Inter’s 103rd consecutive season in the Italian First Division was not one for the faint of heart. Serie A’s only ever-present side were matched neck-and-neck the entire way as the race for the top four stretched across the entire season and came down to the final day, their European campaigns both fell short of pre-season expectations and their off-the-field issues were very well-documented.
Luciano Spalletti, in his second season as Inter manager, brought in a few key players on transfers including Radja Nainggolan, Lautaro Martinez, Kwadwo Asamoah and Stefan de Vrij while also bringing in Matteo Politano, Sime Vrsaljko and Keita Balde on loans with options to buy. On the way out were Geoffrey Kondogbia, Nicolo Zaniolo and Eder.
The first quarter of their season was pretty successful as they started off their Serie A campaign going 8-1-2 with wins against Lazio and rivals AC Milan, while also going 2-1-1 to start their Champions League group stage. They were clicking on all cylinders with 21 goals scored and 6 conceded in Serie A and they only needed one more win in their final two group stage matches to advance to the round of 16. But this is where Inter’s story begins to take a turn.
After their November 6th draw against Barcelona in the fourth match of the Champions League group stage, Inter went on a stretch from early November to late December where they went 2-3-3 with losses to Juventus, Spurs and Atalanta. Adding insult to injury, they had draws against Roma, PSV and Chievo Verona. Not only did their form begin to tumble but more importantly they were knocked out of the Champions League after their draw to PSV at home on the final day of the group stage.
Many expected Inter to turn things around in the new year after a long winter break, but their problems only worsened. From late January to early February Inter went 0-1-3 with losses to Bologna at home, Torino away and most importantly Lazio at home to knock themselves out of the Coppa Italia. They were now only left to play in the Europa League and Serie A, and it even took them until February 9th to get their first league win of 2019.
To make matters worse, the out-of-form and often controversial Mauro Icardi (along with his wife Wanda Nara, who was critical of Mauro’s teammates on television) kept causing problems behind closed doors. On February 13th, things boiled over and Icardi was stripped of his captaincy. He was even left out of the squad entirely for their following Europa League match against Rapid Wien as it was reported that Spalletti included Icardi in the lineup for the match but he refused to travel with the squad. Manager Luciano Spalletti said this about stripping Icardi of the captaincy, “It is a very hard decision to take, but it is one that everybody within the club shared, and one which was taken exclusively for the good of Inter.”
With only a few months to play and a top four place to fight for, Inter had to keep pressing. But the poor form continued into the Europa League and Inter were eliminated in the Round of 16 by Eintracht Frankfurt. Inter then had to turn around and play a massive Milan Derby just three days later and finish the Serie A season with six of their final 11 opponents in the top seven at the time.
With 11 matches to go, Inter sat in fourth place; a point off of third but only six points above eighth. With no room for error, Inter finished on a great run of form going 5-4-2 with their only losses coming against Lazio and Napoli but with huge draws against Juventus, Roma and Atalanta. Inter finished their Serie A season in fourth place and although they went through the gauntlet both off of the field and on it, they still prevailed and secured Champions League football for the second straight season, and only the second time since 2011/2012.