Inter are doing some smart business in January giving Simone Inzaghi much-needed reinforcements ahead of the decisive part of the campaign that starts in February with key matches against Milan, Napoli, Roma and Liverpool, writes Richard Hall.
When the Nerazzurri look back at the start of 2022, they can do so with pride. As we enter the international break the Serie A table sees Inter sit on top, four points clear of Milan and with a game in hand.
They have progressed in the Coppa Italia, they have won the Supercoppa Italiana and had good news on the transfers front as well. Beppe Marotta secured a deal to sign Robin Gosens, arguably the best left-back in Serie A over the last few seasons. The Germany international joins the Benamata on an initial loan deal with an obligation to buy for €25-27m. A true bargain.
Felipe Caicedo is also on the verge of joining the club, giving Simone Inzaghi one more option up front given that Joaquin Correa has been ruled out of action for a month and the Nerazzurri have crucial meetings ahead in February that could very well make their season.
Simone Inzaghi’s men started the year travelling to Bologna but due to COVID, the game was not played and has to be re-arranged (potentially in February, blocking up the fixture list). Without having the chance to play football in the New Year, they took on a resilient Juventus in the Supercoppa Italiana.
Despite being the better team throughout, they found themselves going to extra-time and as the Milanese faithful were readying themselves for penalties, Alexis Sanchez managed to sneak in and win the game with the final kick of the game.
Whilst the fans and the team were jubilant, it wasn’t lost that the team were not clinical enough and what is more, they had to endure a tough extra time against a Juventus team who fought all the way until the end. The fear was that this would take a toll when they travelled to Bergamo to face an impressive Atalanta. And it did.
Despite this, the two sides produced one of the hardest fought nil draws in recent memory. This was again draining on the team and despite many alterations, players still looked sluggish as they kicked off against Empoli in the Coppa Italia. Some were fatigued whilst some were not sharp and again it went into extra time and two late goals from Andrea Ranocchia and Stefano Sensi, eventually put the game to bed. Regardless of the gruelling fixtures that had pushed an unconvincing Inter to their limits, the Nerazzurri had come through with fight and determination.
Perhaps the chance to put things right was when a decimated Venezia (due to COVID) visited San Siro. Once again, however, Inter look jaded and went a goal down. Nicolo Barella equalised, but it was again in the dying minutes when Edin Dzeko eventually gave them all three points.
It is what one could call a ‘mixed bag’ a glass half full or half empty. On the one hand, the team look tired after playing two extra times and one could question how long they can keep this up. On the other hand, they picked up three points in all games apart from the away trip to Atalanta. If you asked to take a point in Bergamo before the game, most teams would say ‘yes please’, Players have shown that they are ready to stand up when asked and that the professional ‘never say die,’ attitude is as strong as it was in the Scudetto campaign.
This mentality will have to be in place for the month ahead as it promises to be even more difficult than the one just left behind. It feels like a fixture list put together by Lucifer as it gives the Nerazzurri no breaks and no room to hide. Every fixture hold an unprecedented amount of weight and expectation. First up is a game that must always be won, the Derby Della Madonnina. It’s even more important now as Milan are a direct title rival and three points is vital to break away further in front.
As if that wasn’t enough, they welcome Jose Mourinho’s Roma only three days later. This emotional return of a hero of old is bound to be a test, but the fact that it is the Coppa Italia quarter-final means it has even more importance. Squad rotation here will walk a tight rope with sacrificing a competition. To change the playing personal will be key however, as only four days after this the Nerazzurri travel to Naples to see another old friend, Luciano Spalletti. The charismatic coach has done a superb, if not underrated, job with the Partenopei this campaign and they are also challenging for the title.
The next monumental clash comes in the Champions League as Liverpool arrive in Milan four days after the battle of Naples. If there is one side you don’t want to face when jaded, it’s Jurgen Klopp’s. This is the first of the two legs that will ultimately give Inter an idea of whether they can navigate this tie and test themselves against one of the clubs in Europe. The month ends with games at home to Sassuolo and away at Genoa but there is also the Bologna fixture to consider and when it will be played.
The task is huge and February will be a pivotal month to understand Inter’s ambitions in Italy and Europe. On paper, they are the best team in Serie A, but this doesn’t mean to give the title for granted. On the contrary, Inter’s transfer activity proves the Nerazzurri are doing everything they can to raise the bar and be competitive on all fronts in the second part of the campaign.
Gosens will be more than an alternative to Ivan Perisic down the left, but it remains to be seen when he will be able to make his debut with the Serie A champions, given that he’s been out of action for four months with a thigh injury. Nevertheless, it’s a smart signing for the present and the future of Inter, given that the 27-year-old is at the peak of his career.
Caicedo is an experienced striker of proven Serie A experience and his bond with Inzaghi has been strong since their time in Rome. The Ecuador international is the perfect 12th man. He doesn’t complain about lack of playing time but gives crucial help on the pitch, especially in the final minutes. Lazio fans know something about it as they renamed the dying minutes of the match Zona Caicedo during his two seasons in the Capital. He had a disappointing six-month spell at Genoa, but he perfectly fits the group’s spirit and mindset.
The Nerazzurri at the moment look like one of Napoleon’s fines armies. They have victories under their belt. They have blooded youth, serial winners and an old guard that can be relied on. Their record is impeccable and their leaders are imaginative and creative. February, however, feels like they are marching on Moscow and many Milanese will sit waiting to see just what shape they return in.