Serie A 2919/20: Why Inter Milan can end Juventus’ dominance this season
With Juventus having won the last eight Serie A titles in a row, you would be forgiven for thinking it would once again be a foregone conclusion this year. However, with even Massimiliano Allegri himself, Juve’s former manager who led them to the last 5 Serie A titles, coming out and saying otherwise, perhaps this isn’t the case.
Allegri backed Inter's current and Juve's former sporting director Beppe Marotta's appointment of Conte, saying, “I won with him and without him at Juve. He’s built a strong team at Inter and he made a weighty choice with Conte. They can win the Scudetto". (Football Italia)
So why are Inter suddenly a threat this season?
The main reason is no doubt the appointment of Antonio Conte, the very man who started Juve’s dominance, winning the first 3 of their 8 consecutive titles. This, of course, gives him a unique insight into how Juventus work. It would be entirely fitting if the man who built this legacy became the one to finally end it and for Juve’s biggest rivals, no less.
While Juve no doubt still boast the stronger squad on paper, it’s worth noting why Conte becomes so important. One of the Italian’s greatest strengths is getting the most out of average players.
The best example being his title win at Chelsea, finishing on 93 points with a squad that finished a shockingly low 10th the year before. Going up against stronger squads and starting the season poorly, Conte had to tinker with different formations and systems to try and mask the squad's deficiencies.
The most notable example of this being his decision to switch to a back three, in an attempt to compensate for Chelsea’s lack of quality at full-back. This tactical switch allowed Conte to get the most out of fairly average players, such as Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso, both of whom have struggled since Conte’s departure. Moses has since found himself loaned out to Turkey and Alonso struggled under Conte’s successor, Maurizio Sarri, and now finds himself benched under Lampard.
Such tactical ingenuity will be essential if Conte is to bridge the gap between Juventus and Inter Milan. Giuseppe Marotta, Inter’s sporting director, has arguably acquired the best manager he could’ve got in terms of maximising the squads potential.
Marotta is also formerly of Juventus, having been sporting director when Conte was manager there. The pair have a proven track record of winning together and Inter’s hierarchy will no doubt hope the pair can create a similar dynasty to the one they created at their arch-rivals. At the very least, Conte will make Inter solid defensively and hard to beat, the only real question is, will the attack score enough goals to keep up with Juve.
Outside of Conte, Inter have also strengthened on the pitch. Adding to their already impressive array of centre-back talent, such as Milan Skriniar and Stefan de Vrij, Atletico Madrid legend Diego Godin was signed on a free. The Uruguay stalwart will add depth of experience and give Conte the option of playing a back three if needed.
Value addition in midfield
Inter’s biggest improvement comes in the midfield department, however. The Nerazzurri added both Stefano Sensi and Nicolò Barella to their roster this summer, two of the best midfield prospects in Serie A. Both are already full Italian internationals, despite their tender age and are already marked improvements on the options Inter had last season.
Borja Valero and Matías Vecino made a combined 35 starts in the league last season, yet they managed two assists combined and both averaged a lowly 0.7 key passes per game. A factor that no doubt contributed to Inter having only the joint 6th most goals scored in the league last season with 56, a figure that put them behind Juventus, Napoli, Atalanta, Roma and even Sampdoria who finished 9th (whoscored.com).
In contrast, Barella notched up three assists and averaged 1.2 key passes per match. While Sensi hit four assists with an average 1.9 key passes per match. It’s also worth noting these numbers were achieved while playing for clubs lower in the table, with Sassuolo and Cagliari finishing 11th and 16th respectively, making the feats all the more impressive.
From United to Inter
Reinforcements also arrived in attack this summer, with Alexis Sánchez and Romelu Lukaku joining the Nerazzurri. Lukaku will be tasked with replacing Mauro Icardi’s goal output, after the Argentine joined PSG on loan. The main benefit of Lukaku over Icardi is likely to come in terms of attitude, with Icardi regularly having to be dropped over a litany of unprofessional conducts.
This lack of professionalism seems to have been the driving force behind Conte forcing Icardi out. Conte will also be tasked with getting the best out of Sanchez, after nothing short of a dreadful stint at Manchester United. The Inter faithful will surely hope to see Sanchez rediscover the blistering form he showed at Arsenal and Barcelona.
Another major factor in Inter potentially challenging for the title, may be Juventus themselves. Juve may be in for somewhat of a transition year, with Sarri’s style being drastically different to Allegri’s.
The transition between Allegri's more pragmatic style, of being solid defensively while overloading the wide areas to constantly fire crosses in and Sarri's fluid passing possession system is a drastic shift and could take time to implement.
This also won't have been helped by Sarri coming down with pneumonia, causing him to miss Juve's opening two games and numerous training sessions. There are also questions over whether players such as Sami Khedira and Blaise Matuidi are good enough to play as midfielders in Sarri’s possession-based system. J
uve’s marquee signing, Aaron Ramsey, already seems to be struggling with injury problems that have plagued him his entire career. Juve also have problems in defence, with captain Giorgio Chiellini out for several months with an injury. Perhaps more worryingly for Juve fans, will be other huge summer signing, Matthijs De Ligt’s horrendous performance in Chiellini’s absence. The Dutchman was arguably at fault for at least two of Napoli’s three goals against Juventus.
The Dybala conundrum
Then of course upfront, there is the Paulo Dybala problem. Juventus attempted to sell Dybala this summer, after an underwhelming season, but with moves to both Manchester United and Tottenham breaking down. As such Dybala’s future is uncertain, the board clearly don’t want him and Sarri is yet to start him this season.
Whether Dybala can force his way back into the team is yet to be seen. If he can’t, there’s then the question of whether Gonzalo Higuaín is still good enough to lead the line. While he has started the season well, it seems odd a player who was deemed surplus to requirements last year and loaned out twice, is suddenly a starter again.
With Inter strengthening well in the summer and acquiring a top tactician in Conte, it will be interesting to see whether they can snatch a title during a year of transition for Juventus.