As this season’s Serie A title race goes down to the wire, an increase in sports gambling in NJ has been witnessed with punters trying to predict who will win the coveted Scudetto. It’s a race being run by Juventus and one other.
Many felt at the start of the season that the other entity would be Inter. With former Juventus boss Antonio Conte not only taking the San Siro reigns but also knowing how to win a Serie A title as manager of the Turin outfit, a championship charge looked firmly on the horizon.
However, for Inter instead read Lazio and with the Blue and Black half of Milan being overtaken by a rather unfancied outfit from the capital, Conte and his cabal of superstars have now been superseded as Juventus’ nearest challengers.
Although Serie A has joined so many other leagues in a period of enforced hibernation, it was the two outings before the break that have dented Inter’s season. On reflection, it does seem as if back to back defeats has proved to be the pivotal moment of their campaign.
If a 2-1 defeat away to Lazio in February put a dent in Inter’s title hopes, the 2-0 loss to table-toppers Juventus that followed, has seemingly proved to be the hammer blow and dreams of a first league crown since 2009/10 would be delayed by at least another season.
Had Conte’s men picked up wins in both, it would have created a favorable points swing and one that would have seen the Nerazzurri primed and ready to pounce on a wounded Juventus side, who would subsequently be within touching distance.
Unfortunately, the what-ifs are nothing more than conjecture. With still more than a quarter of the season to go, although there are still enough games to mount a challenge mathematically speaking, the objective has shifted to securing a return to the Champions League next season.
Therefore, if Inter has not managed to bloody the nose of Juventus this time around, questions remain as to what they can do differently, and although their transfer policy has been viewed as somewhat shrewd, is it enough to make a difference?
With the former Chelsea manager looking back to the Premier League for personnel inspiration, Conte has seemingly turned the San Siro into a home for unloved and broken toys, offering the likes of Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez an opportunity for redemption.
The former Manchester United strike partnership has had varying levels of success, with the former becoming Inter’s top scorer. The latter has been hampered by injury, and questions remain regarding an extension to his current loan deal.
In addition to the United attack line getting the band back together in Italy, they’ve also been joined by fellow former Red Devil Ashley Young, ex-Tottenham midfield star Christian Eriksen, and Victor Moses, who previously worked with Conte at Chelsea.
This collection of players, a group that has plied their trade within England’s top tier, obviously comes with a lot of talent. Still, apart from Sanchez, who previously played for Udinese, the other four do not have any prior exposure to Italian football.
The argument that could be made is one that suggests this unit of players has enough talent to make a relatively quick transition to a different environment. However, the reality is somewhat different, and the English (league) invasion has not necessarily been an overwhelming success.
Which provides a rather pertinent question when the transfer window reopens. Should Inter double down on their new recruitment pipeline, or do they cast their net slightly wider and look away from Premier League castaways?
The answer arguably depends on whether Lautaro Martinez moves on this summer and links up with compatriot Lionel Messi at Barcelona. Should that be the case, Inter’s bank balance will have swelled considerably.
With the Argentine’s departure already highly anticipated, a look to potential replacements has begun in earnest. With Alexandre Lacazette being linked with a move from Arsenal, it seems as if the Premier League could once again provide fertile transfer ground.
While the capture of the French forward would be quite a coup, it would mean replacing a younger generational talent with one who is just entering the wrong side of his peak, and again it is a signing that could be viewed as short-term.
Then again, Antonio Conte has been installed to win Italian football’s biggest prize. After missing the objective already, he will not necessarily be given time to cultivate a team over several years in pursuit of the title. The time to win is now, and it may just need the Premier League to do it.