Inter Milan face challenging season after mixed start to campaign

The sight of this summer’s marquee signing Radja Nainggolan notching his first goal for the Nerazzurri, complemented by goals from midfielders Antonio Candreva and Ivan Perišić, sealed Inter Milan’s first domestic victory of the season in a 3-0 win at Bologna.

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The win will surely have come as a huge relief to manager Luciano Spalletti, who, before Saturday’s encounter at the Stadio Renato Dall’Ara, had endured something of an underwhelming start to the Serie A campaign, collecting just the solitary point from their opening two fixtures. 

Spalletti was given particular gratification by the debut performance of his new Belgian midfield star. 

Nainggolan had been unfortunate enough to pick up an injury in pre-season- ruling the 30-year-old out of Inter’s first two league games against Sassuolo and Torino- but the tenacious and combative midfielder did not disappoint in his competitive bow here. 

The former AS Roma player was a shining light in an encounter that, despite a fairly unremarkable first half, burst into life in the second when Nainggolan ghosted into the penalty area to receive Matteo Politano’s pass, teeing himself up to unleash an unstoppable volley past Łukasz Skorupski to break the deadlock. 

Two goals within as many minutes made the game’s finale far more comfortable for Spalleti than had appeared possible at half-time with Candreva and Perišić sealing the Nerazzurri’s first win. 

Nevertheless, their 59-year-old manager will remain cautious, wary of the nature of his players’- and his own- failings in their previous two games, which strangely lacked the spark that had seen Inter earn encouraging pre-season victories at Atletico Madrid and Lyon.  

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In their maiden fixture at Sassuolo, they had to contend with a below-standard pitch at the Mapei Stadium, and despite Domenico Berardi’s penalty proving the only difference between the teams, Inter were, in truth, outplayed. New signing Lautaro Martinez appeared off-the-pace and the team were devoid of creativity, which made a point-blank miss from Mauro Icardi all the more infuriating for Spalleti. 

The Italian’s mood did not improve after their home draw with Torino.

After a dominant first period at the San Siro, Inter went into the break with a deserved two-goal lead. 

However, “a game of two halves” will have been the most appropriate cliché to apply at the final whistle, after a Samir Handanović goalkeeping howler changed the course of the game entirely. The Slovenian stopper misjudged a long ball as he came rushing out with his angles all wrong, and the Torino striker Andrea Belotti improvised with a consummate touch to nudge the ball beyond the goalkeeper to slot into an empty net. Panic set in from there as Torino sensed Inter’s vulnerability.

As the change in the game’s dynamics shifted, it came as no surprise when Soualiho Meite equalised with a deflected shot that followed nimble footwork on the edge of the area from the French midfielder. 

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For a club that is entering its first Champions League campaign in six long years and winners of that prestigious trophy only eight years ago- Spalleti knows the urgent need for solidarity and consistency. 

Drawn in a formidable group alongside Barcelona, Tottenham and a PSV side that have won every Eredivisie game this season, Inter will need their talented and newly-assembled team to perform to their maximum if they are to have a chance of qualification into the knockout stages.

Follow Hal on Twitter @HalWalker

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