Even when they mess up, they still manage to extend their lead. If ever a weekend epitomised Inter’s season, and indeed that of their supposed challengers, this was it. Having thrown away a 2-0 lead at home to Palermo, one was hoping that Juventus might actually make a late fist of this championship lark and win their game later on that evening against Genoa. Yet, rather predictably I must say, they failed to gain even a single point, meaning José Mourinho and his players opened up a double figure advantage at the top of the Serie A table. If the Scudetto door was left slightly ajar before, Saturday’s results ensured it is now well and truly slammed shut.
One door that was well and truly open was that to La Pinetina, the Inter training ground. The usually secretive Portuguese Boss decided to allow fans to view training on Monday as they prepared for their match against Juventus this weekend. It was undoubtedly a sign of immense confidence in retaining the Scudetto. Mourinho played down the gap between first and second before Week 31’s games, but no longer. Even he now recognises that what could have potentially been a huge Derby d’Italia has now been rendered rather irrelevant. From a neutral perspective, it is a shame. The Nerazzurri are notoriously bad at coping with title run-in’s, you only have to go back to last season for the most recent example of this. A bit of pressure from Claudio Ranieri’s men would have tested this team, who despite having new leadership are still essentially the same set of players that nearly blew it last year.
For Interisti, it is of course a brilliant position to be in. To have only lost two league games all season is testament to how consistently they have picked up points this year. Even if their rivals had made a decent effort of their title challenge, it would have been a struggle to match la Beneamata. Unfortunately, they are not able to match their own record points total for a season, set at 97 in the 2006/07 season. Although this will hardly prove that large a blow to the Mourinho ego when you consider his achievements this year have been with a squad that is by and large not yet his own, with only three signings in the summer.
That particular trio have put the former Porto Coach’s transfer market nous under the spotlight. His work in this area at Chelsea was generally very good, but then he had a bottomless pit of funds with which to enhance his squad. He is by no means a pauper at Inter, but the cash has to be spent far more carefully than at Stamford Bridge, where losses of over £10m on a single player seemed to be acceptable. The big money signing has turned out to be the biggest flop so far. At a cost of £16.5m plus young midfielder Pelé, far more was expected of the Portuguese winger Ricardo Quaresma who arrived with a massive amount of hype, much of it undeserved. With a return of one goal in 13 league appearances, he flattered to deceive in many of his games for the club. Infuriatingly ineffective at times, he struggled against the much stronger Italian defences. There has been precious little word from the management as to his future, not usually a great sign for a player. Chelsea seem unlikely to buy him permanently, and Mourinho showed signs of frustration early on in the season at the youngster’s poor offering.
His other wing signing, Amantino Mancini, has been similarly disappointing. However, the fact he is still at the club should probably be seen as a sign of victory for the Brazilian. The third signing, and by far the most successful – Sulley Muntari – still has question marks hanging over his place in the team. He does not score many goals (one in all competitions to date), and offers little more than the plethora of alternative defensive players available to the Coach in the midfield. The hierarchy has made no secret of their intention to sign another midfielder in the summer, a move which will surely put his place in the first XI under threat. That is of course assuming that the new recruit is not another expensive flop. It is going to be an important summer mercato for the champions. President Massimo Moratti, the fans and some of the players are getting fed-up with the constant failure in the Champions League. For such a big club to have gone so long without even coming close to success is unthinkable. The poor streak has lasted so long that Inter’s failure has almost become a running joke amongst rival fans. It is difficult to imagine that lasting much longer with such a determined Coach at the helm. They will eventually find the correct formula to turn their domestic dominance into European performances a club of this size expect.
For now, let us allow the tifosi to bask in the glory of yet another Scudetto title. They can enter the Derby d’Italia this weekend in a relaxed mood, whilst their opponents are downbeat with many of the staff finally admitting they are now playing for second place. This game will have a big say in the destination of that second place, as a Nerazzurri victory will allow rivals Milan to overtake the Bianconeri. With first place all but sealed, it would be no surprise to hear the rumour mill working away churning out theories of Inter deliberately losing the game. As loved as a conspiracy is in Italy, you can be assured there will be no such shenanigans under José’s watch.