Vito Doria Date:28th February 2019 at 10:30am
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From the outside looking in, the timing of Argentinian striker Mauro Icardi being stripped of the Inter captaincy seemed to come out of nowhere.

The Italian giants announced through social media and then a club statement on February 13 that the 26-year-old was to be replaced as captain by veteran goalkeeper Samir Handanovic and he has not featured for the team since the decision was made.

Officially Icardi is unavailable because of a knee injury but it is probable that his relationship with the club is at an all-time low and discussions for a contract renewal have collapsed.

Since winning 1-0 away against Rapid Vienna in the first leg of their Round of 32 clash in the Europa League, Inter have remained unbeaten in their last four competitive fixtures and the team is performing better as a collective.

Coach Luciano Spalletti has often blamed the mentality of the squad for squandering leads or being incapable of overturning deficits during his tenure in charge of the Biscione but the mentality looks to have changed for the better without Icardi. It may seem coincidental for now but the results and performances speak for themselves.

Following their victory away to Rapid Vienna in Austria, they defeated Sampdoria 2-1 in their Round 24 Serie A fixture in arguably the match of the week. Both teams played with an attacking intent but the Nerazzurri made the most of home advantage and possessing more individual quality on the pitch.

On Thursday evening, Inter faced the Austrian side again for the second leg of their Europa League tie and swept them aside 4-0 in Milan and 5-0 on aggregate. Ivan Perisic was the standout performer with his attacking display on the left-wing capped off with a fine solo goal.

Perhaps the most astonishing part of the win against Rapid was that former captain and much-maligned defender Andrea Ranocchia scored with a well-struck half-volley to put the Nerazzurri 2-0 up at home.

The winning streak stopped on Sunday evening with Inter drawing 3-3 away to Fiorentina in Serie A in what was an exciting yet controversial match. Despite going 1-0 down in the first minute, the Biscione came back and eventually lead 3-1 seven minutes into the second half.

Gigliati left-back Cristiano Biraghi had a goal disallowed after Luis Muriel had been adjudged by VAR and referee Rosario Abisso to have deliberately kicked Inter defender Danilo D’Ambrosio but Muriel pulled a goal back from a free-kick minutes later.

If the decision to disallow Biraghi’s goal was harsh on Fiorentina, Abisso’s decision to award a penalty against D’Ambrosio for an apparent handball despite consulting VAR was more so. Jordan Veretout converted the penalty for the Viola deep into stoppage time but it was a match in which both sides showed that they were capable of winning.

Due to the absence of Icardi, more Biscione players have been involved in the goals such as Perisic, Matias Vecino, and Matteo Politano while D’Ambrosio has provided some goals and assists. Belgian midfielder Radja Nainggolan has improved in recent weeks as well and his experience and energy will be vital during this period.

The verdict is still out on Argentine starlet Lautaro Martinez, who has taken the place of Icardi and scored the winner in the 1-0 victory against Parma, the last game his compatriot featured in. Since then, the 21-year-old has only scored once and he has looked raw but he now has the regular playing to help him mature and prove himself.

Inter do not have an overly demanding fixture list in March but a Round of 16 tie against German club Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League and the Derby della Madonnina against AC Milan should truly test the quality and resilience of this squad without Icardi.

The Nerazzurri have done well so far without him but the next few games should give an indication to whether this team is going through a phase or if the Argentine striker is better off leaving for good.