The loss to Lazio in the Supercoppa Italiana has been dismissed by those in the Inter camp as an aberration, and with the Nerazzurri being the better side for long periods in the contest, that may well be a justifiable conclusion. Captain Javier Zanetti claimed that the team played “a great match”, and – albeit predictably – José Mourinho says he sees a team that plays much better football than last season and even though the loss to Lazio was a disappointment “the important thing was what I had seen on the pitch and what we feel inside.” However, Inter scored five goals for no reply in their two Serie A meetings with the Biancocelesti during the previous campaign, and the fact that Lazio could compete with them could be a sign that the league is looking a lot stronger this year.
Losing Zlatan Ibrahimović – even at such a high price – could prove to be a key factor in whether Inter win lo Scudetto again this year. In the last few seasons the Swede had proven himself to be the man who could drag the team out of close games with a victory – see the last day of the 2007/08 season when his brace secured the title after a shaky team performance. Whilst there is no doubt that Samuel Eto’o is a striker who can match Ibracadabra goal for goal, every team needs a player who can provide a magical moment to win a tough game. Roma have Francesco Totti, Juventus now have Diego, and Milan will be relying on Alexandre Pato – but who can fill this role for the champions? Without such a player, tight wins may become draws, and the margin by which titles are won may disappear. Rival managers have certainly not missed this fact, with Cesare Prandelli publicly musing on what la Beneamata will do now: “Ibrahimovic governed Inter’s seasons for the past few years…Mourinho will be forced to change his system. I am really curious to see what he can do as he will have to modify the way the team plays.”
For Inter fans – and this sentiment has been echoed by their Portuguese Tactician – the loss of Ibra necessitates the purchase of a creative midfielder (as does Esteban Cambiasso’s knee injury). Wesley Sneijder was linked with the Nerazzurri, before stating his intention to stay and fight for his place, and so efforts need to be directed elsewhere, despite the recent reports linking the club with a fresh move for the Dutchman. Mourinho has mentioned Deco this summer, and the Portuguese maestro would certainly be able to provide a creative spark, supported by Sulley Muntari and Esteban Cambiasso (when fit) to win the ball for him. The main problem with the Chelsea man is consistency (as well as the supposed increase in price as soon as Inter enquire for the player), and with the club looking to find a player who can bring his best every week, it may mean they are forced to look elsewhere despite their Coach’s obvious admiration for his former Porto player. The two other players who have been recently linked with Inter are Schalke’s Ivan Rakitić and Bordeaux’s Yoann Gourcuff – either would fit Inter’s criteria, but the clubs of both players have been quick to dismiss the rumours surrounding their prized assets.
In saying that, the Nerazzurri look stronger overall this season. Eto’o, Diego Milito, Thiago Motta and Lúcio should all prove to be valuable additions to the squad. The most interesting of the new signings to watch, however, will be Marko Arnautović, who comes very highly rated on loan from FC Twente and has already drawn comparisons with the departed Ibrahimović. If the young man can live up to expectations he should provide another dimension to the Inter attack.
On the first day of the season Inter play host to Bari, who are back in Serie A for the first time since the 2000/01 season, in what should be a relatively easy first game for the reigning champions. This should help to rest any nerves that the players have after their Supercoppa defeat, giving them confidence for their first real test in the Derby della Madonnina against Milan in Week 2. Inter are definitely favourites to win lo Scudetto this season, anything else would be seen as a failure, and with what appears to be the strongest squad it would take a brave man to bet against them. If there is one thing that Mourinho’s sides do well, it is beating the smaller teams. It is how the foundations of a title victory are laid – expect a demonstration of this when the teams meet this Sunday.