Inter Milan making strides in Serie A under Luciano Spalletti
The most irritating thing about Inter Milan's difficult 1-1 draw with Bologna last time out may well have been the Italian press' reaction. It has gone from criticising them in preseason (and rightly so) to mysteriously acting surprised after a draw at the Dall'Ara -- where life has never been easy for the Nerazzurri.
How is it escaping people that Inter are a work in progress? Beyond the fact that taking 13 points out of 15 is a target anybody would have signed on the dotted line for, what exactly were people expecting?
This is an improved version over last year's squad but there are still major problems. Danilo D'Ambrosio is ineffective going forward, Joao Miranda seems to be declining and Antonio Candreva couldn't hit a barn door with one of his crosses -- something warned about when Inter signed him.
The most irritating comparison, however, is being made with the start of Roberto Mancini's 2015-16 campaign in charge. The idea that Inter have been lucky isn't unreasonable -- they've won three penalties this season already compared to one in the whole of last term -- but to compare these two teams is still wrong. Isn't this the same Mancini who lost to Fiorentina 4-1 at home, or the man who changed formations every week?
Beyond the fact that he provided that transitory year Inter needed anyway, Mancini's teams didn't play anywhere near as well as Luciano Spalletti's men have so far -- admittedly in spurts. More importantly, Spalletti is actively taking time to give his team an identity, and not tinkering every week.
And here's the real difference: though he may be judged in the short-term, Inter's coach is looking further down the road. Spalletti has used the least players (17) so far this season among Serie A coaches, and eight Interisti have already gone past 400 minutes. As much as it could also reflect poorly on the squad, it should also be seen as clear evidence the Nerazzurri coach is trying to build a system.
This explains why Joao Mario is being given an extended run in the hole behind Mauro Icardi, Spalletti hinting in a news conference he needed to learn the role.
This is why the attacking four have struggled in applying the press -- a staple in Spalletti teams -- leaving the team stretched and the back six isolated. Inter have felt like two separate blocks at times -- whether it's having Fiorentina pile up the pressure in the second half, or Roma hitting the post three times -- but the point is that this is a work in progress, and that expecting results immediately is too much.
Did they look like they lacked punch against Bologna? Sure, but having strong passers like Borja Valero and Matias Vecino -- and not, say, Geoffrey Kondogbia -- will come in handy when the Nerazzurri will have to keep possession in order to send a game to sleep, something they successfully did after some initial difficulty against Fiorentina. You didn't see any of that under Mancini.
Maybe the reason why Inter have only beaten Juventus twice in five years was because they were never focussed on anything past the short term, and came apart in bigger games because they lacked strong foundations. Antonio Conte's first Juventus side wasn't the stuff of dreams, nowhere near. Why were their away wins gritty, and this team's are fortuitous? Didn't it emerge that Milan Skriniar's winner against Crotone was the result of a play that was ceaselessly worked on in training?
With Spalletti, the idea is the Inter are building something bigger. They can't afford to race the big guys yet. But they could beat them one day.
Edoardo Dalmonte covers Inter Milan for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @EdoDalmonte.