Inter serve up a storm as Inzaghi looks to blow memories of Conte away

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<span>Photograph: Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images

Like a bird seeking shelter in the hours before a storm, Sinisa Mihajlovic knew trouble was coming and yet was powerless to stop it. “Let’s talk about something else,” he insisted, cursing freely, after a journalist at his press conference on Friday asked about Bologna’s success in keeping back-to-back clean sheets. “Now we’re just inviting bad luck … if we concede a goal tomorrow, I’m going to get mad with you guys. What even is this? When we don’t concede for 20 games in a row, then we can talk about this stuff. Not after two games.”

A day later, Bologna were blown away by Hurricane Inter: conceding not one goal, but six. Denzel Dumfries arrived at gale-force – or about as close to them as we can expect a person to achieve, with a recorded top speed of 34.38kmph (21.36mph) – laying on the opener for Lautaro Martínez in the sixth minute. That was only the start of the deluge.

Milan Skriniar doubled Inter’s lead with a header from a corner, and Nicolò Barella made it 3-0 before the break, converting another Dumfries cross after it rebounded off an opponent’s heel. Inter’s Dutch right-back laid on a further opportunity for Martínez at the start of the second half, but this time the shot came back off the bar, hitting Bologna’s keeper on the way back out. No matter. Matías Vecino soon added the fourth, before Edin Dzeko struck twice to complete Inter’s haul. Bologna grabbed a late goal of their own from Arthur Theate, but there was scarce consolation in a 6-1 final score.

Mihajlovic insisted his team had been unlucky, saying things could have gone differently if Bologna had taken their chances in the first half. Samir Handanovic had made a brilliant save to deny Roberto Soriano at 1-0, but it was hard to believe it would have mattered given Inter’s emphatic superiority at the other end. Bologna were naïve, pushing too high, too soon. Anybody who has observed Simone Inzaghi’s managerial career ought to know how effective he is at setting up his teams to strike quickly, drawing opponents on and attacking the spaces they leave open behind.

It is a part of why Inter sought him to succeed Antonio Conte as manager this summer. There are clear shared lines in their approach, both preferring a back three and football built on rapid partenze – quick departures from the back (the terminology was important to Conte, who never could abide being told that his team played on the counter-attack).

Inter wanted evolution, not revolution, after claiming their first Serie A title in 11 years. There were further reasons to pick Inzaghi, who guided Lazio to a Coppa Italia win and two Supercoppa triumphs during his half-decade at the helm and, crucially, was prepared to accept roughly one-third Conte’s salary. But continuity was an important consideration. Many doubted that it could be achieved. As well as Conte, Inter had bid farewell to Romelu Lukaku – their top scorer and assist provider in 2020-21 – as well as Achraf Hakimi. With Juventus bringing back Massimiliano Allegri, few were prepared to cast Inter as favourites to retain their crown.

Related: The Tiger who came for free: Falcao is back and scoring in La Liga | Sid Lowe

Four games into the season, perceptions are already shifting. That is in part down to Juventus’s woeful form – their draw against Milan on Sunday night extending a winless start. Inter, however, have been compelling, picking up 10 points to jump to the top of the table, pending Napoli’s match away to Udinese on Monday night. More eye-catching is Inter’s goal-haul: 15 already in four games. Not since Helenio Herrera was manager of the Nerazzurri, back in 1960, has any Serie A team scored more at such an early stage.

If Inzaghi has sought to build on Conte’s good work, then what has been fascinating has been to observe variations already in this young campaign. It is too soon for full judgments but tactically there have been small shifts, Inter holding positions higher up the pitch. Dzeko interprets the No 9 role differently to Lukaku, playing more with his back to goal and allowing the team to build through him instead of serving as the end destination of their attacks.

The greatest shift, though, might prove to be in the use of personnel. Despite frequently asking for his squad to be expanded, Conte tended to rely on a small pool of players – with nine starting 29 or more matches last season in Serie A. At times he seemed eager to stress the inexperience and unreadiness even of players he had requested. Having received criticism after a Champions League group-stage defeat by Dortmund in 2019 he demanded to know: “Who are we supposed to ask more from? Nicolò Barella who arrived from Cagliari? [Stefano] Sensi, signed from Sassuolo?”

Inzaghi has taken a different line, putting faith in players like Dumfries sooner than even he had anticipated. This was the Dutch player’s first start for Inter and he more than justified his inclusion, terrorising Bologna’s Scottish left-back Aaron Hickey. Dumfries joined from PSV this summer for an initial €12.5m – less than a quarter of the fee that Paris Saint-Germain paid to sign Hakimi. It will take more than one game to make anybody forget the Moroccan, but Gazzetta dello Sport took great delight in observing that Dumfries’s top speed was almost exactly equal to that of his predecessor.

On the opposite flank, Federico Dimarco also started and made a similarly strong impression, setting up Skriniar’s and Vecino’s goals. A graduate of Inter’s academy, who joined the club at six years old, Dimarco has been overlooked and farmed out on loan by successive managers, but this was his second start in two different positions under Inzaghi. His first game came as the left centre-back in a 2-2 draw with Sampdoria, during which he scored a blistering free-kick. Although Dimarco looked more at home at wing-back on Saturday, his versatility is valued by the new manager, as is his set-piece delivery.

Inzaghi has been explicit about his intention to keep rotating the team in order to combat fatigue. From Tuesday, Inter begin a daunting eight-day run that takes them away to an impressive Fiorentina, back home to face Atalanta and then off to Kharkiv to face Shakhtar Donetsk. Already on Saturday, they were recovering from a midweek defeat by Real Madrid. Inzaghi made a deliberate choice to rest Hakan Calhanoglu, Ivan Perisic and Dzeko against Bologna, but the latter was forced into the action early after Joaquín Correa picked up a first-half knock.

Simone Inzaghi during the game.
Simone Inzaghi during the game. Photograph: Matteo Bazzi/EPA

The Madrid loss was turned to fuel by Inter’s players, Skriniar speaking during a half-time interview against Bologna about a shared desire to unburden the anger from a game that he and his teammates felt they should have won. Yet Inzaghi had been criticised for his substitutions against the Spanish club, too, accused of taking momentum away from his team when they were dominating.

One way or another, Inter served up a storm against Bologna. Only time will tell whether Inzaghi can harness their energies as consistently as – or even better than – his predecessor into a consistently devastating force.

Friday: Sassuolo 0-1 Torino. Saturday: Genoa 1-2 Fiorentina, Inter 6-1 Bologna, Salernitana 0-1 Atalanta. Sunday: Empoli 0-3 Sampdoria, Juventus 1-1 Milan, Lazio 2-2 Cagliari, Venezia 1-2 Spezia,
Verona 3-2 Roma. Monday fixture: Udinese v Napoli.

Pos

Team

P

GD

Pts

1

Inter Milan

4

11

10

2

AC Milan

4

6

10

3

Napoli

3

4

9

4

Roma

4

6

9

5

Fiorentina

4

1

9

6

Udinese

3

4

7

7

Lazio

4

5

7

8

Atalanta

4

1

7

9

Bologna

4

-3

7

10

Torino

4

3

6

11

Sampdoria

4

2

5

12

Sassuolo

4

-1

4

13

Spezia

4

-5

4

14

Verona

4

-3

3

15

Genoa

4

-5

3

16

Empoli

4

-5

3

17

Venezia

4

-5

3

18

Juventus

4

-2

2

19

Cagliari

4

-4

2

20

Salernitana

4

-10

0

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