The Milan derby at the weekend was one of the most captivating ones in recent times. It wasn’t just an enthralling game of football, but it was also a key moment in the Scudetto race. Inter climbed back to the top- ahead of Juventus on goal-difference and one point ahead of Lazio. But despite that, it was also a reflection of a chink in the nerazzurri armour.
And that isn’t exactly a chink that only Milan have exposed. Multiple teams have exposed that this season and it is the reason why Inter had to rely on Juve losing to Verona to go top. If they hadn’t dropped so many cheap points, they would have been well clear.
Inter have been operating in phases this season. There are phases in-game when they look tired and way off their best. But somehow, they recover and don’t end up losing. In fact, that has been the case with both Lazio and Juve themselves. Their ability to do that lets them down.
Inter have won ten points after falling behind so far this season– three less than Lazio. Juventus too have taken ten points- as much as Inter have. That clearly shows that all three sides indeed do operate in phases.
The opposite is just as true for Inter. They’ve led a total of 21 times in the league this season and out of that, they’ve won 16 games. But while winning, they’ve also picked up five draws. And those draws have come against the lesser clubs and against teams that they should be beating.
A lot of it comes from how Antonio Conte’s insistence on dropping deep into their own half lets them down. Once they score, Inter just back away from scoring more and focus on managing the game. And that hasn’t always been working out.
Against Lecce for example, they did get 1-0 up. Alessandro Bastoni had scored in the 71st minute. But some minutes later, Marc Mancosu got the equaliser for them. Inter had gone into their shell and that led to a drop in points.
The 1-1 draw against Fiorentina was the same. While Borja Valero had scored early in the game, the nerazzurri dropped the momentum as the game went on. Fiorentina came back into the game and Dusan Vlahovic had grabbed a late, stunning equaliser to hand La Viola a valuable point.
Against Cagliari, Inter had taken the lead through Lautaro Martinez. But they slipped up, picking up two red cards with Lautaro himself getting sent off. And that has been the story of the season.
In the early part of the season, Conte had talked about these problems. After the 3-2 loss to Dortmund which came in similar circumstances, Conte told reporters:
“We need to reflect constructively. If there are many competitions, it’s normal and it can happen. We need to be aware of certain situations, but I have faith in my players. They’re doing extraordinary things and are in a great deal of difficulty.
“They’re giving their souls. In the future, they might achieve big things and raise the bar even further.”
It can easily be said that Conte is being stubborn with how he wants his team to play. But that’s how he’s always been. He wants his team to play in a pragmatic way and perhaps, that is why they’ve come this far. And the team will only grow and improve to learn the system more.
But having said that, if there is anything that will let them down this season is what nearly cost them the derby. They need to stop slipping up and stop relying on phases.