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Aug 27, 2014

Season preview: Inter Milan

Perhaps Inter Milan manager Walter Mazzarri's upbeat mood for this season is owed in part to a virtual lack of expectation on his side for the upcoming Serie A campaign.

Last season was a learning experience for everyone involved with Inter Milan. There was a change in ownership, with the Moratti family ending their long stewardship in charge of the club.

Indonesian businessman Erick Thohir led the group that took over from Massimo Moratti, and from Thohir we saw a new leadership and direction for the club. It is safe to say that Thohir, unlike Moratti, views Inter more as a business than a passion, with the new mandate from ownership that the club adhere to UEFA's financial fair play rules.

On the field, it was clear early on that this was an average Inter side that took time to adjust to new coach Walter Mazzarri and his 3-5-2 system.

Despite not having the players for his new system, Mazzarri persisted with it, the result being an uneven season that saw Inter dominate a lot of games but lacking the quality to finish off their opponents. That led the side to a Serie A-leading 15 draws and a Europa League finish instead of a Champions League shot.

Here's some of what can be expected for this season.

Predicted starting lineup

There should be few changes in Mazzarri's preferred starting XI this season from the team that kicked off the season away to Stjarnan last week.

Samir Handanovic will be the goalkeeper, and in front of him will be a back three of Andrea Ranocchia, Nemanja Vidic and Juan Jesus.

The two wing-backs will be Jonathan on the right and Dodo on the left, with a midfield trio of Yann M'Vila, Hernanes and Mateo Kovacic, with Mauro Icardi and Rodrigo Palacio as the two strikers.

The arrival of Nemanja Vidic from Manchester United gives Inter a presence and physicality on defence they sorely lacked last season.

What's new?

At times last season, Inter looked a bit lightweight compared to the best sides in Serie A. The team lacked a physical spine, which is why the signings of Vidic, M'Vila and Gary Medel are so important. This season Inter will be tougher physically and mentally and that should translate into fewer goals conceded and more points in the table.

After selling off some of their best young talent prematurely in the past -- Mario Balotelli and Philippe Coutinho in particular -- there has been a change in attitude at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza in regards to the club's young talent. Inter turned down a big-money bid for striker Icardi this summer, a move that gives the Curva Nord faithful hope that Inter are building a young team around Kovacic and Icardi that can soon challenge for the title.

Strengths

The acquisitions of M'Vila and Medel to go along with Hernanes and Kovacic give Mazzarri a lot of different options in midfield.

Last year it was apparent to all Inter fans that this team lacked a quality defensive midfielder who had the ability to play box-to-box. The acquisitions of M'Vila and Medel give Inter a physicality they were missing last season.

Read: Medel was always keen on Inter move

As of now, the side have not yet sold Fredy Guarin or Ricky Alvarez. If they are not sold, the Nerazzurri have as strong a midfield in terms of class and depth as anyone in Italy.

Weaknesses

The challenge for Inter last season was scoring goals. With 62 goals in 38 games, they scored 18 less than the champions Juventus.

But that number does not tell the true story of how much Mazzarri's side struggled to score last season. From Dec. 22 to March 9, a span of 11 matches, Inter managed to score two goals in a game only once.

With the creativity and class that Inter have in midfield this season, they should be able to create a lot of chances for the likes of Icardi, Dani Osvaldo and Palacio. If Inter are to challenge for a top-three position this season, they will need all three strikers to break into double digits in terms of goals. If they cannot do that, this could be a season of disappointment.

Manager

Walter Mazzarri has been remarkably upbeat and pleasant in his dealings with the fans and media this summer. He's almost like a kinder, gentler version of himself.

Mazzarri is actually in a good spot, as the pressure is off him this season. Nobody thinks Inter will challenge for the title. He just needs to get them into Europe again next season.

Key player

All early indications are that Vidic was an inspired signing. The former Manchester United captain has slotted in perfectly into the middle of Mazzarri's back three, and his presence and leadership have already made Ranocchia and Juan Jesus better players.

Besides his leadership, Vidic brings a toughness and physicality to Inter that was sorely missing last season. His yellow card against Stjarnan last week will not be his only card this season.

Predicted finish: Fourth

Inter finished 18 points behind Napoli last season for the third and final Champions League place, and that is a lot of points to overcome.

While Juventus look weaker this season without manager Antonio Conte and Roma looking to struggle to replicate the special campaign they had last season, I don't believe they have gotten so much weaker that Inter can overcome either.

Inter will be much more competitive this season and they should be in the hunt for a Champions League place until late in the season, though I don't see the Nerazzurri being six wins better than last season.

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