As Serie A looks poised for a return next month, and along with it comes a mightily exciting race for the Scudetto.
Juventus hold a one-point advantage over Simone Inzaghi’s Lazio, while Inter could potentially be just six points adrift of Italian football’s monopolisers if they win their game in hand.
Nevertheless, the Nerazzurri’s position is a disappointing one after spending much of the campaign alternating slots with the Bianconeri at the summit; defeats at the current top two rounded off an indifferent start to 2020 before the suspension.
However, despite Antonio Conte’s first season in charge potentially evolving into a damp squib, there’s little doubting the foundations are in place for Inter to restore themselves as a European powerhouse under their elite coach.
Investment – despite the COVID-19 pandemic limiting the spending power of many – will be key for the Nerazzurri and here’s how their strongest starting XI could look next season…
GK – Samir Handanovic
Sure, he may be 35 and in the twilight of his career, but the Slovenian’s importance to this Inter side can’t be understated and it showed when Daniele Padelli patrolled the posts for three games in February.
And while it’s a position Inter should target in the next window, the superb Handanovic is still set for at least another season as their number one.
CB – Milan Škriniar
Škriniar’s dominance in one-on-one situations and comfort at covering large spaces meant he was always going to excel in a system which demands so much from its defenders.
The Slovak is set to be on the receiving end of plenty of interest in the next window but with Inter likely to demand a substantial fee for the 25-year-old’s services, it’d be surprising to see their most prized defensive asset depart ahead of next season.
CB – Stefan de Vrij
The Dutchman was the best defender in the division up until the break and will be crucial at the heart of defence in Conte’s reign.
Simple as that, really.
CB – Alessandro Bastoni
Technically proficient and incredibly proactive, Bastoni is the perfect Conte defender and will surely cement himself as the firm number one choice over 34-year-old Diego Godin next season.
While the penalty giveaway in the 1-1 draw to Atalanta back in January highlight his inexperience and naivety, Bastoni genuinely has the potential to be Italy’s next great centre-half. He’s fantastic.
RWB – Alvaro Odriozola
RB Leipzig’s Nordi Mukiele would be the ideal wing-back target for Conte but Alvaro Odriozola seems like a more realistic option.
The Spaniard has the skill set to see him thrive in a more advanced and demanding role at Inter, while he’ll likely be available for half of Mukiele’s price.
Although Antonio Candreva has enjoyed a resurgence this term and the electric Valentino Lazaro is set to return from his loan spell at Newcastle, you feel this is an area Inter need to bolster in order to make the next step.
LWB – Marcos Alonso
A sub-par footballer when deployed in a restricted full-back role, Alonso morphs into the finest wing-back in the game when part of a back three.
His oh so sweet left-foot and predatory instincts in and around the box make him incredibly effective in the role.
The Spaniard has absolutely no use if Frank Lampard opts for a flat back four and it’ll be great to see him reunite with his godfather at Inter.
DM – Marcelo Brozovic
After continued improvements on and off the field under Luciano Spalletti, ‘Brozo’ has come into his own under Conte’s tutelage; cementing himself as the linchpin in the side and one of Europe’s finest defensive midfielders.
The Croat’s such a key part of Inter’s fierce intensity out of possession and progresses play at will from the base of midfield with his precise ability to penetrate defensive lines.
He also loves to come up with a crucial goal or two.
CM – Nicolo Barella
The first half of the dynamic midfield duo which arrived from inferior Italian clubs in the summer; Barella proved a revelation in his debut season at San Siro.
While his impact wasn’t quite as immediate or obvious as Stefano Sensi’s, Barella nonetheless proved his ability to grab games by the scruff of the neck and push his side over the line – see Inter’s Coppa Italia victory over Fiorentina.
The 23-year-old will be a key spoke in Conte’s wheel despite the arrival of Christian Eriksen.
CM – Stefano Sensi
The diminutive Sensi enjoyed a majestic start to the campaign as he notched five goal contributions in his first six Serie A games for the club, before an adductor injury sustained in the first Derby d’Italia thwarted his – and ultimately Inter’s – season.
We simply didn’t see the dynamic phenomenon when he returned at the turn of the new year as Inter’s attacking play eventually went stale without Sensi’s innovation and willingness to run in behind from midfield.
Conte will need Sensi fit and firing if Inter are to mount a serious title challenge when the season resumes.
ST – Antoine Griezmann
With Lautaro Martinez looking increasingly likely to be Luis Suarez’s successor in Catalonia, Inter have got to explore the possibility of including Antoine Griezmann as part of the deal.
Instead of being wasted out wide in Barca’s 4-3-3, the Frenchman will play a second striker role akin to his Atletico days if he was to make the switch to San Siro.
And overall, there’s no reason why Griezmann x Lukaku (Grukaku?) can’t be as potent as the deadly ‘Lula’ partnership.
ST – Romelu Lukaku
17 Serie A goals speak for themselves, Lukaku has enjoyed a superb campaign in his maiden season at San Siro despite El Toro stealing the limelight on the European stage.
His target man profile makes his function in Conte’s side an important one, and he’s mastered it – with slander from his final few months in Manchester now a distant memory.
There’s no doubting Lukaku has the capacity to spearhead a Nerazzurri Scudetto triumph.