Good Enough To Beat Barcelona and Porto, But Not Spezia And Empoli - The Return Of Pazza Inter
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Good Enough To Beat Barcelona and Porto, But Not Spezia And Empoli - The Return Of Pazza Inter

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Was it handball, or was it not? Did it have any influence in the goal, or did it not?

The debate has raged on in Italian football circles since the latest Derby d’Italia played out on Sunday night. Juventus won the game 1-0 thanks to a crisp strike from Filip Kostic, yet as there generally tends to be in games between these two, there was controversy.

The ball hit not just Adrien Rabiot in the arm at the beginning of the move, but also Dusan Vlahovic. The play was allowed to continue as Rabiot carried the ball deep into the Inter half before Rabiot feeding it to Kostic. The Serb’s strike was low, diagonal, direct, and found the bottom corner of Andre Onana’s goal to give Juve the lead.

The goal was allowed to stand, with VAR not flagging up any issues in the build up. “The images are clear, I don’t need to say anything else,” said Inter’s Matteo Darmian following the game.

Yet while the images may show the ball hitting the arm of Vlahovic and Rabiot, from an Inter perspective, Simone Inzaghi should be more worried about the defending for the eventual goal. Both Denzel Dumfries and Darmian failed to press Kostic to any reasonable degree, allowing him the time and space to control the ball and smash it into the corner from the periphery of the box.

It was lazy defending, in truth, and it symbolises what has been somewhat of a weird season for Inter. The Juve defeat was their ninth of the season already, more than in the last two full Serie A seasons combined.

Inzaghi may have got Inter into the quarter final of the Champions League for the first time in 12 years, and at the same time got them out of a tough group involving Barcelona and Bayern Munich, but in truth he’s underachieved with this group of players.

On paper, Inter has arguably the best squad in the league. The return of Romelu Lukaku in the summer was supposed to propel Inter back to the summit of Serie A and regain the title they lost to city neighbours Milan last season. Yet Lukaku’s return has been the textbook example of minestra riscaldata (reheated soup) and why it rarely works in football. Lukaku has played 15 league games and scored three goals amid a series of injuries that has restricted him to only nine starts in Serie A all season.

Lukaku will likely be returned to sender at the end of the season, and he’s not just the only one who could be heading out the exit door. Inter have a very old squad, with Inzaghi fielding eight players over the age of 30 in the Derby d’Italia, and La Gazzetta dello Sport report that the club could execute a mini revolution in the summer, both in order to bring the average age of the squad down - but also to bring costs down.

Milan Skriniar is as good as gone, off to Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer; Dumfries has suitors in Europe but his valuation has dropped dramatically due to a difficult second season in Italy; Edin Dzeko, Marcelo Brozovic, Joaquin Correa could all leave in the summer, as could Stefan De Vrij, who has lost his place in the starting XI.

Inter’s current debt level sits at an eye-watering €390m ($420m) and even though qualification to the final eight of the Champions League sees them earn €68m ($73m) from UEFA EFA in prize money (which could be more should they beat Benfica and advance to the semi final), sales will have to be made this summer.

There are also question marks over Inzaghi, who has underperformed domestically with this side. While he’s produced Inter’s best results in Europe since the halcyon days of Jose Mourinho at the beginning of last decade, Inter should in no way be a colossal 21 points behind league leaders Napoli in the table.

It’s been a puzzling season from Inter in that regard, good enough to beat the likes of Barcelona and Porto, but not good enough to beat Spezia, Bologna and Empoli. It has been a return to pazza Inter - crazy Inter, that characterised the club for decades and was so ingrained in the club it became their anthem.

This summer could see a revolution, and it perhaps wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

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