After last week’s impressive 3-0 victory at the Stadio Olimpico over Lazio, Inter Milan manager Luciano Spalletti was quick to quell rising excitement.
It was the Nerazzurri’s sixth Serie A win on the trot and saw them climb to second place in the table behind champions Juventus.
However, Spalletti’s message to the media and the club’s fans was simple: “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.”
For him, despite the club’s winning run, they had really only played one half of football – the first in Rome last week – that met the exacting standards he believes must be met if his side are to ever challenge the Old Lady of Turin.
“The performance is the fundamental thing,” Spalletti told Sky Sport Italia.
”We have the ability to control games the way we did in the first half, but in the second, we gave the ball away too much, allowed Lazio to cause us problems, and in those situations, I see a lot of what we should not do.
”This is why I say we’re not the anti-Juve, because if we make those errors, we are anti-nobody. We had one decent half, that’s it.”
But Saturday afternoon’s impressive 5-0 win over Genoa made it seven from seven for Inter and offered two more halves of football to surely impress the manager.
Inter certainly are making progress under Spalletti – but doubtless the former Roma manager will urge yet more caution, more control, more consistency.
And with good reason. Inter fans need only think back on last season after all. The Nerazzurri went the first 16 league games undefeated, and after a hard-earned 0-0 draw at Juventus at the start of December, they left the field of play top of Serie A.
However, they went on to lose their next two league fixtures against mid table Sassuolo and Udinese before gradually slipping out of title contention to ultimately finish fourth.
In the context of the season itself, it was a disappointing end. But in terms of the bigger picture, there were plenty of reasons for optimism amongst their fans, none more so than the fact that Spalletti had returned Inter to the Champions League for the first time in six years in his only first season in charge.
The conclusion drawn from the season was that while the Nerazzurri had a rear-guard to match that of any of their rivals, they couldn’t replicate the firepower of the three sides above them and were ultimately over-reliant on Mauro Icardi and Ivan Perisic, who between them scored 40 of Inter’s 66 league goals.
Over the summer, they worked to address the issue, spending almost €55 million on bringing attacking midfielder Radja Nainggolan in from Roma and talented Argentine attacking prospect Lautaro Martinez from Racing Club. Wingers Keita Balde and Matteo Politano were also signed on loan from Monaco and Sassuolo, respectively.
The Nerazzurri have also acted to add depth and quality to other areas of the squad, cleverly exploiting the loan market to bring in Atletico Madrid’s right-back Sime Vrsaljko and signing highly rated Dutch centre half Stefan de Vrij (Lazio) and left-back Kwadwo Asamoah (Juventus) on free transfers.
Nevertheless, Inter struggled to get out of the starting blocks this season losing two and winning only one of their first four league outings.
And those early season reverses at the hands of Sassuolo and Parma still weigh heavily on Spalletti’s mind, evidence that for all their quality, his side still has the propensity to drop points against seemingly inferior opposition.
But despite his public reservations, Inter are clearly moving forward under his supervision.
The jump from a lowly seventh the season before his arrival to fourth last term is clear evidence. But there’s more. The fact that they have acquitted themselves well in the Champions League after such a long absence – victories over Spurs and PSV Eindhoven mean they are very well placed to make the last 16 – also speaks to their improving competitiveness.
And then there’s Saturday’s five goal thumping of Genoa, which was achieved without the services of Icardi who was rested ahead of this week’s clash with Barcelona.
Evidence, perhaps, that this is a squad that is broadening its goal threat and crucially growing in self-belief.