Serie A: Are Inter ready to end Juventus' dominance?

By Patric Ridge 19 September 2020 128
Serie A: Are Inter ready to end Juventus' dominance?

Juventus' faltering end to their Serie A campaign saw Inter finish just one point behind the Bianconeri in 2019-20.

Antonio Conte's side had looked like genuine title challengers in the first half of the season, yet a poor run pre-lockdown saw them all but fall out of contention before a late charge – combined with Juve's inconsistencies – made things tight after the title was already wrapped up.

Yet heading into Conte's second season, there should be genuine optimism at San Siro.

Inter may have failed to win the Europa League – going down to serial champions Sevilla in the final – but with Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez, along with some promising new additions, they look all set for a strong title tilt this time around.

Juve, under the tutelage of Andrea Pirlo in the wake of Maurizio Sarri's sacking, still have the Cristiano Ronaldo factor, though there is a feeling the club's dominance of Serie A may finally be waning. 

Using Opta data, we take a look at what Inter need to improve on if they are to seriously challenge in 2020-21.

CONTE'S SECOND-SEASON SYNDROME

Despite Inter's second-placed finish in Serie A, there was some doubt that Conte would in fact remain their head coach heading into this season.

Indeed, in early August – prior to the final stages of the Europa League taking place in Germany – Conte told DAZN: "There's no recognition of the work I've done, and I've found very little protection from the club. None whatsoever. There will be things to discuss with the president, but he's in China right now..."

However, Conte has stayed, and will look to build on a promising first campaign.

Inter's haul of 82 points last season was their best tally in Serie A since 2009-10. It also meant Inter were the eighth side since 1994-95 to not win the Scudetto after managing 82 points or more.

Yet with the last two club teams Conte has coached, there has been a decline in his second campaign.

In Conte's first season at Juve in 2011-12, his side won the Serie A title without losing a game – Ilario Castagner and Fabio Capello were the only coaches to have previously managed this in Italy's top flight.

Juve lost five times in Serie A in 2012-13 but still won the title, and there was a similar story at Chelsea. The Blues won the Premier League with 93 points in 2016-17, losing only five games, but in Conte's second term, Chelsea finished fifth, losing on 10 occasions.

If Inter truly are to go one step further than last season, then Conte will need to avoid any noticeable dip.

THE STAR STRIKERS

Ronaldo's 31 Serie A goals ultimately proved the difference for Juve last season, with the 35-year-old turning in more match-winning moments.

Valuable support also came from Juve's other main forward, Paulo Dybala, who netted 11 goals and provided six assists.

Conte, on the other hand, often complained over a lack of clinical finishing from his side at times last term, though Lukaku and Martinez more than did their fair share.

They scored a combined 37 goals – Lukaku netting 23 and Martinez 14 – providing two and three assists respectively.

It was still five fewer goals than Ronaldo and Dybala accumulated, though, while Juve's strike partners also boasted better link-up statistics.

In total, Dybala found Ronaldo 121 times across the campaign, crafting 31 chances for his team-mate – compare that with Martinez creating just 11 for Lukaku.

Ronaldo did not fully return the favour, with only nine chances created for Dybala by the former Real Madrid star, while Lukaku provided 14 chances for Martinez.

MORE CLEAN SHEETS REQUIRED

Inter ended the 2019-20 season with the best defence in Serie A, conceding only 36 goals, but that does not tell the whole story.

Conte's side managed just 14 clean sheets across the campaign – since 2004-05, only Juve, in 2019-20, have won Serie A with fewer than 15 shut outs.

In Milan Skriniar, Conte has a commanding centre-half who is not yet near his prime, while Diego Godin - if he stays - is a reliable older head and Stefan de Vrij has impressed, but as a unit they were sometimes liable to defensive lapses which, in matches where Inter's strike force failed to make the most of their opportunities, ultimately cost the Nerazzurri.

Under the guidance of Conte from 2011 to 2014, Juve kept 21, 19 and 22 clean sheets respectively in those three seasons.

SAN SIRO TROUBLES?

Inter were outstanding away from home in Serie A last season, collecting more points on the road than any other side (43), winning 13 matches, drawing four times and losing just twice.

They were only the second club with 13 or more away wins in a single campaign to not win the title, after Napoli, who did so in both 2016-17 and 2017-18.

However, it was a different story at home, where the Nerazzurri picked up just 39 points – 11 less than Juve's total of 50.

Inter must improve their efficiency at San Siro if they are to end Juve's dominance of Italian football, as no Scudetto-winning side has ever claimed the title with fewer than 13 wins at home since 20 teams have been in the top flight.

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Patric Ridge

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