Inter president Steven Zhang must have been begging for the new Serie A season to arrive.
Once the football starts, the talking stops. For two hours, Nerazzurri supporters stopped protesting against the sales of their top stars. They stopped worrying about which players could leave the club next. They stopped thinking about how sweet life was under Antonio Conte.
For two hours, they watched their beloved team play football under the San Siro lights, and everything felt normal again. The coach and players on the pitch played a big part in that ‘business as usual’ sensation, with Simone Inzaghi setting his team up in similar fashion to his predecessor, and the new boys delivering marvellous displays.
On paper, swapping Romelu Lukaku for Edin Dzeko is hardly awe-inspiring, and signing Milan star Hakan Calhanoglu on a free transfer to fill the void left by Christian Eriksen is controversial at best. On top of that, there’s the loss of Achraf Hakimi, one of the best wing-backs in world football.
It’s certainly not easy to replace a coach and superstars who wrote their name into Inter history by winning the club’s first league title in 11 years, but Inzaghi and his new signings looked completely at home in the 4-0 victory over Genoa.
It all came together on the pitch, as the new-look Inter proved exactly why it’s worth waiting and assessing before making any snap judgements.
Inzaghi opted to partner Dzeko with Calhanoglu in attack, given Lautaro Martinez’s absence through suspension, and you’d be forgiven for assuming the duo would lack fluidity or understanding – but their relationship was quite the opposite.
In fact, every player appeared to be thriving under Inzaghi’s tutelage. The appointment of the ex-Lazio coach was a smart move. He’s a man who plays a similar system to that of Conte, but worked on a shoestring budget for half a decade in the Italian capital.
For a giant club in crisis, there is no one better. His decision to deploy the Calhanoglu-Dzeko partnership bore fruit after only 15 minutes, when the Bosnian picked up the ball, rolled it into the Turk’s path, and he buried a 25-yard screamer into the bottom corner.
The former Milan man had already notched his first assist by that point too, placing a pinpoint cross onto the head of Milan Skriniar. If there were any doubters before kickoff, they had been silenced inside quarter of an hour.
The rest of the match was like a training exercise for the Nerazzurri, who carved out chance after chance at will against a defence that may as well have been replaced by some tall training cones. Calhanoglu found the net for the second time early in the second half, but Ivan Perisic had strayed marginally offside in the buildup, and the goal was ruled out.
Still, it was a ruthless finish from a man who had taken three years to convince the Rossoneri he was a baller, and clearly did not want to waste any more time wooing the black and blue side of Milano.
It was a near perfect 90 minutes for Calhanoglu and Inter, which was rounded off by fellow free transfer Dzeko scoring his first goal since leaving AS Roma. It was a vintage bullet header from the Bosnian, and the celebrations said it all.
This is a team that knows they’ve suffered setbacks over the summer, and there may still be more to come. But president Zhang has hired a coach with a point to prove, he’s signed an attacking midfielder who is ready to play the pantomime villain, and a forward who wants to win his first title in eight years.
For Inter fans, it’s time to look ahead. Conte or no Conte, Lukaku or no Lukaku, Hakimi or no Hakimi, they are still the reigning champions of Italy – and they’re playing like it.