Inter Milan: 5 Reasons the Nerazzurri Will Challenge for the Title This Season
Inter Milan, along with the rest of Europe's top clubs, had this past weekend off due to the World Cup Qualifiers that were played early last week and this week.
The free time has given me a chance to reflect upon what the seven Serie A fixtures played so far mean for the Nerazzurri and their quest to reclaim their spot at the top of the Italian league.
The Nerazzurri currently are tied with Lazio for third place in the Serie A with play resuming this weekend. So what are the their chances at winning?
Call me crazy, but I say it's very possible.
Of course, that's assuming that Juve, who still hasn't lost a game in the league in over a year, and Napoli don't continue winning at this pace.
Here are five reasons why I think Inter are poised to make a serious run at winning the Scudetto this season.
Andrea Ranocchia and Juan Jesus Are Forming a Great Defensive Partnership
A structure is only strong if its foundation is strong.
During Inter's success under Jose Mourinho, the team was built around a strong defensive structure that relied heavily on the strong play of its two anchors — Walter Samuel and Lucio.
Together, the duo were a force along the back line that not only provided a sound structure to fall back on, but it also allowed other players, such as Maicon and Nagatomo, to do what they do best by entering the attacking play.
Once those two players were no longer capable of filling that role, the team became noticeably weaker. They were missing the foundation of the team.
Ranocchia tried to fill that void himself, but he floundered without any real help in the back.
Enter Juan Jesus.
The Brazilian has been a refreshing bright spot this season and looks like he fits in well with the Italian game. In fact, his rougher style, reminds me a bit of what Lucio brought to Inter.
The new duo's strong play has even caught the attention of their manager. If these two can continue to play well, Inter will have no trouble competing for the title.
Andrea Stramaccioni Continues to Show He Is Capable of Managing in Serie A
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When Andrea Stramaccioni took over for Claudio Ranieri, the reaction was mostly shock.
Obviously, the first knock to Stramaccioni was his inexperience coaching at a top level. Now he was thrown in one of the top teams in Europe.
Stramaccioni was not without coaching success. He lead Inter's Primavera (youth squad) to win the NextGen series, but this was a whole new ballgame.
To his credit, the young coach did his best to rise up to the challenge, and though the results were average, did his best to try and salvage what was left of last year's disappointing season.
This season, though, Stramaccioni is dedicated to proving that he belongs. So far, save for an embarrassing 4-0 defeat to Roma, he's done just that.
The Milan derby was a coming out party of sorts for the team because, with Stramaccioni's tactics, they showed a side that hasn't been seen from the Nerazzurri in a couple years.
I remember saying to my dad, a little skeptically and unwilling to place such a daunting expectation on him, that Stramaccioni's stymieing of Milan reminded me of somebody special.
Sure enough, Inter president Massimo Moratti uttered the words we thought —it was Mourinho-esque.
There's still plenty left to be played, but Andrea Stramaccioni has shown he has the tactics and gumption to lead this team to great things.
Inter's Confidence Has Found Its Way Back Home
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Speaking of Jose Mourinho, it's been three long years since Inter lifted the Scudetto under his guidance. Once "the Special One" left for Real Madrid, Inter started to crumble under its foundation.
The tactics didn't work, the players weren't playing, and every coach they brought in to fix the problem seemed to fail. You could make a case for Leonardo, but he kept the team afloat rather than build toward the right direction.
While the Milan derby is just one game, Inter's win over their crosstown rivals has brought back something they were sorely missing.
The win has helped boost the Nerazzurri in both their standing in the league as well as their team confidence.
The best part of it all may be that the success can't be contributed to one person. Everyone involved has contributed and, in fact, that may be a bigger boost in confidence.
Sure, confidence alone doesn't bring wins, but it's a step in the right direction. Especially since it's been sorely lacking from this team.
It's hard to explain, but when you're confident, you play better. It shows.
Look for Inter to continue to build on that confidence if they strive to bring the Scudetto back to the Giuseppe Meazza.
Antonio Cassano's Career Renaissance
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It's amazing to notice how many times we've heard that Antonio Cassano has resurrected his career. For the most part, it's been Cassano's fault.
His attitude problems are well documented, and despite his great talent, they have been the reason he has seen so many different clubs. He usually overstays his welcome.
This time, though, Cassano wasn't the culprit for why his career got sidetracked. While at Milan last season, a stroke kept Cassano out for many months.
He would eventually come back for Milan at the end of the season, but was a shell of his former self. He was then picked, rather strangely considering his lack of playing time, for Cesare Prandelli's Euro 2012 squad.
He quickly showed his detractors he still could play despite his lack of match fitness. He parlayed his performance into a crosstown switch to play for his beloved Nerazzurri.
So far, his Inter tenure has been every bit of the dream he proclaimed it to be. Fantantonio still may not be at top match fitness, and it's debatable whether he can ever return to that, but he has dazzled.
His play has also helped show a resurgence in Diego Milito, who is benefiting from Cassano's great attacking mind and precise passing.
If Cassano continues to play like this, Inter will be in great shape. If he can ever be 100 percent again, watch out.
An Influx of Youth Has Breathed New Life into an "Old" Squad
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Inter, especially with their dismal performance last season, has been chastised by some for being too old. It was apparent that this was a problem.
It's not just enough to be young, though, you have to play well too. This season, Inter has seen younger players inserted into the starting squad, and the difference is noticeable.
Alvaro Pereria has flashed, in a few performances, signs of being a serviceable replacement for Maicon. He's not quite the attacking player Maicon was, though he may still show that with playing time, but he's a bit better defensively anyway.
Phillippe Coutinho has also been a real bright spot for Inter in the absence of Wesley Snejder. The young Brazilian playmaker has taken over the Dutchman's distributor role in Inter's attack.
I mentioned Andrea Ranocchia and Juan Jesus in my first slide, and I also think Fredy Guarin has all the skills to take over for Esteban Cambiasso as the team's holding midfielder.
Not to forget the players currently gaining first team experience on loan who will look to crack the lineup within the next two seasons.
The likes of Samuele Longo, Giulio Donati, Lorenzo Crisiteg and Marko Livaja (not on loan, but it'd be a good idea for him to get that experience) are all promising prospects for the Nerazzurri.
As expected with an influx of youth, there are a few growing pains. While Juan Jesus may be too strong in challenges, Coutinho needs to be stronger and Guarin sometimes makes poor decisions with the ball.
Still, the future looks promising for the Nerazzurri, both in terms of chasing after the title and their young stars.