Serie A: Why Inter Milan Will Be the Surprise Package in the 2013/14 Season
During the last Serie A season—when Juventus romped clear to win their 29th scudetto by nine points—we were denied a surprise, denied the chance for the odds to be upset.
It almost happened. The Italian top-flight apples were very nearly upset; the status quo was nearly altered.
To start with, there was Lazio's resplendent start to the season, a barnstorming barrage of Miroslav Klose-inspired performances that had the Biancocelesti as high as second place by December.
Alas, this heady ascent dissipated not long after the turn of the year. Eventually finishing in seventh, Lazio will have been disappointed they did not run Juve closer, as they sought to end a 13-year wait to retain the title.
As the Rome club slipped up, Napoli wasted no time in assuming the title of potential surprise package. Having finished fifth in the previous season—23 points behind the eventual victors, the magisterial and unbeaten Juventus—it was thought that their spell in the limelight was short-lived, peaking as they very almost defeated a Chelsea team that went on to win that year's Champions League title.
The fears that the team from Naples had hit their zenith were augmented by the loss of Ezequiel Lavezzi to Paris Saint-Germain a year ago.
But with Edinson Cavani's goalscoring heroics—who, having scored 29 goals last season, this summer followed fellow South American Lavezzi to cash-rich PSG—they clinched second place, cheery bridesmaids to Juve's blushing bride.
With all that conformity in mind, one could pontificate that the biggest surprise of the season was at the opposite end of the table, when Palermo, qualifiers for the UEFA Cup six years ago, ended their nine-year stay in the Italian top flight in such meek and timid fashion.
Who will finish higher in Serie A season next season?
For the upcoming season, however, the Serie A apple cart looks destined to be upset. And when examining suitors for who will have bookmakers paying up, it's difficult to look past Inter Milan.
In a recent poll of 522 Bleacher Report readers, 48.5 percent believed that the Nerazzurri have a realistic chance of winning this year's title. Considering they have now finished outside of the Top Four for two consecutive seasons, it is not likely a similar poll would yield similar results to back Liverpool to win the English Premier League.
Inter's capitulation last year was a far cry from the hedonism that reigned during the golden 2009/10 season, when Jose Mourinho steered the Nerazzurri to an almighty treble. Since then, they have finished second, sixth and ninth. A worrying slide, to say the least.
Whilst deadly cross-city rivals AC Milan purred to a rip-roaring end of season—losing just one of their last 20 games—Inter spluttered and struggled and coughed over the finishing line. Subsequently, not many eyelids were batted when Nerazzurri president Massimo Moratti disposed of rookie coach Andrea Stramaccioni in May after just one season.
In his place is the accomplished Walter Mazzarri, fresh from masterminding Cavani and Co. at Napoli to the runners-up spot. The veteran of seven different teams, it is little wonder the 51-year-old rarely has periods of inactivity between jobs, as his stock continually rises.
It would appear that Moratti and Mazzarri are seeking solace in an age-old Italian proverb: "Chi va piano, va sano; chi va sano, va lontano." Roughly translated, that equates to "slowly but surely," a mantra the Inter hierarchy will hope can pay dividends this season, but also in the long-term.
Following Mazzarri in through the San Siro revolving doors has been a flurry of signings, most of whom appear young, hungry and keen to seize this opportunity to play for the 18-time Italian champions.
As they struggled for goals last season, the Inter boss has signed two of Europe's most prodigious strikers: 20-year-old Argentinian striker Mauro Icardi arrives for €6 million from Sampdoria, complemented by the €7.5 million purchase of 21-year-old Ishak Belfodil from Parma. Having scored a combined total of 18 goals last season, it is thought the San Siro will provide the perfect environment for them to thrive.
They will be joined by 17-year-old Alessandro Capello, as Inter beat competition from Juventus and Borussia Dortmund to capture the €2.5 million signature of the Italian striker.
If you then throw into the mix the talents of pre-existing Inter players Yuto Nagatomo, Andrea Ranocchia, Zdravko Kuzmanovic, Fredy Guarin and Ricardo Alvarez—none of whom are older than 27 yet all established internationals—and you have a team that exudes potency and potential.
Also donning the colours of the Nerazzurri next season will be Marco Andreoli and Mazzarri's former on-field lieutenant at Napoli, Hugo Campagnaro, both signed on a free.
The latter was quick to show Inter fans he intends to play with steel and gusto as, during a recent preseason friendly against Chelsea, he wasted no time in introducing himself to John Terry (which, rightly, earned him a red card).
If he can tone this down, he will provide a good foil for his 19-year-old midfield partner, Mateo Kovacic: Having arrived for €11 million from Dinamo Zagreb in January, there are high hopes among the San Siro faithful the Croatian can build on the promise he showed in his 13 appearances last season.
Despite having spent €43 million since the start of the year, it is thought Inter still may go in for Gaston Ramirez of Southampton, as reported in The Sun, as well as Cagliari's Radja Nainggolan, two young yet able players who would strengthen the ranks.
With central defence reinforcements also needed, moves may yet happen for Feyenoord's Daryl Janmaat according to Voetbal Centraal (in Dutch) or Aleksandar Dragovic of Basel, a move reported by Basler Zeitung (in German).
If we take all of the above into consideration, Inter put forward a strong case. They have a manager with a reputation for getting results, a rejuvenated strikeforce and an optimal blend of youth and experience, all spurred on by the desire to show the world of calcio that they are not the forgotten club many perceive them to be.
What are your thoughts? Will Inter provide competition for Juve's crown? Can Mazzarri have an instant positive impact? Can Belfodil, Icardi and Kovacic come good? Let me know either in the comments section below or via Twitter: @LeRowley
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