That’s going to be a frosty training session! Glentoran’s Aaron McCarey was shown a red card for attacking his own defender after an 80th-minute equaliser from Coleraine.
Inter Milan recently ended over a decade’s worth of pain when the Nerazzurri defined the odds to capture their first Scudetto title in 11 long years in the 2020-21 campaign and ended rivals Juventus’ streak of nine-straight league successes.
It was a long-lasting weight that had finally been lifted off the clubs shoulders and I couldn’t help but feel excited for what the club had managed to achieve under the guidance of Antonio Conte.
There were many aspects that impressed me last term which saw Inter finish with a staggering 91 points – 12 points ahead of second-placed city rivals AC Milan.
Firstly, they finished with the best defensive record in the competition, right wing-back Achraf Hakimi had 15 goal involvements (seven goals, eight assists), Italian midfielder Nicolò Barella ran the show in midfield all season, but above those standouts was the formidable forward partnership of Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martínez.
The Belgian striker finished with 24 goals, while his Argentine strike partner ended up with 17 and if we count assists the pair contributed to 58 of the team’s 89 strikes (Lukaku 11 assists and Martinez six), which amounts to 65 percent.
There was just so much to take out of that experience and I had full confidence in the team to continue this winning mentality that had been instilled by Conte and to make a better run in the Champions League having been knocked out in the group stages in back-to-back seasons.
However, what has proved to unfold during the off season in front of my very eyes has been truly damaging and I could not believe it. It has reached the extent to where I question if confidence the club will lift the Scudetto in 2021-22 and possibly beyond that.
It is always crucial to remain optimistic though and there is still plenty of quality in the squad to challenge for silverware.
Conte and Inter parted ways just days after the title success due to the Italian manager being unhappy with the notion that the club had to sell some of their key players to make up their debt that had been raised through its owners Suning Holdings Group.
I understand why Conte wanted to leave, but at the same time I really wish he stayed to build on his successes. He managed to reach the Europa League final in his first campaign and win the Scudetto in his second, which highlighted the club’s growth going forward.
The fact of the matter is the club should have been sold earlier to avoid the messes they find themselves in now, but that is the price you pay when you do not want a situation like that to distract players and fans during an intense season.
The sale of Hakimi to French club PSG was expected and did not come as a massive surprise given Inter’s financial state, but the Moroccan international’s absence is going to be missed. His impact and style of play in just his one season in Milan reminded me of Inter’s legendary right back Maicon and how he used to operate down the right flank at a world-class level for so many years.
The final dagger was Lukaku when the 28-year-old elected to re-join Chelsea for 97.5 million euros last week. This departure has rubbed a lot of Inter fans the wrong way.
When former Lazio manager Simone Inzaghi came in to replace Conte back in June, he told the club that he was happy to work with Inzaghi and that he was going to stay at Inter. Ownership obviously had other ideas and saw the transfer fee as a great opportunity to aid the clubs financial status and ultimately grant Lukaku his wish.
It is so easy to dwell on the past and that Inter may have just gone backwards a couple of years to the position they were in before the Conte era. Losing Conte, Hakimi and Lukaku all in the same off-season certainly is not a good look for the Italian champions, but the nature of football is for clubs to pick themselves up and move forward.
Inter still have quality all over the pitch and the additions of wing-back Denzel Dumfries from Dutch outfit PSV and striker Edin Dzeko from AS Roma will look to contribute in a big way. Dumfries will slot straight into that right wing-back role left by Hakimi and the 25-year-old is coming off the back of a great Euro 2020 tournament with the Netherlands having found the back of the net twice during the championships.
Džeko is a proven goal scorer that has extended beyond his time in Germany, England and currently in Italy. It is important to raise he finished with the leagues golden boot in 2016-17 when he scored 29 goals as Roma finished second.
There are concerns that lie at his age being 35 years-old and the fact that he was only able to find the back of the net only seven times in 27 showings in Serie A last term. There are issues on whether he can be a good strike partner for Martínez, but his veteran leadership and experience will have an impact on him and the playing group.
There is a feeling that if Džeko cannot find the back of the net on a consistent basis the goal scoring burden will be placed on Martínez. There will be pressure from him to notch his first 20+ goal season in the league if the Nerazzurri are to have any chance at regaining league glory.
Inter have been linked with Atalanta striker Duván Zapata as a potential Lukaku replacement and I feel that he could be a perfect signing as he possesses very similar traits to the Belgium front man. I believe he and Martinez could form a great partnership as Zapata is used to playing alongside another striker and in a similar system to what Inter employ.
It is important to note that clubs in Italy do not have a lot of spending flexibility given the economic strain COVID-19 has had on the whole league and country. This underlines that though Inter appear to look weaker, other rival clubs have not been able to stretch their arms and spend to improve the quality of their squads.
I am expecting a much tighter title challenge for the upcoming season and I do not think you can definitively pick a winner right now. I think that has a lot to do with the inactivity in the transfer market as mentioned just prior.
For Inter, it is important that club and its fans get behind Inzaghi in his first season in charge and for the clubs faithful to forget about what has happened in the past and look forward to the future, a new chapter, a new beginning.