A month ago Inter Milan boss Simone Inzaghi’s job seemed to be hanging by a thread amid a wretched run of form, but the Italian has masterminded a revival that has moved the club back into the top four while they have advanced to two major finals.
Inter’s season nearly unravelled after a six-match winless run, which included three straight Serie A defeats that dropped them out of the top four having been second for several weeks.
A 3-3 draw in the second leg of the Champions League quarter-finals against Benfica allowed Inter to advance 5-3 on aggregate and that gave Inzaghi some breathing room, an opportunity to set things right.
Inzaghi had attempted to implement different tactics this season with a high press, a stark contrast to their title-winning season two years ago when a counter-attacking system was the norm.
But when that did not work after Inter conceded goals easily, Inzaghi reverted to type and stuck to their strengths – being compact and playing on the counter which helped them win games again.
The result was an eight-match winning run in all competitions this past month during which Inter came through a testing set of fixtures with a perfect record, beating Juventus, Lazio, AS Roma and arch rivals AC Milan twice.
Juve were knocked out in the Coppa Italia semi-finals while Milan did not even manage to score against Inter in four encounters this year, crashing out of the Champions League after Inter won their semi-final tie 3-0 on aggregate.
‘WE ALWAYS BELIEVED’
The last time Milan lost four times to Inter in a season was in the 1973-74 campaign.
“We’ve faced AC Milan so many times, in the last few months we’ve played four derbies and won them all. They have great quality but the lads did very well and it’s right that they enjoy evenings like this,” Inzaghi said.
“It was a dream at the start but we always believed, we had an extraordinary run and to win the semi-final in a derby this way is immensely satisfying.
“Nobody has given us anything, we have realised a dream with a lot of hard work and sacrifice.”
Inter looked far from being contenders this season with several players on the wrong side of 30 and with contracts expiring at the end of the season.
Stalwarts like 37-year-old striker Edin Dzeko, Francesco Acerbi, Stefan de Vrij and Romelu Lukaku are set to leave in the close season.
But Inzaghi has managed to get them all to pull in the same direction in search of glory.
“This year has been very complicated, we were inconsistent in the league. But I think we had a little turnaround in the last month,” Lukaku told CBS.
“The manager has a rotation system and everybody is doing their job. The players that come in do their best.
“We have a common goal. We knew we couldn’t challenge for the league anymore but we knew we had an opportunity in the Champions League and Italian Cup. We’re in both finals and we want to end as high as possible in the league.”
Inter may be favourites for the Coppa Italia against Fiorentina but Inzaghi has no qualms in admitting his side are ‘underdogs’ in the Champions League final as they look to end a 13-year wait for a trophy they have won three times.
“It’s normal that when you go to face Manchester City or Real Madrid you start as underdogs,” he said.
“But football is always open.”
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