them, albeit having trailed by seven at the moment Juventus confirmed their ninth consecutive title before shortening the gap during the final two gameweeks.
Hindsight is 20/20 and we can point to several moments that ultimately cost Inter, but it goes without saying that being ruthless at home goes a long way to boosting your chances.
Inter managed 11 wins from 19 played at the San Siro, which proved five fewer than Juve managed, and focus will turn to improving that record by turning draws into wins.
Bologna and the aforementioned champs were the only sides to beat Inter at home, each winning by only one-goal margins. Those blemishes increased Conte’s total such league defeats to 10 across six seasons. He’s previously enjoyed two unbeaten campaigns at home (both at Juventus in 2013/14 and 2011/12), and considering their growth don’t be surprised if he makes it three.
5. Conte to deny his former club the 10-peat
The difference between Inter finishing last season as champions, thus ending a decade-long wait, and finishing second was a single point. Conte’s men scored 81 goals (only Atalanta on 98 scored more) and conceded 36 times, which proved to be the league’s best defensive record. There’s no doubt Inter are on the up. They have made an exciting addition, could make one or two more and, for the time being, haven’t lost Lautaro Martínez.
In the end, the smallest of margins denied them glory. As cruel as that might be, there’s no better starting place to mount a comeback. Just look at Liverpool last year. You learn more from failure than success as the saying goes, plus there’s an added benefit of stability given Juve recently installed an unproven manager (Pirlo may or may not turn out to be Pep Guardiola 2.0).
So, if there’s a perfect time for Inter to win Serie A, it’s now. Seeing competition tightening up — Atalanta, Lazio, Roma, Milan and Napoli can all be counted on to perform — should only play into their hands. Juve are not unbeatable and if their bad habits of last season, such as their away form, resurface then Inter have the squad and the manager to capitalise.