Inter’s poor form prior to the coronavirus shutdown looked much like a surrender – between February and early March, the Nerazzurri lost their two Serie A games against Scudetto challengers Lazio and Juventus, highlighting both tiredness and lack of character.
It is hard to consider their 2-1 win against Sampdoria a statement of intent, however there’s reason to believe that the ‘new normal’ era could tell a different story.
Although the team had already shown some promising signs during the 1-1 draw at Napoli, which resulted in Inter being knocked out of the Coppa Italia, the win that marked the Nerazzurri’s Serie A return proves that the shutdown hasn’t been a total waste of time for the Antonio Conte’s side.
Notably, it was during the first half, maybe even up to the 60 minute mark, that Inter showed how much room for improvement they still have, raising their game to a new level before highlighting the same old flaws that forced both the team and the fans to lower expectations after an exciting first part of the season.
Christian Eriksen is arguably the symbol of how Antonio Conte has turned the recent forced break into an opportunity – after looking like a fish out of water during his first few outings in the Nerazzurri shirt, something seems to have clicked for the Dane, who has become the valuable addition Inter secured in January.
The former Tottenham star looked particularly at ease as a trequartista in the 3-4-1-2 formation, fixing that lack of creativity that the Nerazzurri have been showing for most of their campaign, a feature that could make their style of play highly predictable, especially when the side couldn’t produce Antonio Conte’s trademark intense pressing.
It is probably too early to say whether it depends on his new position or his coach’s instructions, but what is certain is that Eriksen has now become a constant danger for the opponents, as he often finds himself free to have a shot or deliver precise assists to Inter’s dynamic attacking duo.
But the significant progress the Nerazzurri made in their offensive play is also tied to the way the team constantly try to build from the back, an ability that led to both of the goals they scored against Sampdoria, with two precise long-balls suddenly setting up a dangerous situation.
Although the opposition didn’t look particularly tough, Inter were a well oiled machine during most of the first half. However, as it has been often the case for the Nerazzurri, it takes very little to jeopardise the huge efforts they produce, without reaping the benefits one might expect.
Sampdoria were simply outplayed for an hour as they struggled to muster one real chance – yet, a distraction following a corner cost Inter a goal that kept the match on edge until the very end.
In other words, consistency inside a single game could still be the Nerazzurri’s main flaw, and one that marks the difference between them and other teams who can capitalise on what they create and the energy they spend.
The ‘new normal’ era for Serie A has officially started and the next game will tell whether Inter’s improvements are enough to compensate for the shortcomings which still seem to be there.