When Antonio Conte was introduced as Inter coach back in July 2019, he made it clear he wanted to break away from the Nerazzurri’s recent past. No more Pazza Inter. Instead, a stronger and more consistent team would take their place.
Mission accomplished. Sort of.
The 51-year-old turned things around in his first season at the helm, helping Inter to a second place finish while laying the foundation for future success by getting the most out of guys like Stefan de Vrij, Alessandro Bastoni and Romelu Lukaku.
However Conte wasn’t able to rid Inter of their crazy ways entirely, as the Nerazzurri couldn’t make it out of the Champions League group stage despite leading away from home in matches against Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund.
Add in 10 Serie A draws, many of which came as a result of squandered leads, to go along with an inexplicable blackout against 10-man Bologna and you have proof that some work is still needed to get things truly in order.
Whether the Italian is at the helm to see that through is now the question after his outburst aimed at club management just minutes after defeating Atalanta and securing second place.
Proof that try as you might, you’ll never truly be able to take the pazza out of Inter.
Player of the Season – Stefan de Vrij
While Conte didn’t hesitate to rotate his defence throughout the campaign, the Dutchman was the exception to the rule. Missing just four league matches all season, the 28-year-old showed why he’s perhaps the best defender in the world when it comes to playing in a back-three.
De Vrij’s ability to read the game, assess where the pressure is coming from, distribution and knack for scoring big goals – his header against AC Milan comes to mind – made him indispensable to the Nerazzurri cause. It’s no surprise he was named Serie A Defender of the Year.
Best Signing – Romelu Lukaku
The Belgian’s addition raised eyebrows in Italy as skeptics weren’t convinced he was deserving of being the most expensive signing in Inter history. Coming off a disappointing campaign for Manchester United that pushed him to the periphery of their plans, critics were ready to pounce if the striker failed to live up to the billing.
Instead Lukaku answered all the questions thrown his way while surpassing expectations. He became the fastest Inter player to 20 goals in the club’s history, smashed the record for most away goals in a Serie A season and finished just two behind legend Giuseppe Meazza for most goals scored by a Nerazzurri striker in their debut campaign for the club.
That’s how you silence your doubters.
The Coach: Antonio Conte
Having secured Inter’s highest point total since the Treble-winning campaign and highest finish since 2010/11, the positives certainly outweighs the negatives when it comes to Conte’s first season at the club.
Some will point to the Nerazzurri’s transfer spending, Juventus’ underwhelming campaign and dropped points against Bologna and Hellas Verona as reasons why the 51-year-old underperformed. However if Giuseppe Marotta’s words are anything to go by, taking step forwards in terms of results and player performances was always the goal rather than the Scudetto.
That might be enough for club management, but evidently it’s not enough for Conte. The tactician didn’t hold back in taking jabs at the club throughout the season, and he certainly didn’t hold back in criticizing them for a lack of support after the final match of the season against Atalanta.
Only at Inter can a relatively successful campaign be overshadowed minutes after it’s completion.
While Inter’s 2-0 victory over Atalanta may have been their most complete performance of the season, it’s hard to look past the 4-2 comeback victory over AC Milan in the second Derby della Madonnina.
Down 2-0 at the half after seeing Zlatan Ibrahimovic take centerstage, the Nerazzurri mounted a furious comeback that saw them draw level eight minutes after the restart. De Vrij put them ahead with an exceptional header while Lukaku rounded out the scoring to make it four straight derby victories.
The result, along with the final standings, show why Serie A’s best hopes of bringing Juventus’ dominant run to an end lie with the black and blue side of Milan.
In a season that saw Inter finish with the fewest losses in Serie A and no Scudetto to show for it, it’s hard to look past the fact that two of those defeats came to eventual champions Juventus.
The animosity between the two is palpable whenever they take the field, and given this was the first time in ages the Nerazzurri were viewed as Scudetto challengers, it made the results of the two encounters all the more disappointing.
While Juventus didn’t dominate either encounter, it’s fair to say Inter never found their footing either. A late Gonzalo Higuain strike decided things at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, while the return leg in Turin was possibly the Nerazzurri’s worst outing of the season as they looked second best all match.
While dropping points to minnows is usually what separates the top clubs from the rest of the pack, it’s also true that losing head-to-head encounters with your closest challengers will do just as much damage.