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Inter Season Preview: Can Spalletti Galvanize The Nerazzurri?


Inter finished the 2017-18 campaign in dramatic fashion; Matias Vecino’s late header against Lazio sealed their place in the 2018-19 Champions League at the expense of their opponents, rounding off a promising first season under Luciano Spalletti. There’s been a renewed sense of optimism around the club in the summer and here’s a look at what they’ve done in the transfer window so far and why they’re a team to watch out for in the upcoming season.

Key Summer Signings

Radja Nainggolan

Inter’s major summer acquisition was 30-year-old midfielder Radja Nainggolan, who arrived from Roma for £33.5 million. Nainggolan is expected to play as a number 10, filling what was a glaring hole in Inter’s squad last season and a position that is very important in Spalletti’s 4-2-3-1. Borja Valero struggled in the role in the first half of the season and while January loan signing Rafinha Alcantara was an improvement he did not contribute enough end product, registering just 2 goals and 3 assists in 17 Serie A appearances.

Nainggolan’s arrival will bring some much-needed x-factor to Inter’s midfield and will relieve some of the pressure on Mauro Icardi who has too often been Inter’s sole source of inspiration in attack. The Belgian’s ability to make late runs into the box and along with his fantastic long-range shooting will provide Inter with a goal threat from midfield and his hard running and pressing will make them better equipped to win the ball high up the pitch.

Nainggolan will also be relishing the chance to work with Luciano Spalletti again, the man under whom he produced the best form of his career. Spalletti’s unique interpretation of the number 10 role suits Nainggolan perfectly: He places more emphasis on pressing and attacking space without the ball, areas where Nainggolan is particularly strong, as opposed to skills more traditionally associated with a number 10 like ball retention and playmaking, areas of relative weakness for the Belgian. Nainggolan registered 11 Serie A goals and 4 assists in his last season under Spalletti and should he replicate that sort of form he will prove to be an invaluable addition to the Nerazzurri midfield.

Stefan De Vrij

Inter have also picked up Dutch Centre-Back Stefan De Vrij from Lazio on a free transfer, reinforcing what was already an area of considerable strength in their starting 11. Joao Miranda and Milan Skriniar formed a formidable partnership at the heart of Inter’s defence with the latter having his breakout season and emerging as one of the best defenders in Serie A. The quality of Inter’s depth at Centre-half did, however, leave a lot to be desired: Backups Andrea Ranocchia and Lisandro Lopez do not possess anywhere near as much quality as Miranda and Skriniar and an extended absence from either of the two starters could have spelled disaster. Skriniar played all 38 league games and Miranda played 31 so this issue was largely avoided, but with Champions League football on the horizon, the addition of De Vrij will provide much needed depth and competition.

inter stefan de vrij

The Dutchman possesses a very different set of skills to Inter’s current first choice Centre-Backs. Miranda and Skriniar are both very aggressive and strong in duels as well as 1v1s, Skriniar defends very much on the front foot, engaging opposition forwards and winning a high number of tackles. De Vrij is much more reserved, relying on his positional sense and reading of the game to intercept passes rather than engaging the opponent head-on.

De Vrij is also more accomplished in possession; he has good vision and can hit long raking passes out to the wings or over the top of the defence to the striker. His presence will also allow Spalletti to play with 3 at the back as he often did in his last season at Roma. Should Spalletti adopt this approach De Vrij is best suited to playing as the Central Centre Back where his long-range passing can be exploited and he can use his positional sense to sweep up behind Skriniar and Miranda on either side of him.

Kwadwo Asamoah

Asamoah brings versatility and experience to Inter’s squad. He will likely be deployed as a Left-Back but he is also capable of playing in Central Midfield if necessary. He arrived from Juventus on a free transfer and represents yet more astute business from Inter. Spalletti’s quotes on Asamoah sum up the signing perfectly. “Asamoah is a complete player. He is perfect for sides who want to make steps forward. He already knows what to do” Asamoah’s experience of winning titles at Juve will no doubt be important to Inter during the business end of the season when they crumbled many times in recent years.

Lautaro Martinez

Explosive young Argentine forward Lautaro Martinez (20) was purchased from Racing Club for £14 million and he is a signing for both the present and the future. He has drawn comparisons to Sergio Aguero for his low centre of gravity, upper body strength and acceleration, the 18 goals he registered in just 27 appearances for Racing show he also has the potential to match his compatriot’s prolific scoring record. Lautaro is more than just a goal scorer. He is good in combination with his teammates, often using his strength to hold of defenders and bring others into play and is also capable of opening space for himself on the dribble. Tactically there are a few ways Spalletti can make use of his new prodigy.

Inter

The most obvious is as a straight replacement for Icardi when the captain is not on the pitch and with the added weight of Champions League football Inter’s star man may need a few more games off than usual. Lautaro’s broad set of skills mean that he will be equally comfortable playing alongside Icardi. He could play as a second striker in Spalletti’s 4-2-3-1, supporting Icardi from slightly deeper and using his strength and skill to commit defenders in the centre of the pitch and open up space for his fellow countryman. Spalletti may also want to experiment with them as a more traditional forward partnership in a 3-5-2 although this would likely mean dropping Ivan Perisic as he is not best suited to playing as a Wing-Back.

For now, it remains to be seen where Lautaro will fit in given that Icardi and Nainggolan, arguably Inter’s two best players, stand in his way of a starting berth but with Inter competing on all fronts there will be an opportunity for him to play. It would not be a surprise to see Spalletti squeeze him in as a regular starter sooner rather than later, such is this young man’s talent.

Tactics and Style

Inter lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation in 2017-18 and will likely do so again next season with new signing Radja Nainggolan occupying the number 10 berth. However, Spalletti could also experiment with the 3-4-2-1 he used in his last season in Rome. This would allow Inter to get Skriniar Miranda and De Vrij on the pitch together and allow Perisic to play closer to goal.

Inter’s attack is focused heavily on wing play. In 2017-18 they attempted 28 crosses per game and 19 of their goals were assisted by crosses (Both numbers were the highest in Serie A). They build their attacks patiently from the back before working the ball out wide into dangerous positions to supply crosses for Centre-Forward Mauro Icardi. Perisic and Candreva occupied the wings for Inter last season and both are more akin to traditional wingers than modern Inverted Wingers. Perisic, in particular, is very good in 1v1 situations and his natural ambidexterity allows him to beat his Full-Back on the outside and cross or cut inside and shoot. Candreva is not as dynamic as Perisic and at times comes infield to support the number 10 but his main function is also to supply crosses for Icardi.

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Potential Inter formations for the upcoming season.

At Centre-Forward Icardi is very much an old-fashioned goal poacher; he has little interest in combining with his teammates and instead prefers to play on the last defender waiting for through balls and crosses, mainly the latter. Inter’s wing play is tailored to get the best out of Icardi, he has exceptional movement in the penalty area and is comfortable finishing first time with both feet and his head. Perisic to Icardi (7) was the most frequent assister to scorer combination in Serie A and Candreva to Icardi (4) was the joint third highest, highlighting just how much emphasis Inter placed on their wing play. New signing Lautaro Martinez gives them the potential to play with more of a central focus should he play up top alongside Icardi, Inter are now capable of attacking with more variation.

The midfield is centred around Marcelo Brozovic, the Croatian played as a number 10 occasionally in the first half of the season and struggled to impose himself but once he was moved back into Central Midfield he began to display his full array of talents. He is technically very gifted and has good vision and an impressive passing range. His role is to collect the ball from the defence and progress the ball through midfield, finding the number 10 between the lines or to release the wingers into space down the sides.

Alongside him Roberto Gagliardini and occasionally Matias Vecino do more of the dirty work. Neither have the technical quality of Brozovic but they are both physically imposing players and are tasked with winning duels in midfield. While Brozovic is capable defensively he is not physically very imposing so Gagliardini’s strength and stamina alongside him gives Inter a nice balance in midfield.

Radja Nainggolan’s inclusion as a number 10 will provide a greater threat down the centre of the pitch. Inter will be more likely to create chances from dangerous turnovers with Nainggolan’s ability to win the ball back high up the pitch and his eye for a through ball will be of benefit to Mauro Icardi. Nainggolan has played more accurate through balls (18) than any other player in Serie A since the start of 2016-17, an area where Inter fell short last season with just 2 of their goals being assisted by through balls. Nainggolan will add a new dimension to Inter’s midfield; their strength on the wings will now be supplemented by a player who is able to penetrate the opposition through the middle both with and without the ball.

Spalletti

Defensively Inter rely on the trio of veteran goalkeeper Samir Handanovic and Centre-Back pairing Miranda & Skriniar. All 3 players are equipped with tremendous individual skill and have come together to form a strong defensive core. Inter’s relatively high line requires their defenders to be able to operate in open spaces and win 1v1 duels against opposition forwards. Skriniar and Miranda are both exceptional in this department and bailed their team out of dangerous situations many times throughout last season.

Stefan De Vrij gives Spalletti the opportunity to mix things up in defence, be it through rotation or changing to a 3 at the back system. De Vrij played as the middle Centre-Back in Lazio’s 3-5-1-1 so he is accustomed to the role and would not require an extended period of adaptation. 3 at the back would give Inter more security when defending deep while Also maintaining their threat in attack.

Serie A is shaping up to be very competitive yet again. With the signing of Cristiano Ronaldo Juventus have cemented themselves as favourites yet again but the cluster of teams between 2nd and 6th (Napoli, Roma, Inter, Lazio and Milan) will all be aiming to be Juventus’ closest contenders. With Ancelotti replacing Sarri at Napoli and Roma again signing a host of fresh-faced youngster’s there is a real chance for Inter to take advantage of adaptation periods for the two teams above them and climb to the top of Serie A’s best of the rest pile. Whether or not they are capable of challenging Juventus remains to be seen but if there’s any Serie A manager that can do it it’s Luciano Spalletti, his Roma team finished 4 points behind Juve in 2016-17 and experience and tactical flexibility will give Inter a chance of beating any opponent they face.

spalletti
The last time Inter played in the Champions League, they were knocked out by Marseille in the Round of 16.

In Europe, Inter will look forward to their first Champions League campaign since 2011-12 and they will be seeded in pot 4 in the group stage. This will likely mean that reaching the round of 16 will be a difficult task. Spalletti’s Champions League record is respectable; he reached the quarterfinals twice in his first spell at Roma in 2006-07 and 2007-08 however in his second stint he was knocked out by Real Madrid in the last 16 in 2015-16 and in 2016-17 fell at the first hurdle, being eliminated by Porto in the play-off round.

Both the players and the manager will be keen to show that they belong in Europe’s premier club competition.
Inter have made some high quality experienced signings who know Serie A well, they have added to an already strong team and in Luciano Spalletti they have a manager who is capable of taking on Europe’s best.

They will make their long-awaited return to the Champions League and will feel that they finally have a squad capable of making a serious impact in Serie A. Now is the time for this great club to return to where it belongs.


Feature image via Hindustan Times

Nainggolan image via FedeNerazzurra

Stefan De Vrij image via YouTube

Lautaro Martinez image via Squawka

Image 4 via Mondo-Inter

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