JoÃ£o MÃ¡rio sounded so certain. Interviewed by Gazzetta dello Sport at the start of June â just after he had completed a successful six-month loan at West Ham, and shortly before the start of a World Cup in which he would feature in all four matches played by Portugal â the midfielder insisted he would not return to Inter.
âI do not want to try again,â he said of life at his parent club. âI would not have the right motivation. That experience is over now. Zero doubts.â
You could understand the sentiment. Despite splashing out â¬40m to sign JoÃ£o MÃ¡rio in 2016, the Nerazzurri had never found him a steady role. Constant changes of manager during his first season with the club did not help but even Luciano Spalletti, after taking charge last summer, only gave him five starts in as many months before packing him off to the London Stadium.
Inter were happy to grant the playerâs wish to be sold. The problem was finding a buyer. Sevilla were reported to have an interest but wound up taking Maxime Gonalons on loan from Roma instead. Their neighbours Real Betis, likewise, preferred Giovani Lo Celso. When more concrete offers arrived from Turkey, JoÃ£o MÃ¡rio turned them down.
And so he stayed at Inter, a situation which seemed to please nobody. For the first two months of this season, he disappeared from view â popping up only for a Sky Sports interview in which he acknowledged supporters who jeered the reading out of his name among the subs before kickoff at San Siro.
âI think itâs a body language problem,â he said. âEvery now and then it can seem like Iâm not present. Thatâs a thing I need to improve.â
It is hard to prove much of anything, though, when you never set foot on the pitch. JoÃ£o MÃ¡rio did not get so much as a minute off the bench before suddenly being thrust into the starting XI for the visit to Lazio on 29 October. Fans and journalists scratched their heads. There had been little to indicate such a move was coming.
But he played well, and Inter won 3-0. This was their eighth win in nine matches across all competitions, and easily the most convincing. Better was yet to follow against Genoa on Saturday. JoÃ£o MÃ¡rio started again, and had a hand in four out of five goals as Inter obliterated opponents who had drawn with Juventus last month.
The opener ought not to have stood. Lautaro MartÃnezâs attempted through-pass for Roberto Gagliardini was blocked and ran to JoÃ£o MÃ¡rio. His initial control was clumsy, and he pulled out of a second touch as a pair of defenders closed in. This became an accidental dummy, all three players leaving the ball to run to Gagliardini, who had been in an offside position when it was last touched by his teammate.
What came next was more impressive. Interâs second goal was glorious in its simplicity, the ball played out from defence to Marcelo Brozovic, who immediately squared it to JoÃ£o MÃ¡rio. He released Matteo Politano with a first-time 30-yard ball, and the latter finished coolly.
Inter had gone from the edge of their own area to the back of the net in seven touches. Gazzetta called it âan anthem to vertical footballâ. The hope in Milan is that it might prove a potent counter to the patient lateral movement of the Barcelona team they will face at San Siro on Tuesday.
Spallettiâs team were well beaten at the Camp Nou in their previous Champions League outing, yet these last two league games have offered encouraging signs. Inter are finally starting to look like the team that Spalletti has always wanted them to be: using aggression and physicality to dominate the pitch as well as the ball.
A tactical shift has helped. With Radja Nainggolan sidelined by an ankle injury, Inter abandoned plans to play with a No 10, opting instead for a 4-3-3. The formation has offered Brozovic more support â giving him options when pressed, as he was on Politanoâs goal.
It has seemed to suit the players alongside him â the extra cover allowing all midfielders to become runners, taking turns to get forward and break the lines. Gagliardini followed up that opening goal with another just after half-time. JoÃ£o MÃ¡rio, along with two assists, scored one of his own in injury time. So did Nainggolan, an 87th minute substitute.
There was an awkward truth to confront here, in that neither JoÃ£o MÃ¡rio nor Gagliardini, Interâs two leading men on Saturday, will be available for selection against BarÃ§a. Both were excluded from Interâs Champions League squad, which has been restricted to 21 players as a result of their breach of Financial Fair Play regulations.
How greatly they will be missed remains to be seen. Nainggolanâs return is a boost, though it may tempt Spalletti to revert to his previous formation. That could be a mistake. Matias Vecino was rested against Genoa, but had been excellent against Lazio on the right of a midfield three.
The specific terms of the FFP ruling, which limits Interâs ability to include new signings made during the assessed period of overspending, means that JoÃ£o MÃ¡rio and Gagliardini would likely remain excluded even if they do make it through to the Champions League knockout stage.
Yet if there was another positive note for Spalletti this weekend then it was to be found in the collective spirit he can see developing. âWeâre Inter,â he said, âwe have all the right cards to give ourselves a chance.â Spalletti will not have the full deck at his disposal, but JoÃ£o MÃ¡rioâs re-emergence has shown us that he knows how to keep a trick or two up his sleeve.Talking points
â¢ Despite drawing with Juventus, Ivan Juric has not exactly hit the ground running since returning to the Genoa job â picking up two points from four games. Even more bothersome to the clubâs owner, Enrico Preziosi, might be the managerâs decision to start with Serie Aâs top scorer, Krzysztof PiÄ tek, on the bench and deny him a spot in the shop window at San Siro.
â¢ Even Franco Baresi was moved to tweet after Alessio Romagnoli scored his second injury-time winner for Milan in as many games. But the real story here was that the Rossoneri kept their first clean sheet since April.
â¢ Juventus made it 31 points from 11 games â the best start in club history. They werenât great against Cagliari and it is reasonable to ask questions about just how solid the champions are at the back. Four clean sheets in 11 games is underwhelming.
â¢ A rampant win for Napoli over Empoli, and a hat-trick for Dries Mertens. He is now Serie Aâs most prolific Belgian ever.
â¢ Three games in charge of Chievo now for former Italy manager Gian Piero Ventura, and three defeats. Aggregate score: 9-2.Topics Internazionale Sportblog Serie A European club football features Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via Email Share on LinkedIn Share on Pinterest Share on Google+ Share on WhatsApp Share on Messenger Reuse this content