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Evolution or Revolution – Inter Milan


Evolution or Revolution is a new series from Stats Perform looking at which teams need only a few tweaks ahead of the 2020/21 season and which require a fundamental reboot. This piece focuses on Inter Milan, who will be looking to build on their impressive season last year. 

By: Nicolo Tonato

Overcoming Antonio Conte’s ‘Second Season Syndrome’

Antonio Conte breathed new life into Inter last season. In 2019/20, the Nerazzurri picked up 82 points, their best tally in the league since 2009/10 and Inter can consider themselves quite unlucky that they didn’t walk away as league winners after such a points haul. In each of the previous four seasons where they’ve won 82 points or more, the Nerazzurri have always gone on to win the Scudetto.

Inter's Last 11 Serie A Seasons

SeasonPointsFinal Position

In the three-points-for-a-win-era (since 1994/95), Inter were only the eighth side to fail to lift the trophy having amassed 82 points or more in single a Serie A campaign.

Serie A Sides To Win 82+ Points And Not Win The Title

TeamSeasonPointsFinal Position

The issue for Inter and Conte will be how to maintain this form. In both of his previous two managerial roles, Conte has struggled to replicate performances in his second season in charge. In his first season with Juventus in 2011/12, he won the Scudetto with no defeats (W23 D15), becoming the third manager in Serie A history to do so after Ilario Castagner in 1978/79 with Perugia and Fabio Capello in 1991/92 with AC Milan. After such heights, Conte’s side regressed a little the following season. They still won the title but lost five games in the process.

With Chelsea it was the same story. After a triumphant first season in 2016/17 where the Blues won the Premier League with 93 points (at that point, the last side to win more points in a season was also Chelsea under ​​José Mourinho in 2004/05, with 95 points) and only five defeats.

The following campaign Chelsea finished in fifth and lost twice as many games as in their title-winning season (10).

Looking at the numbers for those second seasons with Juventus and Chelsea, what is apparent is that there was no issue with those teams in attack. Juventus clocked up over 10 more expected goals in 2012/13, while Chelsea’s output remained level. It is likely that Conte and Chelsea benefited from some overperformance in his first year, judging by the difference between goals and expected goals.

Juve and Chelsea - First Two Seasons Under Conte

TeamSeasonGoalsExpected GoalsGoals ConcededExpected Goals AgainstAvg. Shots FacedAvg. Shots on Target FacedPossession

His Chelsea side did regress on the defensive side of the ball in his second seasons, allowing more shots and more shots on target than in Conte’s first term, while both his sides conceded more expected goals against tallies than in his first season.

Looking ahead, will Conte be able to shake his unwanted second season shakiness and make positive improvements in his second managerial season with Inter?

Stats Perform Verdict: Evolution Required

Solving Christian Eriksen

In 2019/20, Inter scored 113 goals in all competitions, the most the side has ever managed in a single season. With last season’s goal glut, the Nerazzurri crossed the 100 goals mark in single a season for the first time since 2010/11.

Inter - Seasons With 100+ Goals Scored

SeasonGames PlayedGoals Scored

Goals came from everywhere. Inter had 19 different goal scorers in all competitions last campaign, more than any other Serie A side. Moreover, 10 Nerazzurri players scored at least four goals in 2019/20 (all competitions), only Liverpool and Bayern Munich (11 each) had more players to score four or more goals last term.

Top Five European Leagues - Players With 4+ Goals

FC Bayern München11
Manchester City10
RB Leipzig9
Borussia Dortmund9

With that said, Romelu Lukaku was clearly Inter’s main goal threat last year. Arriving in August 2019, Lukaku was arguably Inter’s most important signing for a long time. After a lacklustre 2018/19 season with Manchester United where he managed just  12 goals in 32 Premier League appearances, the Belgian has surpassed all expectations with Inter last campaign.

Lukaku shattered several records in an explosive debut since in Milan: he scored in 11 UEFA Cup/Europa League games in a row (beating previous Alan Shearer’s record of eight appearances), he played 51 games in all competitions (the last Inter players to play 50+ games in a single campaign were Javier Zanetti and Samuel Eto’o in 2010/11). With 34 goals in all competitions, he became the first player to score as many goals in his first season at Inter since Ronaldo in 1997/98 and his tally was enough to break his own scoring record in a single campaign as a professional player.

The Belgian striker also developed a great understanding with Lautaro Martínez. The Intes duo scored 55 goals last season in all competitions, only Lewandowski and Gnabry netted more (78).

Best Goalscoring Duos - Top Five European Leagues

TeamPlayersDuo Goals Scored
FC Bayern MünchenLewandowski (55) & Gnabry (23)78
InterLukaku (34) & Lautaro Martínez (21)55
JuventusCristiano Ronaldo (37) & Dybala (17)54
Manchester CitySterling (31) & Gabriel Jesus or Agüero (23)54
BarcelonaMessi (31) & Suárez (21)52

There is a sense that next season, Inter’s attack could improve further with the proper introduction of Christian Eriksen.

The Dane only played 17 games in Serie A 2019/20 (eight as a starter), scoring just one goal and providing two assists. It wasn’t a great return from a player who scored 51 goals and provided 62 assists in his seven Premier League campaigns. Between his first Premier League game in 2013 and his last in 2020, Eriksen has provided more assists than any other player in the Premier League, created the most chances (571) and scored the most goals from outside the box (23) in the competition.

In his last full campaign with Spurs in 2018/19, he played 35 Premier League games and provided 7.7 expected assists (xA) (0.22 per game), whilst at Inter last season he could only muster 0.13 xA on average (2.2 in total across his 17 appearances).

There is no doubt that Eriksen is a talented chance creator who is able to be a vital cog in the Conte’s attack next season. However, rumours abound that Conte is prepared to sell the Dane in the coming weeks to facilitate moves for other creative midfielders. Eriksen or not, Conte will need to bolster his side with an attacking playmaker to ensure his goalscoring machine rumbles on.

Stats Perform Verdict: REvolution Required

Samir Handanovic’s Dip In Form

First-choice goalkeeper Samir Handanovic has been one of Inter’s most consistent performers over the last few seasons.

According to Stats Perform’s xGOT model, which can help establish how many goals the average goalkeeper would be expected to concede, given the quality of the shot location (xG) and the end goalmouth location of the shot, Handanovic has prevented more goals than the model would expect in four of his five seasons as Inter’s first choice.

However, 2019/20 saw him suffer a slight dip in form. Excluding penalties and own goals, he conceded 1.9 more goals than expected based on the quality of the shots he faced.  ranking him 14th amongst the ‘keepers to have played over 1,000 minutes last season.

As highlighted by the graphic below, he conceded a high volume of goals last season from attempts to his right-hand side.

When we take into account his over performance on xGOT across his career, the slight below-average performance last year can be viewed as a potential blip, but Inter will be hoping that he can improve on this form as they enter Conte’s second season.

Stats Perform Verdict: Evolution Required

Review other pieces in this series:
Manchester United
Manchester City
Tottenham Hotspur
Leicester City
Leeds United
West Brom
Real Sociedad
AC Milan

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