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May 19, 2014

Inter Milan: End of season review

The play of goalkeeper Samir Handanovic was one of the few bright spots for Inter Milan during the 2013-14 season.
The play of goalkeeper Samir Handanovic was one of the few bright spots for Inter Milan during the 2013-14 season.
This season had the feeling of an end of an era at Inter. First there was the sale of the club from long-time patron Massimo Moratti to Indonesian businessman Erick Thohir. Then we had the retirement of club legend Javier Zanetti and the departure of veterans Esteban Cambiasso, Walter Samuel and Diego Milito.

- Wilson: Inter end season with a whimper

On the pitch this was a transitional year between the Moratti and Thohir eras. Manager Walter Mazzarri kept Internazionale in fifth place almost all season, and while the Nerazzurri flirted with the third Champions League spot at times, they never were consistent enough to seriously threaten Napoli.

To help with the following end of season grades and awards I polled my Twitter followers, so thank you to everyone who voted.

Star Pupil

The vote for this was really close between goalkeeper Samir Handanovic and Rodrigo Palacio with Handanovic winning with 46.46% of the votes compared to Palacio's 41.14%. Handanovic had his best season at the club with 15 clean sheets and a save percentage of 77.5%, both above his career averages. He got better as the season progressed, and his whoscored.com rating of 7.9 for April was the best of any goalkeeper in Serie A. Finishing only three points away eighth-placed Torino, it is safe to say that without Handanovic the Nerazzurri would have missed out on Europe for the second straight season.

Just a word about Palacio and his performance this season: In the first half of the season, Palacio carried the team on his back. He was the only striker that Mazzarri trusted, which meant he played every minute of every game. Consequently, at the end of the season, he was exhausted. But his team-high 17 goals were also a big reason why Inter finished in a Europa League spot.

Detention

This was another close vote, this time between Zdravko Kuzmanovic and Ricky Alvarez. Kuzmanovic "won" with 27.91% of the vote, compared to Alvarez's 25.58%.

Mazzarri's system calls for a strong central midfielder who can sit in front of the back three and protect them, but can also be the link between defense and attack.

Kuzmanovic's job was to be a back-up to Cambiasso, but the gulf in class between the two players was too large for Inter fans to overlook. How a defensive midfielder like Kuzmanovic could only average 0.9 tackles per game, compared to Cambiasso's 3.3, is beyond me.

The fact that Kuzmanovic only made five key passes all season illustrates that he was not doing the job at the other end of the pitch also.

Teacher's notes

After a full season of watching Mazzarri, I am still not convinced about his tactics and game management. I find him much too conservative in his approach. Far too often this season Inter would take a lead, and then instead of pushing for a second, the team would start to drop deeper and deeper trying to protect the lead and inevitably the other team would score. A league leading 15 draws are indicative that the plan did not work.

My other frustration was the team's chronically poor decision-making around the opponent's penalty area, highlighted by the fact that the team was 12th in Serie A in shooting accuracy this season with 43%.

On the other hand, Mazzarri deserves some credit for finally giving Mauro Icardi and Mateo Kovacic a regular first team place. The two youngsters are the future of this club, and Mazzarri finally realized that at the turn of the year.

Final grade

So was this a successful season for the Nerazzurri? An overwhelming number of you, 51.85%, said that this season was about what you expected. A solid 'C' then.

Inter's 60 points were six points better than they managed in 2012-13 under former boss Andrea Stramaccioni. So that is progress. But qualifying for the Europa League is not what this club is about. The goal should be Champions League qualification and challenging for the Scudetto.

In 2012-13 the Nerazzurri finished 33 points behind champions Juventus and 18 points behind Milan for the third Champions League place. This season Inter finished 42 points behind leaders Juve and 18 points behind third place Napoli. So while the team improved, so did the teams above them.

For next season, Inter have the daunting task to try and close the gap to Juventus and challenge once again for the title. That, I feel, is a bridge too far.

If Inter can add a proven goal-scorer and a top-class defensive midfielder, then maybe there will be belief that they can mount a challenge for third place and one of the all-important Champions League places.