STADIO GIUSEPPE MEAZZA (Milan) – The Supercoppa Italiana trophy was put on show in the middle of the pitch, a festive atmosphere was created all around the Meazza, and a banner from the fans read “Grazie, ragazzi”.
The ingredients were there for Inter to have an enjoyable night and move to second in Serie A, putting further pressure on AC Milan, just two weeks before their Derby della Madonnina meeting.
Instead, the Nerazzurri fell to their sixth league defeat this season at the hands of Empoli, who had last won a game against the Biscione in 2006. The magnitude of such a slip-up, which has also ended Inter’s seven-game unbeaten streak across all competitions, is so important that more than one question must be asked about the club.
How can the same side outplay Milan with a brilliant display to secure their fourth trophy in two years and then completely lose that desire and intensity just a few days later, with the chance to overtake their city rivals ahead of the derby?
Is inconsistency a feature of Simone Inzaghi’s sides?
Mental and technical consistency has always been a fundamental feature of winning teams, just ask Inter’s old manager Antonio Conte. However, this is just what the Nerazzurri has been lacking since Simone Inzaghi took over in the summer of 2021 – no matter how well they were able to express themselves at times, extended periods of struggle just looked inevitable.
It first happened one year ago, when Inter were coming off a brilliant first half of the season, having amassed 46 points from their opening 19 Serie A games, with their Supercoppa win over Juventus being the icing on the cake. Yet, the Nerazzurri then went on to pick up seven points from as many league games, suddenly losing all the good feeling they had been building in the previous months and eventually compromising their title defence.
In spite of some impressive runs of form, Inzaghi’s record as a manager has always been marked by repeated dips in form from his sides, meaning inconsistency is a factor of his management. While the first part of the season has highlighted Inter’s tendency to come up short against fellow top teams, the new year has seen the Nerazzurri start struggling against the bottom-half sides.
The shabby approach Inter took against Empoli is extremely worrying for a side whose fixture schedule was giving them a way to make up for the ground they had lost in the first part of the season. A tight win, but massive in terms of meaning, over Napoli in their first game of the year was then followed by a 2-2 draw at Monza – even there, the Nerazzurri threw away the chance of gaining momentum.
Skriniar’s red card was just the tip of the iceberg
It was very typical that the Nerazzurri’s miserable night was marked – and partially caused – by the dismissal of their captain Milan Skriniar, who picked up two yellow cards in the space of 25 minutes to further pave the way for Empoli’s unforgettable night.
Linked with an imminent move to Paris Saint-Germain, whether it is in the summer or in the current transfer window, the Slovakian was fondly welcomed by his fans despite the rumours, but it is clear it wasn’t enough for him to put aside all the distractions coming from months of messy management from the club.
Back in the summer, the Nerazzurri opened negotiations with PSG for the centre-back only to halt them when they realised getting a trustworthy replacement would be harder than they thought. One of the team’s cornerstones in Inter’s recent past, Skriniar accepted the turnaround but it was evident, and justifiable, that he has since started to question his own future at the club.
Inter’s unclear strategy in the transfer market, coupled with some hasty signings and a lack of vision, is clearly impacting their sporting results, making it extremely difficult to create a united, compact and motivated group pulling in the same direction. In the long run, even preventing the best players from leaving could become hard.
Even before asking a not-blameless Inzaghi to raise the team’s level of performance, the club should probably wonder what direction they are trying to go in.