It has been eight years since Inter Milan last clinched silverware but that could be about to change with Antonio Conte now at the helm.
Once a formidable Italian powerhouse, the Nerazzurri have been a peripheral club across the past few seasons, struggling to consistently place in Serie A’s top four.
Not since the days of Jose Mourinho have Inter experienced such unprecedented success both domestically and on the continental stage but with Conte now steering the San Siro ship, this sleeping giant could be about to awake from its slumber and pose a significant threat to Juventus’ seemingly perennial stranglehold on Italian football.
Back in his homeland after a five-year club hiatus, Conte has already come face-to-face with a number of taxing challenges, notably the ongoing feud between Inter and Mauro Icardi, who looks destined to leave the Milanese club, while Radja Nainggolan’s future is also in precarious territory.
A potential departure for Icardi could have serious ramifications for Manchester United, with Inter looking poised to draft in Romelu Lukaku, allowing the hulking forward to fulfil his “dream” of playing in Serie A.
Should a deal for the Belgian come to fruition, the Italian tactician will have some serious firepower up top, and with that, we’ve looked at three line-ups the former Chelsea man could utilise this forthcoming season.
The Chelsea blueprint (3-4-3)
Upon taking to the Stamford Bridge dugout three years ago, the classic three-at-the-back system had never truly cemented a prominent berth in Premier League football, but Conte made his trademark 3-4-3 a fashionable formation among his managerial contemporaries during his two-year sojourn in the English capital.
His Chelsea blueprint drew widespread adulation and yielded positive results on the pitch, culminating in a sixth English top-flight title for the Blues.
The system encouraged coaches up and down the country to embrace change, with Arsene Wenger famously adopting the approach, tinkering with his own philosophy having seldom strayed from a traditional four-man defence in over 20 years of football management.
And so, Conte may very well look to replicate this system in Milan: captain Samir Handanovic will, of course, start between the sticks, with Stefan de Vrij and Diego Godin operating at the back either side of the more forward-thinking Milan Skriniar.
The Slovak’s ball-playing skills will allow him to be the springboard – a la David Luiz – but also a sort of libero, roaming freely across the backline looking to sweep up out of possession, while also engineering attacking moves when Inter get the ball.
On the defensive flanks, Conte has already cherry-picked Valentino Lazaro, an archetypal right-wing-back, while on the left, Kwadwo Asamoah has previously played the role during the duo’s former acquaintanceship in Turin – there will be no need for shoehorning here.
The central midfield duo will consist of Marcelo Brozovic and Nicolo Barella, with the former tasked, more predominantly, with breaking up play, while the latter will be given license to create further up the pitch.
The inside forwards will consist of Ivan Perisic and Matteo Politano, while the No 9 position will be given to Lukaku, should he complete a switch from the Red Devils that is.
Tasked with playing a Diego Costa-esque role, the Belgian will be given the duty of spearheading his side forward, but also with the responsibility of providing opposition defenders plenty of food for thought with his physical prowess and aerial dominance.
A Juve model (3-5-2)
During his embryonic Juventus days, the 49-year-old would often shuffle the pack and experiment with a number of different formations, as well as personnel.
Renowned for his three-man defence, Conte actually began his Old Lady tenure with a four-at-the-back, but progressively shifted until he found that a 3-5-2 best accentuated the assets of his players.
Should Lukaku’s proposed move materialise, then this could be the optimal formation for Conte as it would allow the forward to accompany Lautaro Martinez in an extremely lethal strike partnership.
The Argentine is one of the most promising strikers in world football at present, having shone at the Copa America and had a season to acclimatise to Italian football. His insatiable work ethic, dribbling ability, close control and movement could prove the perfect foil for Lukaku, allowing him to flourish.
As for the defence, it will remain unchanged as it seems an almost too-perfect backline for Conte. But the Italian could look to recreate one of the most iconic and well-wrought facets of his Juventus system: the central midfield trident.
The composition of Paul Pogba, Arturo Vidal and Andrea Pirlo – with Claudio Marchisio also playing a prominent role – was one of the most feared and devastating triumvirates in world football at the time.
Here, Conte could play Brozovic in the Pirlo role at the base of midfield, functioning as the luxurious axis dictating play. Barella could prove the ideal Vidal impersonator, operating as the engine, providing the midfield with plenty of energy and tenacity, while Stefano Sensi could look to play more of an advanced playmaker role in the mould of Pogba, getting forward at every possible opportunity – having been utilised in attacking midfield and even as a striker for Sassuolo last term, Sensi could thrive in a more forward-thinking role here.
On the wings, Conte has already positioned Perisic and Antonio Candreva out wide during his fist pre-season match – a 2-1 win over Lugano – but he will likely opt for Politano on the right instead of his experienced compatriot.
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Italian invention (3-1-4-2)
Much like many of his successful sides, Conte has tended to build the team around three strong central defenders. During his time in charge of the Italian national team, he stationed Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli alongside each other.
The trio worked well in tandem having forged a formidable reputation as one of Europe’s most resilient defensive units at Juventus. In Skriniar, Godin and De Vrij, the Italian once again has an elite band of centre-backs, capable of providing him with the requisite defensive sophistication to protect Handanovic, while also having the footballing ability to initiate attacking moves.
For Gli Azzurri, Conte had Daniele De Rossi as his deep-lying destroyer and while he doesn’t currently possess an elegant hatchet-man in the mould of the Roma legend, he does have Roberto Gagliardini, a player capable of anchoring the middle of the pitch while also being able to recycle play and procure the ball for his more attack-minded teammates.
Again, in the wider positions, Asamoah will be positioned on the left flank while Lazaro will come in on the right. And as for the two attacking midfielders, Sensi will look to form a technically sufficient partnership with Barella, with the duo collectively pulling the creative strings and unlocking doors.
As for the two forwards, 17-year-old Sebastiano Esposito could be given the nod here if Lukaku fails to pitch up in Italy; he is highly regarded in Milan and started for Inter during the aforementioned pre-season friendly against Lugano, while Martinez could slot in comfortably alongside him to wreak havoc in the final third.