Just a season ago, Inter Milan were widely considered one of the best clubs, if not the best club, in world football.
By the end of May 2010, the Italian club had secured the only treble in the club's rich history, winning the Serie A title, the Coppa Italia and the Champions League. They had beaten a Barcelona team considered to be among the best teams in football history and easily swept past a defensively-weak Bayern Munich side on their road to European glory.
With a seemingly impregnable defense, and some of the world's finest attackers, Inter Milan looked nothing short of unstoppable at the end of the 2009-10 season.
Fast forward a year however, and all that has changed. Inter Milan barely managed to finish second in Serie A after a brief renaissance under Leonardo, and despite managing to repeat as Coppa Italia winners, have looked to be on a downward spiral ever since.
With that in mind, let's look at the five top reasons why Inter Milan will struggle in the 2011-12 season.
Over the summer, all of Inter Milan's title rivals have significantly bolstered their squads.
Starting with Juventus, the Bianconeri have initiated a head-to-toe renovation of the squad and look primed to take Serie A by storm.
Perennial underperformers Felipe Melo and Mohamed Sissoko have both been shipped out of the squad, and in their place Juventus have brought in Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal. Not content to stop there, Juventus have significantly improved their full back options through the signings of Reto Ziegler and Stephen Lichtsteiner, and have solidified their attacking options with the signings of Mirko Vucinic, Fabio Quagliarella and Alessandro Matri.
And reports indicate they may not even be done buying yet.
Then comes AC Milan, who, despite spending significantly less than Juventus, have also impressively bolstered their squad.
With the signings of Taye Taiwo and Philippe Mexes, AC Milan have excellently plugged the trouble spots in their defense without spending a cent in transfer fees. They have completed the signing of Marcos Amelia following a promising spell on loan last season, and have signed impressive talents Alberto Paloschi and Stephan El Shaarawy.
Like Juventus, AC Milan are looking to sign off their successful summer in transfer market with a final signing, rumored to be either Alberto Aquilani or Riccardo Montolivo.
Finally, even Napoli, a team with a much smaller budget than any of the big three of Italy, have made their intentions to compete for the title again clear by signing Daniele Mannini, Marco Donadel and Mario Santana as quality backup options for the club, and have improved the quality of the starters greatly with signing of Gokhan Inler. Edinson Cavani, the club's biggest talent, has also been signed on a permanent basis.
While Inter Milan's title rivals have all gotten stronger, Inter Milan has comparatively only slightly improved its squad.
Inter's most notable signing of the summer has been Ricardo Alvarez for €12 million. Having just broken through into Velez Sarsfield's starting lineup this season, the winger is still largely unproven and far from the finished product.
Along with him, Inter have signed backup goalkeeper Emiliano Viviano, right back Jonathan, and completed the signings of Yuto Nagatomo and Luc Castaignos, the former having joined the squad on loan in January from Cesena.
Luca Castaignos is an incredibly promising talent, but at the age of only 18 is unlikely to play a major role in Inter Milan's upcoming season, and is probably a player for the future in the eyes of the Inter Milan coaching staff.
Of all of Inter Milan's signings, only Ricardo Alvarez appears poised to inject any new life into Inter Milan's starting lineup. While some may argue that Inter Milan's squad is already deep and complete enough as it is, the club would have done well to have sold off some of its older or fringe squad members (like Ivan Cordoba or Sulley Muntari) and brought in quality wingers or wing backs.
Compared to all the major signings of the other three Serie A title contenders, Inter Milan's signings are far from impressive.
The Inter Milan team of 2009-10 excelled, to a significant extent, because of the number of star players in their prime. Fast forward one season however, and those same players look to be out of their prime and at the back end of their careers.
In Inter's 2009-10 defense, Lucio and Walter Samuel formed one of the fiercest center back partnerships in recent history for Inter Milan, and looked practically impenetrable all season long, even against Barcelona.
Now however, both defenders are 33 years old, and seem to have lost the edge that made them world class defenders. Though Lucio hasn't completely lost it yet, and still plays regularly for Brazil, he has been unable to click with Andrea Ranocchia, who will be Inter's first choice center-back going forward as Inter attempt to decrease the age of their starting lineup.
In Walter Samuel's case, the defender has returned to his injury-prone ways, playing only 10 Serie A games last season after missing most of the season with a severe knee injury.
Then comes Maicon, who has suffered a harsh fall from grace since the 2009-10 season.
Heralded as the best right-back in the world following his performances for Inter in 2009-10, the Brazilian defender has seen his stock plummet after being turned inside out by Gareth Bale in Tottenham's group stage matches with Inter Milan. Despite some impressive performances with Brazil at the Copa America, Inter Milan have reportedly put Maicon on the trading block, and are (reportedly) working on a deal to send him to Manchester City, with Carlos Tevez coming the other way.
Finally, the player who has without a doubt struggled the most since Inter's 2009-10 season has to be Diego Milito.
The Argentinian forward was arguably the best forward in the world in 2009-10, and won numerous individual awards, namely UEFA Club Forward of the Year, UEFA Club Footballer of the Year, Serie A Footballer of the Year, Serie A Foreign Footballer of the Year and, of course, 2010 UEFA Champions League Final Man of the Match. He scored 30 goals in all competitions, including two goals in the Champions League final against Bayern Munich.
In the 2010-11 season however, Diego Milito was poor. Injuries limited his appearances, and after scoring only five times in the first 20 league fixture of the season, Inter Milan decided to bring in Giampaolo Pazzini as another scoring option for the team. Pazzini's good form relegated Milito to the bench for most of the remainder of the season, and the forward would not score again in the league.
While Lucio, Walter Samuel, Maicon and Diego Milito have all regressed since the 2009-10 season, two players who've maintained their level or gotten even better have been Samuel Eto'o and Wesley Sneijder.
Despite their impressive performances last season however, Inter Milan are reportedly looking to offload both players, to Manchester City and Manchester United respectively.
Earlier this summer, Samuel Eto'o made his desire to remain at Inter Milan clear, and claimed that he was looking forward to starting the new season under Gian Piero Gasperini. Recently however, numerous reports have claimed that Inter Milan are in advanced negotiations to bring Tevez to Inter Milan, with Samuel Eto'o going the other way.
In the case of Wesley Sneijder, Inter Milan's playmaker and arguably their most important player, a deal that looked to be dead in the water with Manchester United has been revived by none other than the player himself. After repeatedly claiming to be happy at Inter Milan and unwilling to take a wage cut to move to Manchester United, the midfielder has claimed that "there is always a chance something will happen but we will see."
Should either of these superstars move, I fully expect Inter Milan to struggle to even finish in the Champions League spots next season. As good as Carlos Tevez is, I can't see him producing anywhere near the 37 goals and 15 assists that Eto'o did last season.
As for Sneijder, no matter how much money they get from his sale, there is not enough time to reinvest that money into another playmaker for the team. In any case, there aren't any playmakers currently on the market near Sneijder's level (otherwise Manchester United would've probably already gone for them).
Should both stay however, I expect them to be unsettled to at least some degree by their respective transfer sagas. When you are one of the best players on your team, you expect your team to fight tooth and nail to keep you, and in the case of both Sneijder and Eto'o, this has not happened. More on that in the next slide...
Although Gian Piero Gasperini has only just joined Inter Milan, there are already numerous signs that he is not the best coach for the club.
First of all, his unorthodox 3-4-3 system does not best utilize Inter Milan's talents. Aside from Maicon, who looks likely to be sold, Inter Milan do not have any proven, brilliant wing-backs in the squad, and thus look likely to experiment with Davide Santon, Yuto Nagatomo and Jonathan till they find out which players, if any, can succeed in the wing back roles.
Javier Zanetti is also a candidate to fill one of these spots, but time will tell if he still has the fitness and speed to fill what will likely be the most energy-consuming position for Inter Milan next season.
The system also lacks creativity. Sneijder has been asked to play a deeper role than his usual trequartista role behind the strikers, and has not particularly excelled in the role in Inter's preseason games. Should he be sold, the side will lack even more creativity, as none of Inter Milan's other central/attacking midfielders are known for their playmaking abilities. Ricky Alvarez could be the X-factor here however.
Secondly, Gian Piero Gasperini has not shown the toughness nor winning attitude needed for a club like Inter Milan. When Jose Mourinho was at Inter Milan, he always gave the perception that Inter Milan were on top of the world and practically unbeatable despite not boasting the strongest squad in the world. He praised those who deserved praise and never allowed transfer speculation to grow around his key players.
Gasperini, since his arrival at Inter Milan, has done the opposite. Inter Milan have looked like a feeble, rebuilding side under Gasperini, and their recent 3-0 pummeling at the hands of Manchester City has done nothing to improve that image.
Additionally, Gasperini has made no attempts to hold onto his key players. He has not made any public statements in support of either of Eto'o or Sneijder staying, and has instead chosen to employ a "wait and see" approach, making insignificant or dodgy comments every time he is asked about either player's future with the club.
Gasperini's first test will be this weekend in the Italian Super Cup, but by simply comparing Massimo Allegri's work with Milan with Gasperini's work with Inter Milan, I fully expect Milan to emerge victorious.
What do you guys think?
Is it really all doom and gloom for Inter Milan, or will Gian Piero Gasperini find a way to overcome the adversity and lead Inter Milan to a successful season?
Will Samuel Eto'o and Wesley Sneijder both stay, or will either one leave? And how will Inter Milan's chances be affected by such a move?
Feel free to share your opinions in the comments section below, I look forward to hearing them and discussing them with you.