First Conte, now Inzaghi: Underappreciated Inter have become a generation-defining team by stealth

Antonio Conte started it, and Simone Inzaghi has kept it going; Inter have been a generation-defining team in recent seasons, and the underrated and underappreciated Nerazzurri aren't often spoken about as highly as they should be.

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When Napoli became the fourth team in as many years to lift the Serie A title in 2023, many rightly praised the unpredictability of the Italian top flight and its equality across potential Scudetto challengers. But too many often failed to, and still fail to, recognise the consistent brilliance of Inter in recent Serie A seasons.

With six major domestic trophies and two European final appearances since 2019/20, and the 2023/24 Serie A title on its way, the Nerazzurri have become a decade-defining side almost by stealth, seamlessly transitioning between coaches Antonio Conte and Simone Inzaghi and replacing several key departures on the pitch.

Inter coach Simone Inzaghi during the Champions League final. [@Inter]

Since Inter appointed the former Juventus and Chelsea boss in the summer of 2019, they have amassed more top-flight points than any other side, averaging over two per game. Had it not been for a mistake by stand-in goalkeeper Andrei Radu during the closing stages of the 2021/22 campaign, they would have celebrated a domestic double and Inzaghi would already have a Serie A title to his name.

Inter’s crucial appointment of Antonio Conte

Before Conte arrived at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, Inter had finished fourth and had been over-reliant on striker and captain Mauro Icardi, so it wasn’t just Conte‘s tactical acumen that was needed, but his relentless pursuit of success and ability to instil a winning mentality within the squad that remains today.

While the club backed him with significant investment to bring in Romelu Lukaku, Nicolo Barella and Christian Eriksen, the free transfer of the experienced and battle-hardened defender Diego Godin was equally important, as was offloading Icardi to Paris Saint-Germain to give Lautaro Martinez more space to flourish.

The team almost rescued the disappointment of missing out on the Scudetto to Juventus by a point in Europe. But rather than winning the Europa League final, they lost late on against the competition’s serial winners Sevilla.

But the 2020/21 season ended with Inter an emphatic 12 points ahead of city neighbours AC Milan to win Serie A, and that title triumph ended Juventus‘ nine-year stranglehold on Italian football. It should be said, though, that a Champions League group-stage exit was a low point that same season.

Inter duo Lautaro Martinez and Romelu Lukaku celebrate. [@Inter_en]

Inter’s transition from Antonio Conte to Simone Inzaghi

With the Nerazzurri under financial constraints, arguably because of the spending that helped deliver the Scudetto, some saw the selection of Inzaghi as someone to accept a lack of investment in the first team and departures of key men Lukaku, Eriksen and Achraf Hakimi.

That there was a continuation of Conte’s successful 3-5-2 formation was more crucial, though, and it proved.

Federico Dimarco returned from a loan spell at Hellas Verona and become one of Serie A’s leading widemen, while Hakan Calhanoglu arrived for free and first filled the void left by Eriksen and now performs a deep-lying playmaking role akin to Andrea Pirlo under Conte at Juventus. Most impressive about Calhanoglu at Inter is how he managed to replace Marcelo Brozovic before the Croatian had even left the club.

Inter should have lifted the title in 2021/22 and might well have had it not been for Radu, but they won the first of three consecutive Coppa Italia trophies under Inzaghi that season.

A Champions League final appearance in 2023 appeared to save his job while under serious pressure. What Inter have become since then has highlighted the positives of allowing a coach to learn from their mistakes.

The Inter players celebrate their victory in the 2023 Supercoppa Italiana final (@Inter).

Could 2023/24 be the halfway point of a decade of Inter dominance?

After the disappointment of a third-place finish in Serie A and an astonishing 12 league defeats, the resilience, strength, and unwavering pursuit of excellence that started under Conte have all returned.

This also points to the collective effort and strategic vision of all involved, with Inzaghi excellently integrating new signings and giving talisman Lautaro Martinez even more responsibility.

Goalkeeper Yann Sommer is outperforming predecessor Andre Onana, with the switch turning a tidy €45 million profit and few now remember the exits of mainstays of the Conte incarnation of the Nerazzurri – Brozovic and Milan Skrniar.

While they should probably be sitting on a hat-trick of Serie A titles since 2019, it should not diminish how the last five years have firmly re-established Inter as the major force in Italian football.

What’s more is that these past few seasons have put them back amongst the elite in European football and with the promise of continued success in the years to come.

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