Under the tutelage of Antonio Conte, Inter started the season as one of the top sides capable of giving Juventus a tough run for the Serie A this time around. Quite frankly, Inter have lived up to those expectations and have followed Juventus tail to tail in the Serie A standings. However, one advantage or rather a strong point the Nerazzurri had at the start of the season was their impenetrable defence. One which has taken a major downgrade since then and has seen Inter drop points or scramble for them in search of a win.
Diego Godin’s move to Inter was one that looked destined to be positive and rightly so it has been just that – so far. As at gameweek five of the season, Inter had the best defensive record not just in the Serie A but in Europe’s top five leagues at large.
After Inter’s 1-0 win to Lazio back in September, that result meant the Nerazzurri had kept a clean sheet in all their games so far bar one match against Cagliari. That tally of four clean sheets at the time was also the best of any side in Europe’s top five leagues.
Switch back to November where Inter blew a 2-0 goal lead and conceded three goals within 45 minutes. A poor defensive run that has seen Conte’s men with only one clean sheet in their last ten outings in all competitions (Skysports).
The Nerazzurri’s defence started to show its weaknesses following their 2-1 defeat to Barcelona at the Camp Nou last month. Before that game they had only conceded three goals in seven games, but since then they have conceded 13 goals in eight games (via Skysports).
The defensive trio of Diego Godin, Stefan de Vrij and Milan Skriniar started this season well, but a busy schedule and lack of exciting alternatives – only Alessandro Bastoni – have seen the Nerazzurri concede 39 shots on goal since October, an average of 4.8 per game. At the start of the season in August and September, the club only conceded 21 shots on goal, an average of 3 per game as per Whoscored.
Inter coach Antonio Conte gave an explanation for the devolution of the defence.
“It’s better for us when we’re high up the field and building play. Let’s not forget that the team has scored more than 30 goals, we’ve scored a few more than the average.”
“There’s work to be done and we’ll try to get back to rejoicing for a zero in terms of goals conceded. In this, as I always say, we attack as eleven because the goalkeeper is also essential and even in the defensive phase this issue affects the entire team. You can’t put specific blame on a sector. The whole team needs to improve.”
What could be the reason for the sudden cracks in defence?
It’s more than obvious Inter’s problems now seem to be more psychological than tactical or a matter of quality on the pitch. For Inter’s backline, the three main names have remained Diego Godin, Stefan de Vrij and Milan Skriniar, except on few occasions where Bastoni has come in for one of De Vrij or Godin. Meaning the same personnel that oversaw Inter’s initial brilliant run (in defence) are still the same names now and it appears to be brewing from a lack of concentration or too much distraction if you’ll prefer to call it.
At the beginning stages, clearly the title talk was quite flattering to most of the Inter squad but the continued close chase with Juventus at the top has seen many lay even more emphasis on Inter winning the Serie A and it’s obvious the team is cracking from all the pressure.
The 3-2 loss to Dortmund was a fixture that compounded Inter’s fragile mentality – one that saw Conte rage about lack of players with “title-winning experience”.
In actual fact, 12 goals conceded in 12 Serie A games is not exactly room for much worry but based on the standards we saw at the start of the season, there seems to have been a decline in the Inter defence. Despite all their good efforts, 10th place Verona have now conceded only 11 goals so far and remain the side with the least goals conceded in the Serie A (Skysports).
Conte must find a way to instil that solidarity and consistency back into the Inter defence. On a team level, the squad should probably forget about the title at large but take each fixture as it comes, aim for the win and see where they are at the end of the season. The Nerazzurri still have it all to do in the Serie A race but if Conte and his men are to stand any chance against a stubborn Juventus side, the number one rule is consistency or they might just be their own worst enemy in the title race.