After a fantastic start to the 2017-18 Serie A campaign, Inter Milan have hit a roadblock in their past four matches. Having earned only two points from a possible twelve, what can Luciano Spalletti’s lads do to return to form?
After three months of Serie A played, The Nerazzurri sat atop the league table. Inter were unbeaten after 16 matches with draws at Napoli and Juventus, two of the most-feared places to play in Italian calcio. During the past month however, the team has hit a brick wall. They have suffered two draws and two defeats in league play and were eliminated by rivals AC Milan from the Coppa Italia.
No disrespect to Udinese or Sassuolo, but losing to those sides is unacceptable if your goal is to earn a spot in next year’s Champions League. Inter had two “statement games” immediately following the aforementioned defeats, against Lazio and Fiorentina. Fiorentina is having a bit of an off year but Lazio is hot on Inter’s trail in the battle for one of those coveted Champions League positions.
Spalletti’s men could not shake off the poor results and had to settle for a draw against both opponents. Even more disappointing was the fact that Inter had the match won against Fiorentina, surrendering a goal in stoppage time. So what is wrong with Inter Milan and why can’t they seem to reclaim that winning touch?
Inter’s dependency on Mauro Icardi
Inter’s greatest weakness is their dependency on Mauro Icardi. It is certainly easy to understand why this may be the case. This season in particular, Icardi has shown that not only is he the best player for Inter, but indeed perhaps the best player in Serie A. Icardi has bailed the side out on numerous occasions over the course of the season.
Relying on Maurito as the sole goal-scorer is a dangerous proposition indeed. Icardi has not played terribly in the past four matches, but he has certainly not been his normal self either. As a result, the well ran dry from an offensive perspective and Inter were unable to keep pace with Udinese, or equalize against Sassuolo.
In the second half we were not able to keep the ball and we made mistakes, also not making brave choices. It did not turn out so well. This is something new, especially what happened to us at the beginning of the first half. – Luciano Spalletti
Inter had 26 shots to Udinese’s eight, and yet lost. Many would even say, somewhat convincingly. Icardi scored the lone goal for the Nerazzurri. Against Sassuolo it was much of the same. Inter had twice as many shots and controlled the ball for 72% of the match. In the end however, Spalletti and co. were handed a bitter defeat. The Lazio and Fiorentina matches were far more evenly contested from a statistical point of view. Inter could just as easily have won both matches, as well as lost.
Mauro Icardi has accounted for over 50% of Inter’s total goals scored in Serie A this season (18 of 35). That is the highest percentage of a team’s total goals scored by one player in the league. Inter Milan live and die by the performance of Icardi. The message is clear: Stop Icardi and you stop Inter.
The defence is still lacking
The back line has been a major issue at Inter for many a moon now. More specifically, the side has lacked quality full-backs. The centre-backs Miranda and Milan Skriniar have played well for the most part this season, especially the latter of the two. With the signatures of Dalbert and João Cancelo, Inter was hopeful to have finally solved its full-back problems. So far though, these two have yet to perform at a high level on a consistent basis.
With Yuto Nagatomo and Danilo D’Ambrosio still occupying the wings defensively for the Nerazzurri, there remains a serious quality issue in defence. It is far too early to call Dalbert and Cancelo “disappointments”, as they only arrived in the summer. I believe they can still develop into solid contributors for Luciano Spalletti. What is an absolute certainty however, is the fact that Inter will never seriously contend for a Scudetto with Nagatomo and D’Ambrosio as the primary wing defenders.
I would mention Andrea Rannochia as a problem, but with only three appearances so far in this campaign he has not been the headache many have grown used to in years past. In Rannochia’s defence, when he has been featured he has actually played quite well. This is a tribute to the influence of Luciano Spalletti.
Whether it be through player development or Inter again trying their luck on the transfer market, if they do not solve their full-back woes there will be no Scudetto anytime soon.
Has the luck simply run out?
It has been argued by some, in particular the lads from the Stereo Serie A podcast (which I highly recommend), that Inter have simply been lucky this season. They have stated that Inter were fortunate against Roma, should have lost to Juventus, and were bailed out in the Derby Della Madonnina by Icardi. In all honesty, they are not far off with having said this. Inter have benefited from not having to play in Europe as well.
Ivan Perisic has played a mostly-fantastic campaign under Spalletti, but he cannot be the only other scoring option. Antonio Candreva has filled his role well on the wing. For my personal taste however, I would like to see Candreva score a few more goals. So far, he has been held goal-less in 2017-18. Behind Perisic (7 goals) Inter’s next highest goal-scorers are centre-back Milan Skriniar and the controversial Marcelo Brozovic (3 goals each). This is not enough diversity in attack to contend for a title.
A large test looms for Spalletti’s lads this weekend as they host Roma. As the manager himself has said, the team must get back to basics. Play to your strengths. Attack down the wings, make the most of the set pieces, create scoring chances, and perhaps most importantly, finish those chances. In a top-heavy Serie A, Inter can ill afford to drop more points at present time. This is especially true in regards to playing Roma, who is in direct competition with the Nerazzurri for a top-four spot.
In a matter of four match days Inter have fallen from first in the table to third, nine points back of leaders Napoli. With the top five in the league table in such a tight race, the margin for error is unbelievably thin. Inter have the quality to beat Roma and regain their outstanding form from earlier this season. Of that, there is no doubt. Exactly which Inter team shows up on Sunday, remains to be seen.