This was to be a season of fluctuation for Internazionale as Walter Mazzarri was appointed as head coach of the Milanese giants to replace the outgoing Andrea Stramaccioni last summer. The club experienced as many changes off the pitch as it did on it as former club president and owner Massimo Moratti sold Inter to Indonesian businessman Erick Thohir who purchased the club on 15th October 2013 for a reported €250 million.
Mazzarri’s appointment coincided with the arrival with several players which were meant to see a rejuvenation of Inter’s playing staff as the old guard were to be phased out over the course of the season. The likes of Javier Zanetti, Walter Samuel, Esteban Cambiasso and Diego Milito would all see their time with the Nerazzurri draw to a close.
Inter began the Serie A season on fire notching up promising wins over Genoa and Catania before holding the reigning champions Juventus to a 1-1 draw at home which seemed to demonstrate a new found defensive resolve for the team. This built to a seven match undefeated streak which saw the Nerazzurri put seven goals past Sassuolo and crush Fiorentina thanks to efforts from Cambiasso and Jonathan.
However, Mazzarri’s tactical flaws were revealed on a dark night at the beginning of October when Roma visited the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza to dominate Inter and Francesco Totti inspired the Giallorossi to a 3-0 win. This match revealed Mazzarri’s limitations as a coach at the highest level and his inability to respond to Roma’s tactics on the night and instead stick with his rigid formation.
The team experienced mixed results following the Roma loss during October and November; a rollercoaster ride of form was seen with frustrating draws against the likes of Torino, Atalanta, Bologna, Sampdoria and Parma combined with wins over Hellas Verona and Udinese. Mazzarri’s failure to develop the side’s attacking play in these fixtures was extremely disappointing and has arguably cost the team fourth place in the league.
A Christmas bonus came for Inter with a victory over AC Milan in the Derby della Madonnina after Rodrigo Palacio stole a goal in the closing minutes with a moment of inspiration to send the fans into delirium. It was a moment of joy which provided a positive energy around the club going into the winter break.
A continued theme for much of the season has been Mateo Kovacic’s absence from the first team for the first half of the season. Mazzarri refused to bow to fan pressure to play the Croatian playmaker regularly in the first team, despite an obvious lack of creativity in the side; until the January mercato arrival of Hernanes. Mazzarri cited the midfielder’s lack of defensive work for his side as displayed against Juventus in a 3-1 away defeat in January.
It would take until the 13th of April for Inter to visit Sampdoria until Kovacic would receive a run in the first team and the Croat had the chance to prove to his coach his ability on the pitch. And he did just that over the following games, captivating the fans with some inspiring performances, the best of which came with three assists against Lazio in the final home game of the season. There is no doubting that Kovacic is the future of this team going forward and the club need to build the team around him.
As the January mercato arrived there was much expectation surrounding potential signings the club could make under the new ownership. However, there was much fuss surrounding the possible departure of Fredy Guarin to Juventus in a possible swap deal for Mirko Vucinic. The strength of Erick Thohir’s new presidency was tested to the maximum as Inter’s fans rebelled against the proposed deal, venting their fury on social media and on the streets of Milan. This resulted in the collapse of the deal and in the departure of Marco Branca as Sporting Director from the club.
The club did salvage something from the wreckage of the January window with the late signing of Hernanes from Lazio intended to provide some spark to the midfield which had been lacking in quality for much of the season. Indeed the Brazilian’s arrival had seemed controversial given the large fee paid for him and with Inter already boasting a large number of midfielders and perhaps needing reinforcements in attack more, but he has proved a good piece of business thus far.
Results improved after January as Inter strengthened their grip on a top five league finish and secured Europa League qualification or next season. The 3-1 mauling by Juventus aside, progress was steady, if unspectacular. Mauro Icardi scored the winner in an important 2-1 win over Fiorentina in February to carry on his impressive scoring run this campaign and keep the pressure on La Viola.
But the closing matches of the season where Kovacic and Hernanes both featured in the side saw Inter play their best football and remain six games unbeaten before the Milanese derby in round 36. Kovacic’s new willingness to mould his style to fit Mazzarri’s system and the way he compliments Hernanes was terrific to watch. They could open up the opposition with ease when it clicked and their attacking play helped mask Inter’s defensive weakness which has been a flaw for the team throughout the season.
Indeed if there has been a criticism for Mazzarri throughout his tenure so far it is his negative tactics which has seen Inter sit deep in games absorbing pressure from the opposition and waiting to hit them on the counter. The final Milan derby of the season was the perfect example of this where Clarence Seedorf out-coached Mazzarri and the Nerazzurri were left looking defensively weak.
Player of the Season
It is difficult to single out one clear performer for Inter this campaign as many of the squad have experienced mixed form on the pitch going form highs and lows. Rodrigo Palacio has led the line impressively upfront scoring 17 league goals, whilst Esteban Cambiasso dominated the midfield in the early part of the season before injury interrupted his campaign. Samir Handanovic started off slowly but rebounded to shut the opposition out.
But the stand out player has to be Palacio who toiled away in the lone striker role for much of the season, working tirelessly for the team and never complaining. Netting 17 goals in this league in no mean feat and particularly when you have no real support for much of the season. Hats off to this man.
Goal of the Season
Rodrigo Palacio’s winner against AC Milan in the Derby della Madonnina was the finest and most important goal for Inter this season. Fredy Guarin has broke down the right wing to find Palacio in the area, who played a delightful back-heeled effort to stun the Rossoneri defence and give his fans a festive treat.
Best and Worst Signings
Inter’s best signing of the season has to be Mauro Icardi who joined the Beneamata from Sampdoria last summer for a £6 million co-ownership fee, with a further £6 million due this summer. The Argentine has scored nine goals from 12 starts in Serie A this season coming up with some crucial goals at important moments such as against Fiorentina and Sampdoria. His development as a player and breakthrough into the first team helped turn Inter’s form onto an upwards trajectory.
Sadly Inter’s worst signing of the season without question has to be Ishak Belfodil who arrived from Parma. The Algerian international joined with a lot of promise and it was hoped that he would challenge Palacio and Icardi for a place in Inter’s first team. However, he only started one league game, made seven appearances as a substitute and didn’t score once. In search of regular first team football in hope of securing a berth Algeria’s World Cup squad Inter let Belfodil depart to Livorno on loan in January and it is questionable if he has a future with the Nerazzurri.
Follow Ryan Ross on Twitter: @rross11