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Have the wheels already come off Inter Milan’s Scudetto train?

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t all seemed to start so well for Inter Milan this season.

The Nerazzurri, who last were crowned champions of Italy in 2010 – during Jose Mourinho’s treble-winning campaign – had commenced the 2015/2016 Serie A term in the best possible way. Yes, there were hiccups – a 4-1 drubbing by Fiorentina at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on match day six was followed up by three frustrating stalemates against Sampdoria, Juventus, and Palermo. And Roberto Mancini’s side were certainly not immune to criticism for their style of play.

For instance, despite posting an impressive 11 clean sheets in 2015, Inter were viewed as playing “ugly football”. Out of their 11 wins, all but three were 1-0 results. Only against Udinese and Frosinone did they score four, and even though they netted twice against Carpi, they needed a late Stevan Jovetić penalty to make sure that they were not embarrassed by drawing with the Serie A debutants.

Nonetheless, three points are three points, regardless of if one grinds out a 1-0 win or absolutely crushes their opponents 7-0. And with goalkeeper Samir Handanović being the cornerstone of a defense that had conceded just 11 goals in their first 17 games – with only the Viola, Napoli, and Lazio being able to score more than once – spirits were hopeful in the Nerazzurri camp that 2016 could end their six year wait for the coveted Scudetto.

2015 did not finish on the best possible note, as Inter slumped to a 2-1 loss against Lazio. Still, Mancini’s side attempted to bounce back in 2016 but despite defeating Empoli by another 1-0 result, their performance was far from convincing. A shock slip-up against Sassuolo – a team they had once easily beaten 7-0 – began to cause twinges of worry among some Inter supporters. Was it the sign of things to come?

Meanwhile, Napoli, thanks to a 5-1 drubbing of Serie A newboys Frosinone had pipped them to take over top spot and thus were crowned “winter champions”. Whilst this, of course, is just a title in name only, it oftentimes has an uncanny way of predicting who will be the actual Scudetto winners in May: in the past 12 seasons, whoever is top of the pile at the halfway season ends up with the league title. Certainly, an encouraging fact for Partenopei fans, who last saw their team in that position during the 1989/1990 season, in which they won their last Scudetto.

In any case, fans may have started to worry, but not to wring their hands in despair. After all, there were still plenty of games to go, and the hope was that the Nerazzurri would wake up and get their affairs in order.

Well, they did not. Following the loss to the Neroverdi, there were two disappointing draws with Atalanta and Carpi, but in between those bad results, Inter managed to restore supporters’ faith by defeating Napoli 2-0 in the quarter-finals of the Coppa Italia. Then they managed to destroy it by being trounced 3-0 by Juventus in the semi-finals first leg, leaving them with a, without sounding terribly cliché – massive mountain to climb.

Then arrived a clash with AC Milan in the much-anticipated Derby della Madonnina, and there was belief that the team would be able to rebound with a resounding win against their cross-town rivals.

After all, Milan have had their share of struggles this season and despite splashing some serious cash this summer, the Rossoneri still have yet to find their true identity. But, at the end of 90 minutes, it was the Nerazzurri who were left reeling as Siniša Mihajlović’s men had hit them for three, meaning that the once impenetrable defense had shipped a whopping six goals in their past two matches, and overall, a disconcerting nine since the start of 2016. Even if one chose to deduct the defeat to the Bianconeri and note that the goal conceded against Atalanta was an embarrassing own goal, that leaves Inter with five conceded. Remember, up until December 2015, they had given up just a measly 11 in 17 games.

If alarm bells had not already to began ringing, they certainly did now. Yes, Inter managed to defeat Chievo in their next match, but again, it was an overall poor performance that left supporters far from impressed. They had expected a better response from the team against the Flying Donkeys, not to see the squad labor to yet another low scoring win that saw more yellows – eight in total – than goals.

Well, unfortunately, fans will not be disappointed with Inter’s most recent result. They will be incensed. Earlier today, the Nerazzurri took on Hellas Verona, a team that for the longest time were the only side in Italy – and in Europe’s top leagues – yet to win a single game this season. Sure, the Gialloblu corrected that finally by beating Atalanta midweek, but nonetheless, are still rooted to the bottom of the table. In theory, it appeared to be a straightforward three points and an opportunity for Mancini’s outfit to arrest their disturbing downward slump.

If one viewed the match, one would be forgiven for thinking that Hellas Verona had suddenly morphed into a team like Fiorentina, Juventus, or Napoli instead of the basement boys they have been all season. After taking an early lead, Inter somehow found themselves 3-1 down as Luigi Delneri’s side scored three in just 45 minutes to turn the game on its head. Whilst the visitors managed to rally back to secure a point, it might as well as be yet another loss as the Scudetto champions are now the only side to have conceded three goals against Verona.

Not exactly a stat one wants associated with their side, and with re-matches against the Viola and the Bianconeri coming up, there will be a lot of unpleasant questions that will need to be answered regarding their poor returns in 2016 thus far. After plugging along nicely, the wheels appear to have indeed come off Inter’s Scudetto train and it remains to be seen if the team can get back on track before their campaign becomes derailed entirely.



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