It does not require a degree in psychology to understand the fans’ sheer relief after Inter sealed a hard-fought 2-1 victory over Benevento in Campania on Sunday afternoon. A first half double by the much-maligned Marcelo Brozović was enough to clinch the three points in yet another close encounter involving the Nerazzurri this season.
The nature of Inter’s latest win left few in any doubt that, had this game been played last season or indeed in any of the past few seasons, then chances are that they would have drawn or even lost it. Regardless of personnel, the team’s default setting in recent years has been to needlessly give away possession, enter complete panic mode and concede bucket loads of sloppy goals.
This happened several times in the second half of last season as Stefano Pioli’s brief reign in charge came to an end. Every goal conceded inflicted a deeper wound on the team’s morale and self-esteem. You need look any further than the catastrophic 5-4 defeat at the hands of Fiorentina, at a point in the campaign when European qualification was still very much a possibility. It was utterly shambolic…
Having gone into half-time at the Stadio Artemio Franchi with a 2-1 lead, the way in which they self-destructed after the interval was a total embarrassment for everyone associated with the club. Reports of Stefano Pioli’s resignation in the immediate aftermath of the final whistle tells you everything you need to know. Mauro Icardi’s two goals late on did little to paper over the cracks. Indeed, the damage was already done. But that is in the past now, and Inter have apparently seen light at the end of a very dark tunnel.
Luciano Spalletti is under no illusions; results must always come first in this business. Undoubtedly, his long-term aim is to have Inter playing attractive and free-flowing football – the same style he managed to implement at Roma during two separate spells on the Giallorossi bench. However, he is well aware of the fact that his current crop of players have suffered continuous blows to their confidence of late. This is why he has approached the first seven matches in a more cautious style than perhaps we are accustomed to seeing.
Spalletti’s remit thus far has been to instill a winning mentality in his squad, and help the players rediscover the ability to win without playing well. Make no mistake, the Tuscan is a shrewd man and will always adapt to the characteristics of the men at his disposal. The ultimate objective this season is to guide Inter back to the promised land of the Champions League – this is what he will be judged on. Given time, we will see a more fluid and aggressive Inter but, right now, he wants to see his team play as a unit and do the basics right consistently.
Wins breed confidence – as the old adage goes – and that is why Spalletti does not appear too concerned by the underwhelming performances his team has put in so far. He knows that by starting from scratch, the players can consume his ideas and grow as a team step by step. Come March or April, by which point we should expect to see some much-improved displays, the fruits of their labour will come to fruition.
Spalletti’s loyalty to the 4-2-3-1 formation will help build a reciprocal trust with the players, who have already proved with their effort and never say die attitude that they are very much on the same page as their coach. This is the most united Inter set-up in years, and their new-found grit could give them the ideal platform on which to finally build a sustained title challenge. Free-flowing football will come – just you wait and see.