Did the international break come at the right time for Inter Milan?
Background image: Oscar Federico Bodini, CC BY-SA 2.0
Antonio Conte showed his elite credentials when the Italian won the Premier League title in his very first season in English football. After a brief stopover with the Italian national team, some may have wondered if he could replicate his success at Juventus in a foreign land. The former midfielder cleared all doubts with a commanding performance at Chelsea that saw the Blues charge to the title in grand style. Unfortunately, disagreements with the management came back to bite him in his second season with the club, ultimately leading to his exit. He still delivered the FA Cup victory as a parting gift.
Desiring a fresh start back home, the 50-year-old settled for Inter Milan. With the Nerazzurri determined to unseat Juventus as perennial champions, he has a tough job on his hands. The key reason is the fact that the Old Lady is loaded with quality players who remain a cut above Conte’s collection at Inter. That despite making several recruitments in the summer to beef up the squad. The likes of Diego Godin, Stefano Sensi, Nicolo Barella, Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez have all made their mark on the team so far.
Good performances from the group led to six straight league wins to begin the new era. But that was until the champions came to town. Boasting of the beast himself, Cristiano Ronaldo in the side who is flanked by the likes of Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain, the superior firepower shone through as the two sides met. A position at the top of the pile was at stake and the Zebras emerged with the spoils. A 2-1 win was a slim victory but it made a clear statement: the league title is not about to be relinquished anytime soon.
What followed was the international break which came at a critical time for Conte and his team. Yes, the season may still be early but the results achieved can now have long-lasting implications for the rest of the campaign. After the defeat to Juve, taking stock and refuelling during the two-week period will provide Iter with the needed rest to come back recharged, reinvigorated and ready for more.
Unfortunately, the break wasn't so kind to Inter. Several key players exerted themselves on international duty. Alexis Sanchez picked up an ankle injury with Chile... he'll be sidelined until next year. The Chilean had recently rediscovered his form after a difficult time at Manchester United, capping off a fine performance against Sampdoria by finding the back of the net in his last Serie A appearance. He then followed up the performance with a decent outing against Barcelona in the Champions League where he grabbed an assist on his return to Camp Nou.
At a time when his manager was beginning to rely on him as a key member of the squad, Sanchez has been hit with injury - again. Conte will not need to worry much though, as in-form Argentine Lautaro Martinez can provide sufficient backup. Matteo Politano will also be raring to go after seeing limited game time so far.
With so many matches still to play, the title race has just begun. Next up is an away tie against Sassuolo. The Black and Greens have not had the best of starts to the new season losing four of their six matches played so far. Therefore, it will be important for Inter to pick up maximum points there in order to get back on track. Back-to-back losses here could spell doom for the side as far as the title race is concerned.
In the end, the international break has been a mixed bag for Inter. While Lukaku was on the score sheet for Belgium, thereby boosting his confidence, Martinez featured for Argentina against Germany and Ecuador drawing blanks. But it's Sanchez's injury that could hurt the team moving forward.
Whether Conte decides to dip his toes into the transfer market in January for another forward remains to be seen. There have already been rumours he is interested in Chelsea's Olivier Giroud. Adding such experience to the side will help to push Juventus all the way.