Walter Mazzarri knew that the Inter job would be his most difficult yet. The Tuscan coach arrived in Milan with a fine reputation, having learned his trade in the lower leagues before impressing with Sampdoria and then Napoli.
The Nerazzurri, however, were a different proposition. The same league, perhaps, but separated from his previous clubs by a chasm in terms of history and expectation. Mazzarri enjoyed success in Naples and Genoa, but was never genuinely expected.
Before arriving at Appiano Gentile, a strong league campaign and a cup run were the most that his previous employers could have realistically asked of him. Now, those are minimum requirements. The 52-year-old is charged with returning Inter to the top of the Italian and European game. Quickly.
Since Jose Mourinho left Milan in 2010, Inter have been a club in turmoil. Following his huge success at home and abroad, there was always going to be a hangover, but few expected it to last this long—even if his successors were burdened with an ageing squad, fewer resources and the same expectations.
Rafael Benitez, Leonardo, Gian Piero Gasperini, Claudio Ranieri and Andrea Stramaccioni all failed to deliver. The jury's still out on whether or not Mazzarri will succeed.
There's no doubt he's achieved some of his goals since taking over in the summer. Inter still need more quality players, but the side has been playing good football—in patches, at least—and tactically has more of an identity than at any time in the last few years.
Unfortunately for all concerned, positive results have been a little more elusive.
Eight wins have been interrupted by seven draws and two losses, and the Nerazzurri have failed to string more than two victories together on the trot. All that points to inconsistency and weakness that must be soon addressed if they're to have any hope of European football next season.
A thrilling victory over rivals AC Milan in the derby is cause for celebration, but the Rossoneri are struggling themselves this season and are just five points above the bottom three.
The losses to Napoli and Roma—when they were completely outclassed—is more indicative of where Inter stand currently in terms of the league's best sides. Holding Juventus to a draw in Milan back in September was a fine result, but the problem for Mazzarri is that such performances have been too few and far between.
Scoring goals hasn't been a problem, and that's something that the side can take heart from. They've netted more than anyone in the league apart from Juve, and assuming they can become more organised elsewhere and perhaps add a player or two in the January window, they could quickly become a very dangerous side.
Conceding goals is an element of Mazzarri's style, but the manner in which Inter have been doing it is cause for concern.
During his tenure at Napoli, the Partenopei were occasionally exposed by their eagerness to get forward, but rarely conceded weak goals or made grievous errors.
Inter's back line has been guilty of both transgressions. They've let in three times as many as Roma so far this season. The return of Javier Zanetti to the line-up should tighten things defensively, but other players need a marked improvement.
All of this is unlikely to make for comforting reading for Inter fans, but it should be said that Mazzarri needs—and deserves—more time to properly affect change at Inter. Should Erick Thohir spend in January, the prognosis for the Nerazzurri can change very quickly indeed, because despite their flaws they still have a good spine of a team and an excellent manager.
The first game back against Lazio in Rome will be a difficult encounter, assuming the Aquile can sort out their managerial problems by then. After that, they've got Chievo Verona, Genoa and Catania to look forward to before a massive clash with Juventus in Turin.
Twelve points from those five games would turn the season around and grant their fans plenty of reasons to be optimistic come February.
In short, it's not been too bad for Inter. The league position will disappoint some, but looked at objectively, it's hard to make a case for them being any higher in the league.
Juve, Roma, Napoli and Fiorentina are all excellent sides with strong squads and talented managers. They've all spent and planned well—and it's only right that they now reap the rewards. Mazzarri and Thohir can only hope that their own efforts will be similarly rewarded in time.
There's been plenty done, and there's plenty more to do. Whether that's a glass half full or empty, depends on your own outlook. But regardless, half-way through the Serie A season, Inter are still a glass that needs filling.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!