Serie A 2011-2012 Preview: Inter Milan In For A Bumpy Ride

SB Nation's Serie A previews continue with last season's second place finishers, and winners of the Coppa Italia, Inter Milan. Interista Johonna Shea, who writes at Internazionale Offside, gives us the lowdown on what to expect from the nerazzurri this season.

F.C. Internazionale Milano in 2011-2010, And So It Begins...

Here we are, at the start of a new Serie A season, in what has become a familiar situation. Inter has a new coach, a crop of young hopefuls, and has just sold one of their highest profile players. Given that Inter are on their fifth coach in almost as many years, we Interisti have become used to the gastric upset and sweaty palms that come with opening day under unknown and untested guidance. Fortunately, this has worked out pretty well for Inter - well, except for that one Spanish blip last season but the less said about that the better. I don't see any reason why the team can't roll with this next punch and aim high. New coach Gian Piero Gasperini is well respected on the peninsula, now he has the money and the talent at his disposal to really show what he can do.

BEST GOAL FROM LAST SEASON

Inter had a number of memorable goals last season. In particular, Dejan Stankovic had two corkers: one in the Champions League, the other a great volley against Roma.

Samuel Eto'o had 34 goals for Inter last season and I am sure many of them were spectacular. For me, though, thinking back now, the best goals were Giampaolo Pazzini's injury time double against Cesena last April. Neither one was particularly spectacular but I think they embodied the 2010/2011 Inter exactly: they were the result of a team that never gave up, that battled to the last possible moment to get a positive result when that seemed almost impossible. They just went to show that even when down, you can never count Inter out.

 

SUMMER MARKET:  Comings and Goings

Last summer, Massimo Moratti learned that even with the sword of Financial Fair Play hanging over your head, it is imperative to participate in the summer market, especially when the team has a new coach. This summer the coffers have been opened a bit and reinforcements have come to augment the crop of youth players moving up to play with the big boys. 

In defense, we have one new player, Brazilian right back Jonathan, the self-proclaimed heir to Maicon. Jonathan is 25 and  joins Inter from Brazilian team Santos. Unfortunately, he joined the club with a muscle strain and is just now beginning to train with the team.  The real bonus with him, though, is that he already has that all important Italian passport.  In the world of UEFA's home grown player rule and the Italian FA's limit on non EU transfers, this makes Jonathan all the more desirable. He joins promoted youth players Faraoni, Bianchetti, and Caldirola. Of these, Davide Faraoni looks most promising. He joined Inter's youth team last season from Lazio. At the time, it was considered a real coupe. In addition, Davide Santon has returned from his loan and, with Maicon's injury, it looks like he may actually stay for a while (Yipee). 

Thanks to Bologna's spectacular clerical error when it came to settling the joint ownership, Inter picked up goalkeeper Emiliano Viviano by mistake and for a song. Unfortunately, he broke himself during preseason training which means he will have to hang around Milan for a few months. The club has no intention of keeping him so look for his move to Genoa this winter.

In midfield, the club has brought in one new player (so far), Ricardo Alvarez.  At 23 he is young, though should be entering his prime. He is an attacking midfielder, best played on the left or in the center, and joined Inter from Argentinian club Club Atlético Vélez Sarsfield.  Bonus!  He joins recent Primavera graduate (and all around hottie) Lorenzo Crisetig. So far, Alvarez has been struggling with the transition to Italian football, but it is early days yet.  I think most Interisti are well aware of Crisetig. He is a fixture with the Italy U20 side and made his full debut with the men's team when he was 16. Plus, he really is a looker - no lie.

Up front, Luc Castaignos has finally moved to Inter. If you recall, he was bought last year but wanted another season at Feyenoord before making the big jump.  Stay tuned, though, as I don't think Inter is done shopping yet. Gasperini has said that the squad needs a couple more players, specifically a wide attacking player or two and a midfielder. I expect at least one forward and one midfielder to join the bench before the market closes.

With the new, though, we must also have some outgoing. Probably the two biggest outgoing names this season are Marco Materazzi and Sameul Eto'o. After ten years of service to the club, Materazzi (Matrix to his fans) has moved on. It isn't clear whether he has hung up his boots for good or will be playing a couple more seasons abroad (like in the MLS), but his days at Inter are (at least temporarily) over. I suspect he will return to Inter in the front office, but it won't be the same.

Samuel Eto'o is finally off to Russia where his obscene salary will keep him warm at night. I am sad to lose his talent at Inter, but if he wants to go then I would rather not keep him. Besides, who can compete with 20 million euro a year?  I think my biggest beef with this sale is that it took so long to conclude. Now Inter has to work double time to try and work out a deal for new forwards (no one man can replace Samu) and other clubs will know they have us over a barrel.

Other outgoing players include McDonald Mariga, who has landed a loan deal with  Real Sociedad, and Houssine Kharja who went back to Genoa after Inter declined to pick up his card (he has since moved to Fiorentina).  Newly promoted Denis Alibec has gone on loan to the Belgian club Mechelen. Davide Suazo is finally out of contract and has left Inter's physical therapy rooms for Catania's (he was going  to make an emotional return to Cagliari but that fell through). Rumors are that Goran Pandev and Sully Muntari are also on the way out, though both want to stay.

2011-2012, WHAT TO EXPECT

With a new coach and this many new players, I think it is fair to say that this year will be bumpy. Preseason friendlies show the squad is having a little trouble effectively implementing Gasperini's three man defense and the loss of Eto'o leaves a huge hole right were 30-some-odd goals uught to be. A lot will depend on just how much the new coach can wring out of aging players like Stankovic and Lucio and how fast the younger set can pick up his ideas.

So what do I expect for the coming season? Gray hairs, sweaty palms, a sore throat from shouting at my TV, and manic depressive highs and lows. Basically, the same as every year for the dedicated football fan.

KEY PLAYERS

I think this year will be made or broken by our youngsters. Look for Ranocchia to grow into that gangly body and Joel Obi to give us hope for a post-Cambiasso Inter. In attack, all eyes will be on teenage phenoms Coutinho and Castaignos. If they can live up to their hype, then maybe, just maybe, things will be ok.

THE NEXT BIG THING

I am hoping that this is the year that Pazzini really breaks out as a super star. I think he has the talent, now he just needs the stage and the service. Another place to look is young Luc Castaignos. FIFA named him one of their Players to Watch in 2011 while Spanish magazine, Don Balon, put him on their 100 top young players in 2010. The hope that this step up will allow him to blossom.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I like to maintain a positive attitude, especially about new seasons, but is the team to repeat the triple? Probably not. Still, I think we have a pretty good shot at at top two finish, maybe even a scudetto depending on AC Milan's fortunes, and a Coppa Italia final. Inter is transitioning from our old guard (you know, the ones who won five scuddetti in a row and are the only Italian team to triple) to who will be the next generation in Nerazzurro.  There will be growing pains, but in the long run, it will all be worth it, I'm sure.

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