Rarely has a defending champion been written off as quickly as the 2021/22 edition of Inter, but a summer of uncertainty, loss and frustration cast an extremely dark shadow over their new Serie A campaign.
Those doubts now feel like an extremely distant memory however, and are probably causing the doubters to wear a sheepish smile around the city of Milano.
Simone Inzaghi’s swashbuckling Nerazzurri returned to winning ways on Saturday afternoon, off the back of two disappointing results in the league and Champions League. Well, ‘returned to winning ways’ is underselling it a touch, perhaps.
Inter absolutely obliterated Bologna at San Siro, scoring six and conceding only once in one of the most clinical and expansive displays that you’re likely to see this season. The Serie A champions took apart their feeble opponents, ripping them from limb to limb in an exhibition of beautiful wing-play calcio.
This attacking masterclass was largely down to the performances delivered by several of the Nerazzurri’s new acquisitions, as well as a familiar face finally getting his chance on the stage he calls home.
New signings Denzel Dumfries and Edin Dzeko played their part with a delightful assist and a brace respectively, while returning loanee Federico Dimarco stole the show with a hat-trick of assists in front of a giddy home crowd.
Dumfries kicked off the party with a glorious delivery which found its way to the lethal Lautaro Martinez, who tucked away the opportunity with glee. Dumfries continued to wreak havoc on the right side all match, and comparisons could be struck with the confidence and danger with which Achraf Hakimi used to rip teams apart on that flank.
The Moroccan’s departure left big shoes to fill, but Dumfries is proving he can go some way to replacing the Paris Saint-Germain superstar. On the other flank, Dimarco is fast becoming a fan favourite at San Siro.
The Nerazzurri supporting 23-year-old came through the Inter academy, did his time out on loan to prove he can cut it at Serie A level, and is now demonstrating the qualities Inzaghi is searching for in his perfect left-wing back.
Even in their title-winning campaign, Antonio Conte had to settle for the makeshift Ivan Perisic or the ageing Ashley Young and Aleksandar Kolarov in that position, as it remained one of the few areas of the pitch where the Nerazzurri could improve.
Dimarco is by far their best option in that position now, and he followed up his first ever goal for the club in the draw with Sampdoria by bagging three assists against Bologna.
He put his brilliant set-piece ability to good use after half an hour, whipping the ball perfectly onto Milan Skriniar’s head to make the score 2-0.
He then showed great intelligence and awareness to first roll the ball across the box to find Matias Vecino at the far post – but the pass was so well placed and tempting that at least three Inter players could have profited before the Uruguayan dispatched.
The Italian then slid the ball into Dzeko, who turned and fired a toe-poke into the net in one motion, opening his account for the evening. A brilliant return from Dimarco then, who is becoming undroppable in Inzaghi’s plans.
That brings us on nicely to Dzeko, who added to his first goal with an outrageous strike from an acute angle to double his tally for the night, and stick away Inter’s sixth goal in a mesmerising 90 minutes.
The Bosnian may have had a point to prove himself, after Bologna coach Sinisa Mihajlovic said before the match: “With Dzeko, we can now defend him in a one on one situation, with Lukaku we couldn’t because he was much stronger than everyone else.”
Thank goodness Romelu Lukaku didn’t play then, or it may have finished 10-1 instead of six.
As far as perfect evenings go, this was up there. They won’t all be so simple, however. I Nerazzurri’s next league fixtures read as follows: Fiorentina away, Atalanta at home, Sassuolo away, Lazio away and Juventus at home.
The number of banana skins and acid tests in that cluster of five fixtures is terrifying, and come the end of that mini spell, we will have learned exactly what this Inter side is made of. If Inzaghi’s men are still near the top of the league by 24 October, then we’ll know the new boys have stood the test of time.
If they’ve fallen away, then we’ll be able to say that the disastrous summer did have the expected consequences after all. But on the evidence of Saturday’s showing, you’d be a brave soul to bet against the new crop of Inter stars defending the Serie A crown in similar fashion to their predecessors.