Inter's positive strides in Europa win
Internazionale took a big step toward qualifying for the Europa League group stages on Wednesday night in Reykjavik as they beat Stjarnan 3-0, with Mauro Icardi, Dodo and Danilo D'Ambrosio all bagging goals.
Unless there is a total collapse at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza next week, Inter fans can look forward to European football again this season.
Heading into this game, there was a lot of uncertainty surrounding the Nerazzurri.
The late start of the Serie A season, compared to the other top European leagues, has seen Italian teams struggle in preseason games as they have been behind their opponents with regards to fitness and match sharpness.
Were we going to see the Inter that beat Real Madrid and AS Roma? Or the side that disappointed against Eintracht Frankfurt?
Fortunately on Wednesday night in Reykjavik, there were signs that Walter Mazzarri is putting together a competitive team that should be able to challenge for a Champions League place.
The preseason games have shown that Inter will be stronger defensively than they were last season, primarily due to the addition of former Manchester United defender Nemanja Vidic. It is not a coincidence that, since the arrival of Vidic, Inter had conceded only four goals in their five preseason games prior this match, three of them coming against Frankfurt.
The back three of Andrea Ranocchia, Vidic and Juan Jesus will face more difficult opponents than Stjarnan this season, but they were professional in their approach to the match and never looked seriously under pressure.
So while Inter fans can be confident that the team will be much improved defensively this season, there is a worry that Mazzarri's side may not be able to score enough goals to propel them to a top three position.
Four goals in five preseason games did nothing to improve confidence heading into the Stjarnan match, however the way Inter's attack unfolded in Reykjavik will have left fans pleased.
Mauro Icardi is poised to have a big year and, if he stays healthy, should have his sights set on the 20-goal benchmark. In addition to his goal, Icardi hit the crossbar and missed at least one more good scoring opportunity. With a bit of luck he could have had a hat trick on Wednesday night.
With Rodrigo Palacio unavailable for this tie, Mazzarri started Ruben Botta alongside Icardi in his preferred 3-5-2 formation. Botta did enough to show that he is Inter's fourth striker this season, behind Icardi, Palacio and new signing Dani Osvaldo.
Osvaldo made his competitive debut in the 60th minute when he replaced Botta, and the Southampton loanee almost snagged his first goal with the club. His wonderful curling shot was finger tipped onto the crossbar by Stjarnan goalkeeper Ingvar Jonsson.
Another debutant who was impressed was Dodo, who celebrated his first appearance in an Inter Milan shirt with a goal and an assist. It was Dodo's cross that allowed Icardi to open the scoring, and then the former Roma man turned goal scorer himself when he got on the end of Jonathan's cross to make it 2-0.
Dodo's form against Manchester United last month may have been poor, but with each appearance he is slowly starting to showcase his considerable abilities.
The acquisition of Yann M'Vila this summer, to slot in alongside Hernanes and Mateo Kovacic, means that Inter have a starting midfield that can now compete with the elite teams in Serie A. All three were behind their teammates in terms of fitness for most of the preseason, but in Reykjavik there were signs of how good they can be.
M'Vila has all the markings of a terrific signing. He sat in front of the back three and protected them well, winning the ball back time and again with some great tackles and interceptions.
Kovacic is a terrific talent, and all he needs now is to add some goals to his game. His passing was terrific against Stjarnan, but he needs to be more selfish in front of goal if he is going to become the star that Inter fans think he can be.
It's difficult not to get too carried away with an away win in Europe. At home next week, the expectation is that Inter will build on this performance and result.
With Palacio still unavailable, will we see Osvaldo and Icardi start together up front? The Icardi and Botta partnership never really connected, and it will be interesting to see how Osvaldo and Icardi do if they have more than 30 minutes together.
Another area that improvements could be made is shot selection. Far too often last season Inter was guilty of taking long-range shots when teammates were in better positions. Against Stjarnan, we saw the same thing with Hernanes and M'Vila both guilty of poor shooting from outside the box.
Hopefully, Mazzarri can work on that on the training ground over the next week.