Once a shining beacon of the world’s finest football, the city of Milan is fast-becoming a land cursed by the footballing gods. As if the woes provided by the red and black side of the city weren’t enough, Inter Milan have decided they want to be the number one team for getting fans’ hopes up, before swiftly crushing them. After crumbling spectacularly in the latter half of last season, from which they finished seventh, one point from European qualification, worry is mounting that lightning is about to strike twice.
Since demolishing Chievo 5-0 at the start of December, and well in the hunt for this year’s Serie A title, Inter have drawn six and lost two, including drawing their last five games. A way to empathise with Inter fans is to imagine waking up to a glass of Irn-Bru left overnight (bare with me). The excitement fizzing and popping away in the Scudetto dreams of the San Siro faithful in 2017, has given way to the brutal realisation that 2018 will give way to another stale, flat and disappointing season likely to leave a bad taste in the mouth.
But, from one ridiculously Scottish analogy to very real Italian anger, coach Luciano Spalletti has come under increasing scrutiny for his team’s style of play. Deafening jeers descended on the team as they trudged off after their latest poor result, a 1-1 home draw to struggling Crotone. Dwarfed in terms of size, the away side certainly played with the bigger heart, and far more purpose, fully deserving their point. The gulf in the two sides was not in class as you would expect, but instead in organisation. Crotone were a tight, solid unit. Inter on the other hand, resembled lost souls floating in limbo, echoes of their former title-challenging selves reverberating back and forth between the two nets.
The big-hitters have suffered the most from this self-lobotomy Spalletti’s team have performed on themselves. The thought that Ivan Perisic could have went to Manchester United six months before Alexis Sanchez rocked up to Old Trafford is frightening given his chronic form of late. Mauro Icardi was absent from this weekend’s squad and was a heavily-missed presence. Fans will hope his head has not been completely turned given the intense speculation about a winter move to Real Madrid. Maybe less noticeably but equally as important, even the guile and Serie A know-how of Borja Valero has become tepid and ineffective.
The shadow of last season’s capitulation obviously still looms large over the current squad. Eder, Inter’s goalscorer in the draw with Crotone, said post-match:
“This year things are different, because we are still on course for our objective, everything depends on us.
In the dressing room we reassure each other…we must stay calm, to be able to better analyse and not end up falling into confusion.”
In fairness to the striker, despite a worse run of form, Inter are still in a better position than at the same stage last year. They sit fourth, just one point behind third-placed Lazio and one point ahead of Roma. A comfortable seven-point gap separates them from Sampdoria in sixth, who occupy the last European qualification spot.
Given that a title charge is incredibly difficult to maintain all season, to go from a seventh-placed finish last year to ending Juventus’ dominance this year was always a huge ask. An optimist could even argue that the team over-achieved in the first half of the season and should their slump stop now, they would be roughly on target for the season.
Staying in the top-four and securing Champions League football in now top priority for the Milan side, with winter arrivals Lisandro Lopez and Rafinha adding some much-needed squad depth. If the tenure of Spalletti’s predecessor, Stefano Pioli, taught him anything, it’s that if a poor run of form turns into a capitulation, Inter could soon be without a manager yet again.