Inter take on Cagliari this Saturday, knowing a win would send them top of Serie A if Napoli trip up against Udinese. From the impenetrable performances of Milan Skriniar at the back to Mauro Icardi’s prolific form at the other end, however, the man behind the Nerazzurri’s road back to the top is Coach Luciano Spalletti.
What makes Spalletti’s start at Inter all the more impressive is how he achieved it. The 58-year-old had just guided Roma to a runners-up finish in the Italian top flight but nonetheless abandoned ship for the Beneamata, who were in complete disarray after a campaign that saw them make three coaching changes and fail to qualify for European competition.
Despite his appointment, expectations were low in comparison to those of arch-rivals Milan. Not only did Inter take their time in the transfer market, but their business was also overshadowed by what was happening across town, with the Diavolo having splashed out more than €200m on 11 new players, among them former Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci.
Inter were more reserved with their spending, recruiting eight personnel a cost of €72m, but while their neighbours could be accused of a scattergun approach in the market, Spalletti’s targets seemed to be calculated. Two new full-backs, a central defender, two midfielders and a quick forward were explicitly demanded by the Coach – and duly delivered in part by ex-Roma sporting director Walter Sabatini.
With Dalbert and Joao Cancelo adding much-needed depth out wide, Skriniar proving a revelation, Matias Vecino and Borja Valero injecting intelligence and composure, plus Yann Karamoh considered an exciting prospect up top, Inter’s squad has been revitalised, and it’s no wonder that they sit second in Serie A and already lead Milan by 14 points.
Unlike his Roma teams, which were famed for their tactical innovations and attractive football, Spalletti’s Inter line up in a 4-3-3 formation and are underpinned by a watertight defence, which has conceded just nine goals all season. With no designated No 10, the Beneamata’s midfield trio are instructed to play out wide or find Mauro Icardi – in the form of his life, with 13 goals in as many matches.
Cagliari won’t be pushovers on Saturday. Granted, Inter have beaten the Sardinians just twice in nine previous meetings, while the latter have regained their mojo under new boss Diego Lopez after three wins in their last five outings. Yet the Nerazzurri can’t afford to drop points in games like these if they are to mount a serious title challenge this term.