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January 24, 2017
Eight wins in a row; it might not sound like much, but after spending so long struggling in the years since Jose Mourinho left Inter Milan, it is unquestionably a major milestone for the Serie A giants.
Indeed, the Nerazzurri have undergone arguably the most tumultuous spell in the club’s history following the Portuguese coach’s move to Real Madrid shortly after securing a historic treble in May 2010.
A quick recap of events over that intervening six-and-a-half years: Inter have been sold not once but twice, the Suning Holdings Group purchasing the club last June from the Erick Thohir-led consortium that bought out long-term owner Massimo Moratti three years earlier.
Champions League @ChampionsLeague
#OnThisDay in 2010, José Mourinho led Inter to their first #UCLfinal win since 1965, and with it an historic treble. https://t.co/hGsg2LgwgL
5/22/2016, 1:45:08 PM
They have had a staggering nine different coaches since then, with Rafael Benitez, Leonardo, Gian Piero Gasperini, Claudio Ranieri, Andrea Stramaccioni, Walter Mazzarri, Roberto Mancini, Frank de Boer and Stefano Pioli all taking a turn on the bench.
The 2010 FIFA Club World Cup and the Coppa Italia 12 months later mark their only major trophies since Mourinho departed, while the last five seasons have seen them finish sixth, ninth, fifth, eighth and fourth in Serie A.
A genuine title challenge—or even a Champions League berth—have never looked like realistic ambitions for a club that has lurched from one crisis to another, a situation perhaps typified by events last summer.
Varun Mathure @Varun_Mathure
Inter logic – Get rid of Mancini 2 wks before the start of the season. Hire Frank De Boer. Get rid of him 84 days later. Pay two sacked mgrs
11/1/2016, 11:45:28 AM
Mancini left Inter just two weeks before the Italian season began, only for the club to sack his replacement after a mere 84 days in charge. “This project needed more time to be carried out,” De Boer wrote on Twitter (h/t Football Italia). “I want to thank all the fans for all the support you’ve given me over these months.”
The team had lost seven of his 14 games in charge, yet incredibly that was not the only issue. Blighted by years of mismanagement, Inter were forced to leave new signings Gabriel Barbosa, Joao Mario, Geoffrey Kondogbia and Stevan Jovetic out of their squad for the Europa League due to Financial Fair Play regulations, per Ben Gladwell of ESPN FC.
Unsurprisingly that meant they failed to get beyond the group stage, taking just six points from the same number of matches and finishing bottom of their four-team pool. However, that meant after Pioli was appointed on November 8, he was able to focus solely on domestic matters and always had a full squad to work with.
Bleacher Report UK @br_uk
BREAKING: Inter Milan have officially confirmed Stefano Pioli as their new head coach, following the sacking of Frank de Boer https://t.co/wQEroKQ2qU
11/8/2016, 3:14:35 PM
Some performances have been far from perfect, with Sunday’s narrow 1-0 win at Palermo being a perfect example. Yet, the Nerazzurri have reeled off a superb run of results, winning eight consecutive matches in all competitions to power their way to fifth place in Serie A and into the quarter-finals of the Coppa Italia.
Mauro Icardi was perhaps the one player unaffected by De Boer’s tenure, currently leading all scorers in Serie A with 15 goals while also weighing in with a career-high seven assists. He has been irrepressible and irreplaceable all season, leading the line and punishing any mistakes by the opposition defence but adding some much-needed creativity to his play.
The rest of the side is almost unrecognisable to the disastrous unit they resembled earlier in the campaign, with Joao Mario—who scored the only goal in the win over relegation-threatened Palermo—happy to credit new boss Pioli for transforming their fortunes.
“The coach has changed a few players around and ensures we’re always on our toes,” he told Mediaset Premium (h/t ESPN FC) shortly after the final whistle. “He knows the Italian league well and he has helped the team tactically, and now we are winning games and we have to carry on this way. It’s not all about running a lot, it’s about running well.”
Pioli experimented with a number of formations, but he appears to have settled on a 4-2-3-1 formation that brings the best from the talent at his disposal. Joao Mario and Marcelo Brozovic anchor the midfield, while hardworking wingers Antonio Candreva and Ivan Perisic protect the side’s notoriously weak full-backs.
That has given them a newfound solidity, as the OptaPaolo tweet below highlights. If shutting out a poor side like Palermo is nothing to boast about, Inter can point to the fact they held Genoa, Sassuolo and Lazio scoreless over that period, which is something to build on as the season progresses.
4 – Inter have kept four clean sheets in their last six Serie A games, as many as in their previous 22. Stronghold.
1/22/2017, 4:31:02 PM
The coach has been impressed by the effort of his players to improve, using a recent interview with Radio Anch’io Sport (h/t Football Italia) to say it is too early to contemplate a return to the Champions League before analysing Inter’s recent performances:
I see a lot of care and attention to detail, there is the desire to grow together.
I have talented players and absolute quality, everyone understands that we have to sacrifice and work together.
We have the quality to play good football, but we could be more unpredictable and create more of a presence in the opposing area.
The road has been well-documented and we must try to continue to do well.
The 51-year-old is right to express such caution, with a five-point gap still separating Inter from a coveted top-three position. Their next match is against rock bottom Pescara on Saturday, but before the end of February they face a run of matches that includes clashes with Juventus, Lazio and AS Roma that will give a better indication of their qualities and aspirations.
“Under Pioli, Inter have been achieving great results as illustrated by eight straight victories in all competitions,” Nima Tavallaey of SempreInter.com told Bleacher Report. “Should Inter avoid a loss at the Juventus Stadium, then they take on Roma at home on February 26 in a tie that will be crucial for Inter’s chances of qualifying for next season’s Champions League.”
That is a fair assessment given the form of those two opponents, who in wingers Juan Cuadrado (Juventus) and Mohamed Salah (Roma) possess exactly the type of player the Nerazzurri have struggled to contain.
It is perhaps no surprise that they have been linked with a number of full-backs as the club tries to address their one glaring weakness. Calciomercato.com suggested Wolfsburg’s Ricardo Rodriguez was a target, while Mediaset Premium (h/t Football Italia) believe they were trying to tempt Sime Vrsaljko of Atletico Madrid to join them.
Either player would help, but it is continued improvement that the Nerazzurri now need more than new signings. Pioli has steadied the ship and deserves immense credit for doing so, with the onus now on the club’s talent-laden squad to maintain their recent form.
The coach has options to keep things fresh or make changes when the need arises, all while managing the group with a steady hand. Not all his predecessors were unmitigated disasters, but each failed to follow up good performances and bright spells with a sustained run of results.
Can Pioli deliver? It remains to be seen, but the early signs are very good.