The 2022/23 campaign still has another month or so left to run, but we can already say with some certainty that it will be a confusing one for Inter fans to reflect on.
Simone Inzaghi’s side were the almost unanimous pre-season Scudetto favourites. How could they not be?
The return of Romelu Lukaku, the man who had spearheaded their title win just a year earlier, was a major reason the Nerazzurri were handed the pre-season tag.
His ‘LuLa’ partnership with Lautaro Martinez fired the club to its first title in 11 years, and even in his absence in 2021/22, they were just three points (and one Ionut Radu howler) away from defending the title.
A tough return for Lukaku
Instead of picking up where he left off, the Belgian has become symbolic of a turbulent year for the club and a bitterly disappointing Serie A campaign.
As Lukaku struggled, firstly for fitness and then for form, so did the Nerazzurri. Their old traits of ‘Pazza Inter’, unpredictability and inconsistency, returned in force and domestic objectives soon turned from a title bid to a top-four finish as Napoli accelerated into the distance at the top of the table.
And just as Lukaku is finding his feet again, so are Inter. The Belgian banged home his side’s second in a 2-0 win away to AS Roma on Saturday for his third goal in his last three Serie A games – as many as he had mustered in the previous 18.
The on-loan Chelsea star has three assists too in that time and while there will undoubtedly be frustrations that he has failed to produce consistently throughout the campaign, there will also be excitement at the prospect of Lukaku peaking at the perfect moment.
For all his struggles, the 29-year-old has stepped up in big moments this season.
He was on target against both Porto and Benfica in Inter’s Champions League knockout games and netted a stoppage-time penalty against Juventus in the Coppa Italia semi-finals.
His goal against Roma and two assists against Lazio recently were crucial in Inter putting together a four-match winning run that has propelled them into a much stronger position in the top-four race.
It’s hard to imagine that Lukaku would have taken his goal at the Olimpico with such calm and authority a few months ago.
Yes, he had a Roger Ibanez error to thank for getting the time and space for the chance, but he still needed to beat Rui Patricio from outside the box and did so without a moment’s hesitation.
Lukaku is bossing defenders again, linking up with his teammates again and looking fitter, more dangerous and more clinical than at any other point in the season.
Inter starting to hit their stride
The same could be said for Inzaghi’s side as a whole. They appear to have put their chronic absence of cutting edge in front of goal behind them, scoring 14 goals in their last five games.
Inter are playing with the swagger that we all imagined them capable of nine months ago, while making pre-season predictions that Napoli soon made a mockery of.
A confident Lukaku has gone hand-in-hand with a confident Inter, and could lead to a memorable season climax. The two-legged Champions League semi-final against AC Milan kicks off this week and the Coppa Italia final against Fiorentina is coming up at the end of the month.
With the Supercoppa trophy already in the cabinet, there’s a decent chance Inter could end the month with two domestic trophies, a Serie A runners-up spot and a place in the Champions League final to their name.
The ‘LuLa’ reunion may not have been the success story Interisti hoped for, but a revitalised Lukaku could yet turn 2022/23 into a landmark season in the storied history of the Milanese club.