Spalletti’s Inter revolution in full swing

spalletti-inter

Inter take on Cagliari this Saturday, knowing a win would send them top of Serie A if Napoli trip up against Udinese. From the impenetrable performances of Milan Skriniar at the back to Mauro Icardi’s prolific form at the other end, however, the man behind the Nerazzurri’s road back to the top is Coach Luciano Spalletti.

What makes Spalletti’s start at Inter all the more impressive is how he achieved it. The 58-year-old had just guided Roma to a runners-up finish in the Italian top flight but nonetheless abandoned ship for the Beneamata, who were in complete disarray after a campaign that saw them make three coaching changes and fail to qualify for European competition.

 

Despite his appointment, expectations were low in comparison to those of arch-rivals Milan. Not only did Inter take their time in the transfer market, but their business was also overshadowed by what was happening across town, with the Diavolo having splashed out more than €200m on 11 new players, among them former Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci.

Inter were more reserved with their spending, recruiting eight personnel a cost of €72m, but while their neighbours could be accused of a scattergun approach in the market, Spalletti’s targets seemed to be calculated. Two new full-backs, a central defender, two midfielders and a quick forward were explicitly demanded by the Coach – and duly delivered in part by ex-Roma sporting director Walter Sabatini.

With Dalbert and Joao Cancelo adding much-needed depth out wide, Skriniar proving a revelation, Matias Vecino and Borja Valero injecting intelligence and composure, plus Yann Karamoh considered an exciting prospect up top, Inter’s squad has been revitalised, and it’s no wonder that they sit second in Serie A and already lead Milan by 14 points.

Unlike his Roma teams, which were famed for their tactical innovations and attractive football, Spalletti’s Inter line up in a 4-3-3 formation and are underpinned by a watertight defence, which has conceded just nine goals all season. With no designated No 10, the Beneamata’s midfield trio are instructed to play out wide or find Mauro Icardi – in the form of his life, with 13 goals in as many matches.

Cagliari won’t be pushovers on Saturday. Granted, Inter have beaten the Sardinians just twice in nine previous meetings, while the latter have regained their mojo under new boss Diego Lopez after three wins in their last five outings. Yet the Nerazzurri can’t afford to drop points in games like these if they are to mount a serious title challenge this term.

Valencia cast-offs blowing away La Liga

Valencia celebrate

All eyes will be on La Liga’s top-of-the-table clash on Sunday night as Valencia – on an eight-game winning streak and inspired by the sparkling Goncalo Guedes – host league leaders Barcelona, who have dropped only two points all season. Something will have to give at the Mestalla but should the home side avoid defeat, nobody will doubt that they form part of the league title race.

It is a remarkable turnaround at Los Che, who have finished 12th in consecutive campaigns. This time span included five managers, a revolving door of players and total chaos and instability both on and off the field. Singaporean owner Peter Lim – who had acquired the club three years earlier – was under serious pressure to either quit or overhaul the club and build a structure to end the underachievement.

 

The rebuilding job began with the appointment of Lim’s compatriot Anil Murthy as president, but the major move was finally landing the manager who had previously eluded them. The club, under the direction of general director Mateu Alemany, had wanted Marcelino Garcia Toral a year earlier but were denied by league rules. The tactician had steered Villarreal – Valencia’s regional neighbours – back to the top flight in 2013, while recording three consecutive top six finishes and a Europa League semi-final.

He was surprisingly dismissed on the eve of the 2016/17 campaign but La Liga ruled he had effectively managed Villarreal that season, meaning he could not join another top flight club in the country. His appointment at the Mestalla was a long time coming, ensuring he and Alemany moved to make up for lost time. The summer transfer window saw seven arrivals while 16 players departed a bloated first-team squad.

The newly-trimmed ranks now prioritise quality over quantity, with players starring having struggled elsewhere. Norbeto Neto, Gianluigi Buffon’s understudy at Juventus, has thrived while Gabriel Paulista and Jeison Murillo – who struggled to adapt to life outside of La Liga – have formed a formidable central defensive partnership.

Deep-lying midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia is enjoying a rich vein of form in helping the side build from the back after a loan move from Inter and Andreas Pereira, borrowed from Manchester United, adds flair, creativity and ingenuity in the final third. Guedes has been in sensational form since arriving on loan from PSG – where he could not consolidate a first-team spot – and Simone Zaza (signed six months earlier), whose confidence plummeted at Juventus and West Ham, has already hit nine league goals, behind only Lionel Messi.

This side of cast-offs has sparkled, hitting 32 goals and garnering 30 points in an unbeaten opening 12 game run. They hit Real Betis for six, scored five past Malaga and netted four past Sevilla, while they drew at the Bernabeu and held Atletico Madrid. If they can go one better against Barcelona, the will start to dream of a first title in 14 years.

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