Top 10 features the top ten stories from the previous month from across the footballing world. The featured articles may be about a massive headline or a result from the previous month, or a culmination of a particular story that needs to definitely be noticed and discussed about. This feature is to bring a different flavor to the breaking news we see and talk to others about and aimed at constructively looking at the point in discussion.
It is probably that time of the season wherein the people who watch Serie A regularly digest the fact that Inter are going to be actual contenders for the title along with Napoli and Juve, while those that peek at the table every now and then get accustomed to seeing Inter at the top for a while now. Inter have defied odds this season under Luciano Spalletti and have been on an incredible run of form, still the only unbeaten team in the league. Somehow it always happens so that Inter do not get talked about enough as the red half of the city get discussed about a tad more than they probably should be, albeit for all the wrong reasons as of late.
When we talk about Inter, to make a case of them being just more than Mauro Icardi is a bit tough on first sight, considering the fact that their Argentinian skipper has scored 16 goals this season and the next top scorer for the team, Ivan Perisic, has just scored 7, with Perisic’s hat trick against earlier in the month against Chievo actually propelling him to a decent goals tally to what Icardi has scored. When a broader look is taken at the team and the manager, Milan Skriniar has been a particular highlight in the centre of the defence with the Slovakian youngster having proved to be a coup of a signing for Inter. I take a look at how Inter are more than just about Mauro Icardi and how the pieces that add up to the sum contribute to Inter’s superb run thus far.
Spalletti’s adaptation to the resources at his disposal:
Luciano Spalletti having been signed as the manager at the start of the season has been the revelation so far for the club. Without beating around the bush, his outstanding management of the club has been down to Spalletti adapting himself to the resources and the personnel at the club. On an overview, it seems simple when you take into account how Inter play with width. Perisic is an accomplished crosser of the ball while Icardi is probably the best finisher inside the box in the world at the moment. However the shrewd signings Spalletti has made and the eleven he puts out each match play to Inter’s strengths with Spalletti’s facilitation. The acquisition of Matias Vecino has worked out well and he has proved to be an able partner alongside Roberto Gagliardini in the centre of the pitch. This reflects and almost personifies as to how Inter have functioned this season-under the radar and silently going on about their business. Spalletti is known for his pragmatic approach when necessary and this has helped Inter establish a solid defence. Having earned a credible 0-0 draw against Napoli earlier in the season, Inter have been one of the very few teams to stop from Maurizio Sarri’s Napoli from scoring in a league match.
Looking at the chance map above, we see that the majority of them have come predominantly from the wings. The use of Candreva and Perisic, two very hard working and efficient wingers, has been exemplary from Spalletti as his team have been able to hold an organised defensive shape moments after attacking down the other end, something that Jose Mourinho’s Inter were really good at. Despite the number 10 Borja Valero not playing a hand in much of the chances that have been created, it goes without saying that his experience has come in handy for Inter with his link up play.
Adding on to this, I would like to mention how Valero is crucial to this setup under Spalletti. His versatility and ball retention capabilities make him a valuable asset with regards to how Inter set up according to the opposition. This was evident in Inter’s recent game against Juventus at Turin when Spalletti opted to play Valero along with Matias Vecino in midfield with Marcelo Brozovic playing further forward. Sapletti’s versatility reflects in the way his team plays as they can vary their approach from a high intense pressing block to a very solid mid-deep block, in accordance with the opposition’s playing approach.
The general ploy is to stretch the opposition wide with Valero linking up play in the ball near side while the full back joins in attack to offer an option on the overlap. The key is to supply Icardi in positions where he can make a telling effort on goal. While a goal is almost guaranteed even if a half decent chance is created with Icardi in the ranks, the fact that Spalletti has established such a system that brings out the best not only in Icardi but also from his wide men and the midfielders is worthy of appreciation. A key facet that might get overlooked is that Spalletti has done exceedingly well to bring the best out of players like D’Ambrosio, Candreva and Nagatomo. With Dalbert quite not performing up to expected standards, Spalletti’s motivation has been key in his full backs’ performances, who have been extremely consistent for Inter this season.
Samir Handanovic is the best goalkeeper in the Serie A- yes, he is better than Buffon who is now aging. With no disrespect to Gigi, Handanovic has silently been the better performer in the league for at least the second season now. This Handanovic is not the goalkeeper you would associate with the same Slovenian who played under the tenure of Roberto Mancini. Those performances were extraordinary and Inter heavily relied on him to gain points from matches. To offer some perspective, though the comparison is in no way down to either goalkeeper’s talent, Handanovic’s performances for Inter, over a few seasons now, is akin to how David de Gea wins points for United when he is on a roll.
Handanovic was at his brilliant best against the Champions as he won Inter a point in Turin.
His save from Mandzukic’s shot speaks volumes of how he has been the key this season, letting just 10 goals from 16 games. pic.twitter.com/7eyzSUw2zv
— Football Bloody Hell (@fbhfootball) December 10, 2017
Inter are not that side anymore but it goes without saying that Handanovic has evolved into a natural leader for Inter. The big framed goalkeeper has been at Inter for years now and is the most experienced started in the first eleven who has played the most for Inter. While Icardi is the captain of the side, the leadership skills at the back and the way that Handanovic organises his backline is fantastic.
His performance against Napoli earlier in the season was outstanding, something akin to what was mentioned before about how he is capable of winning points for his side, on his own. It can even be argued in somewhat a trivial sense that the draw at San Paolo is the reason for Inter being at the top of the table, blunting a potent Napoli attack. Handanovic has made it a habit to pull off incredible saves time and again, proving to be an irreplaceable figure in between the posts for the Nerazzurri. While his performance against Juventus was not exactly a superhuman effort, he did make some really good saves, aided by his excellent reading of the game and positioning.
Milan Skriniar. Arguably the best defender in the Serie A so far this season, the 22 year old has been a rock at the back along with the more experienced campaigner Miranda. Bought at a measly 4 million Euros, Skriniar makes a great case for being the signing of the season not only in the Serie A, but in Europe. He does face a lot of competition for that title with a host of other good candidates, but such has been the level of consistency shown by the former Sampdoria man.
Skriniar’s reading of the game coupled with his timing of tackles bodes well as Inter have been the most resilient thus far in the league. Handanovic needs to thank Skriniar and co for that, as Inter shut shop effectively. He averages 2.1 tackles and 1.1 interceptions per game while picking only one yellow so far this season. He hardly puts a foot wrong in the match and playing along with Miranda has only helped him get better.
Skriniar is a clean passer of the ball and the better ball player at the back for the Nerazzurri. His abilities on the ball have even made him a choice for playing as the defensive midfielder in a 4-3-3, something that the Slovakian national team did with a certain degree of success earlier in the season against England.
His passing is very good as he completes 92% of his passes while going vertical when necessary. His tall frame makes him a good threat on offensive set pieces, with the defender bagging three goals in the league thus far, third highest goalscorer along with Marcelo Brozovic for Inter. Skriniar is the complete package and it is amazing that he is just 22. Such an all rounded defender with a sound reading of the game can only go on to improve and Inter can boast of having the best u-23 defender in the world at the moment.
Inter’s run is extraordinary considering that they have been well outside the top class category in the Serie A in recent past. While the intelligent summer transfer window and a good start to the season was lauded initially, no one would have expected the Nerazzurri to actually be at the top of the Serie A table come December. While the league is definitely very close at the top, with the top three sides being separated by two points, it should not take away the sheen from the fact that Inter have outdone themselves so far and can continue to do so if they avoid injuries to key personnel. No European commitments can only be an added advantage to Spalletti’s men right now.