In Italy, there is a phrase: from the stars to the stable. Qualify that to from the stable to the stars. For 16 years Internazionale FC ploughed through the stinking stable while their rivals escalated to the stars; for 16 years Internazionale had failed to seduce the scudetto mistress; for 16 years Internazionale had been trapped inside their own failings and shortcomings.
But last season, the Nerazzurri seduced the mistress for real. Roberto Mancini’s pragmatic and large Inter side might have been gifted the Serie A title in 2005-2006 season in the wake of the Calciopoli scandal but it was last season’s peremptory conquest of the scudetto that reestablished the Massimo Moratti blessed Inter Milan as a rejuvenated force in Italy.
No one would even remotely remark that Inter Milan play the most attractive football in the Italian Serie A (AS Roma take the honours) but everyone will simply have to agree that the Nerazzurri deserve to be where they are at the moment. They have scored 37 goals conceding just 9 so far this season and have almost always dominated their matches. Roberto Mancini prefers prose to poetry and that equates to sacrificing entertainment to effectiveness but it is this ruthless efficiency coupled with a practical approach that has surfaced Inter to the top of Italian football.
Last season, 17 consecutive victories propelled Inter to an overwhelming scudetto triumph with their nearest challengers AS Roma, whom Inter thrashed 4-1 at Stadio Olimpico earlier this season, not so much as tugging at their coattails as clawing desperately to keep them in sight. And this season is not different.
Inter’s lead at the top of the league table might be 7 points—not exactly unassailable but daunting nevertheless—but when you consider that Inter haven’t lost any of the 17 matches played in the Serie A so far, thereby holding the enviable honor of being the only side in the Big Five European leagues to remain unbeaten in the league thus far, you do imbibe a queer feeling that this season too Inter Milan are going to whip the rest of Italy into submission and retain their title for yet another year.
The players have responded positively to Roberto Mancini’s tactics: the likes of Brazilians Maicon and Maxwell have developed and contributed in transforming Inter Milan, veterans such as goalkeeper Julio Cesar and right-back-turned-right-winger Javier Zanetti have been leading by examples. Patrick Vieira has played just 1 game this season but the Frenchman’s absence in midfield has been compensated by a certain Real Madrid reject Esteban Cambiasso. The Argentine international has been in the form of his life this season and, as his marvelous display against AC Milan in Derby della Madonnina in December demonstrated, he is capable of pulling the strings from the centre of the park.
Inter’s prolific goalscoring record so far this season owes not so much to creativity from the midfield as to one Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the mercurial Swedish internationals striker who is as much capable of exhibition stuff as of committing the most insane howler. Ibrahimovic’s style was much throttled by Fabio Capello’s defensive football when he was at Juventus but under Mancini at Inter, he has been leased more freedom. Last season, Ibrahimovic scored 15 goals in the league, this time around he already has 7 goals in the league with 5 more in Europe. More than goals, it has been his cheeky flicks, dribbles past opponents and construction of chances for his team mates that have made him an indispensable piece of the Inter Milan jigsaw.
And also indispensable has been Julio Ricardo Cruz. Before this season, the somewhat under rated Argentine international had started 70 matches in all competitions for Inter netting 46 goals but in 10 starts this season, Cruz has registered 10 goals. He has been the main support to Ibrahimovic in the face of the dip in form of his compatriot Hernan Crespo. Cristian Chivu in defense has proved to be a pivotal addition in the summer. The Romanian international is actually a central defender signed in the summer from Roma but has fluidly moved into the wing. In the absence of the injury-ridden Luis Figo, Luis Jimenez has performed exceptionally well and is certainly one player who would fancy himself to stay long at the San Siro.
This is an Inter Milan unit with very few weaknesses that are very rarely exploited by Italian teams, an effective Inter side that can win domestic matches with just two artistic players in their squad of 28 namely Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Luis Figo. Last season the Nerazzurri didn’t confront any stiff opposition to their title triumph and this season is turning out to be a recycled version of last year.
All this is good for Roberto Mancini and his men when considered domestically but it is in Europe where Inter’s shortcomings in creativity and individual quality have been mercilessly exposed. Last season in the UEFA Champions League, Valencia’s two goals at the San Siro in the last 16 first leg tie effectively ensured that Inter’s hopes of a European quest since 1965 get burned to ashes. Inter have moved into the last 16 stage of the Champions League as group winners after winning 5 successive matches although it must be mentioned that they did lost to Fenerbahce in their opening group match.
Many blame the lack of competition that Inter Milan face in the Serie A for the dearth of spirit in Europe and this is true to a considerable degree. Inter have cemented their superiority again Italy but it is Europe that Mancini needs to focus on for the rest of the season. This Inter Milan aren’t a great side by any means but a European glory would certainly go a long way in changing that notion.