Whilst the 4-0 destruction of SPAL was impressive, it was also needed. There is still a feeling that Inter are always one game away from a crisis at present and if they had managed to lose in Ferrara, then it is likely that this would have been the case. Consistency is the buzzword for the Nerazzurri these days and now they are showing signs of this, Antonio Conte wants to make sure people know about it.
In truth, SPAL did not even muster a shot on target and Inter ran out clear winners. Since the break, the Milanese giants have had a Jekyll and Hyde persona in certain games, but coming off a good win against Torino, the ‘mister’ was quick to point out that this result ‘sent a signal’. One thing is for certain, the coach knows how he wants his team to play and when they do so, it can be devastating. The problem has been, however, that when they have dropped off the pace, they’ve been so far from the way Conte wants them to play that it has been quite baffling.
There is no doubt Antonio is a stubborn man, but this has led many to criticise his tactics and insist that he bangs his head against a wall trying desperately to enforce his standard 3-5-2 formation. This was something he is desperate to dispel and last night he felt he had. He was keen to point out that the first goal was very much down to himself, as Inter did outwit SPAL when they rushed forward with four attackers and bamboozled their backline. Conte pointed out this was a direct instruction and something that he had employed whilst at Bari and Siena, when his tactics were 4-2-4. He also spoke of the improvement of Christian Eriksen and that he has now been employed between the lines as a type of trequartista behind the front two. This makes the formation a fluid 3-4-1-2 and said that this transition certainly involves more of the team in the attacking areas.
On the face of it, as Inter sit six points off Juventus and look far more consistent than The Old Lady and Lazio, one could almost argue that a title challenge is still in the offing, but one has to think this is unlikely. Conte made it clear last night that second place was the aim and when you look at the upcoming fixtures, you can see why. Roma, Fiorentina, Genoa, Napoli and finally the in form Atalanta stand in their way, and despite recent performances, the Nerazzurri need to prove that they can go for long spells at this tempo.
Whilst all that may sound negative, there are many positives for Inter. After the game against Torino, the coach was clear that he was brought to Inter to embark on a three-year project, and when you look at it like that, Inter have come a long way. They are financially secure and have deep pockets to help Beppe Marotta and Conte achieve this. They are purging the club of its bad apples and Mauro Icardi is gone, soon to be followed by Ivan Perisic, Dalbert, Joao Mario and others. He has formulated possibly the best partnership in European Football with Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez looking unstoppable and they look like they may even keep hold of their Argentinian. Alexis Sanchez is reborn and looking like he may stay, whilst some of the squad players have been trusted and are repaying the faith.
With Inter, the issue is always, what constitutes a success? This season a second-place finish would be an improvement, and these wins against Torino and SPAL do suggest that there is a change and that they are becoming more consistent. A victory against Roma and this would really start to make Serie A sit up and look, but many also know that the Nerazzurri have a way of shooting themselves in the foot.
For now however, as the likes of Sanchez and Eriksen get better week on week and the rotation continues to pay dividends, things look positive. Conte’s vision is taking shape and perhaps the most positive element is that Inter have shown on numerous occasions that when they listen and do what he wants, it works. Practice as they say, makes perfect.