Resurgent Inter and AC: Are Juventus Under Threat from Both Milan Clubs?

Adam Digby@@Adz77Featured ColumnistAugust 17, 2017

AC Milan's supporters celebrate a goal during the Italian Serie A football match Inter Milan vs AC Milan at 'San Siro' Stadium in Milan on April 15, 2017.   / AFP PHOTO / MIGUEL MEDINA        (Photo credit should read MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images)
MIGUEL MEDINA/Getty Images

Juventus have unquestionably dominated Serie A in recent years, winning six consecutive league titles and leaving their rivals trailing behind by some distance. While their most recent triumphs have seen Napoli and AS Roma as their closest challengers, fans of two giant Italian clubs have continued to wait for their sides to emerge from their respective slumbers.

AC Milan have finished eighth, 10th, seventh and sixth over the past four league campaigns, their most recent title coming as long ago as 2010/11, since when they have cycled through managers and players at an astounding rate.

Across town, Inter Milan—who have not been champions since Jose Mourinho left in 2010—have been equally poor, ending the 2016/17 season in seventh place. They were a staggering 29 points behind Scudetto-winners Juventus, with their Rossoneri cousins just one point ahead of them.

Yet despite all of that, it seems that their work over the last two months has catapulted both clubs back into contention. If we look beyond Neymar’s jaw-dropping move from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain, Milan have undoubtedly been the most captivating story of the summer, revolutionising their entire squad beyond recognition.

Confirming Vincenzo Montella would continue to lead the team, they have made intelligent signings, bringing in Andrea Conti, Ricardo Rodriguez, Lucas Biglia and Mateo Musacchio, all of whom fit the coach’s approach perfectly.

Beyond that quartet, they have also added promising Portuguese striker Andre Silva and former Atalanta midfielder Franck Kessie, a dynamic 20-year-old who was coveted by many of Europe’s leading clubs.

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However, the two biggest deals were instead surely those that tied two native Italians to Milan. After a protracted contract saga, Gianluigi Donnarumma renewed with the Rossoneri, while the €42 million transfer of Juve’s Leonardo Bonucci could reshape the entire landscape of Italian football.

It has led to incredible optimism from fans of the club, the Corriere dello Sport (h/t ESPN FC) reporting that a recent clash with Universitatea Craiova saw more than 60,000 people attend, a new record for a UEFA Europa League qualifier.

“As a supporter, I am so excited by the Rossoneri transfer window so far,” supporter Michelangelo Gamberini told Bleacher Report. “Who doesn’t love to have 10 good players purchased in the earliest part of the transfer window? They’re letting us dream after years of low-profile signings, and the team is now good enough to compete for something because if we reached a Europa League spot last year with that team, imagine now!”

Of course, it would take something special for Milan to challenge for the title but, having already been part of a Juventus side that went from seventh-place to title winners, Bonucci recognised the similarities with his current situation.

“It’s true; I see a lot of parallels,” the defender told La Gazzetta dello Sport (h/t Football Italia). “In fact, I chose Milan because in my head I have the idea of repeating the path I trod at Juventus, where we started from a reconstruction, like is the case here, and ended up at the top. I want to go even higher here, within four years I hope to win the Champions League. I want to win everything.”

Vincenzo Montella has work to do at AC Milan.
Vincenzo Montella has work to do at AC Milan.Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

Much will depend on the ability of the coach to mould a cohesive unit, as Milan supporter Michelangelo went on to explain. “Now the problem is all in Montella's hands: he must prove the club did the right choice to keep him as a chief of this new army,” he told Bleacher Report. “And it’s a big challenge to accept.

“I don’t think we are ready for challenging Juventus who are a strong and fit group of great players, and they have created a background of teamwork and knowledge that is impossible to build in a single season. It will be a more competitive championship for sure, and Juve will have a more difficult way to lift the final trophy. We all know football is also dream and hope though, miracles happened so never say never…”

That instant transformation proved beyond neighbours Inter, who last summer spent a similar amount of money to that splashed by Milan this year. Both Stefano Pioli and Frank de Boer struggled to gel them together, but the Nerazzurri have appointed former Roma boss Luciano Spalletti and hope he will make the difference this time around.

“I'm here to put this club back where it belongs, in line with its history,” the 58-year-old told reporters at his inaugural press conference. “Inter have a wonderful history, and I want to take it all in and be a part of it, both actively and by enjoying it from a privileged position.”

“We have some fantastic players in this squad, but they need to fit within a team,” Spalletti continued. “We must respect Juventus for what they've achieved, but we mustn't confuse respect with fear. We mustn't have any fear, but go out there determined and then see who's best.”

Again that would be a huge ask, but like Milan, they have retained their core players, warding off major interest in Ivan Perisic and Antonio Candreva while adding some much-needed new signings like Matias Vecino and Brazilian full-back Dalbert.

Yet, in typical Inter fashion, they have also made some questionable moves. Stevan Jovetic remains despite repeatedly disappointing in Nerazzurri colours, while they also seem to be relying heavily on Spanish midfielder Borja Valero.

The 32-year-old arrived from Fiorentina after enduring his worst season with La Viola, only for Spalletti to install him in a two-man midfield with Roberto Gagliardini. Far better suited to a free role in an advanced position, tying him into a role where he will be expected to work defensively and protect the full-backs behind him seems a major risk.

However, Bleacher Report’s own Paolo Bandini is impressed by what he sees, explaining that “fans of rivals might prefer not to admit it, but Serie A is healthier when the two Milan clubs are thriving,” before going on to explain his opinion of the Nerazzurri.

“I’m encouraged by what I see at Inter, because don't forget that they spent almost €150 million last summer themselves,” Bandini said. “Players often take time to settle at new clubs in new leagues, and especially when they start the season with a manager who is himself struggling to do the same thing—as Frank De Boer was after being drafted in late in pre-season.

“Luciano Spalletti can be cantankerous and stubborn as a mule, but he's an excellent coach who has certainly shown signs of knowing how to get the most from this group in pre-season. If that carries over, then they could well be a dark-horse contender, aided by not having to compete in Europe this time around.”

It seems many fans agree with that thinking. “Inter have had a very sensible transfer window,” Nima Tavallaey—founder of the Sempre Inter website—explained to Bleacher Report. “They’ve focused on narrowing the distance, quality wise, between the starting 11 and the players on the bench.

“More importantly Inter have given the coach the power and the final say regarding which players are to arrive and which must leave, thus backing up the coach 110 percent, which is hardly something the club has done in the past. These are all necessary steps to get the club back up the standings again, but it won't be enough to challenge for the top spot.”

That is a fair and accurate assessment of where Inter are right now, while Milan are arguably just a regular goalscorer away from challenging the Bianconeri. The San Siro will be once again home to two good teams, however, and that should worry the Old Lady of Turin.