Securing goalkeeper Samir Handanovic on a new long-term contract is a crucial step towards restoring Inter Milan to the pinnacle of Italian football.
This season’s half-term report shows that Inter have been the best side defensively within Serie A, with an astounding nine single-goal victories recorded in their opening 19 league matches.
Central defenders Miranda and Jeison Murillo have been widely credited with providing that solid base upon which the Nerazzurri have built their success, but they’ve also required several sterling saves from the man behind them in order to preserve the 12 clean sheets posted throughout that period.
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Slovenian star Handanovic has utilised his superb reflexes to keep Inter’s title charge on track, but there were concerns that he would leave the club during January until a welcome announcement over his future was finally made.
Handanovic mercifully penned a new deal tying him to the Scudetto hopefuls until 2019, which he duly celebrated by defying Empoli in the opening contest of 2016.
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Handanovic revealed there was never any doubt over his eventual commitment.
“I’m delighted to have renewed my contract,” said Handanovic in a media conference called by the club to confirm the agreement.
“When both parties want to extend then there are never any problems.”
That must have been music to coach Roberto Mancini’s ears, as the 31-year-old has arguably been the finest goalkeeper in Italy this term.
At 6ft 4in, Handanovic is certainly an imposing figure for opposition strikers to surpass, while he commands his area with supreme authority.
In spite of his large frame, he possesses wonderful agility that allows him to make saves which many ‘keepers can only dream of undertaking.
Equally comfortable from point blank or long-range, the recently-retired Slovenian international has been unbeatable throughout the majority of this campaign.
There has been the odd slip-up, such as the heavy 4-1 home defeat to fellow title-chasers Fiorentina in September when Handanovic was culpable for two of the goals shipped that day.
However, those mistakes are few and far between – and he has rescued many more points for his team than he has surrendered.
For example, he executed a series of outstanding stops against Torino in November to gift Inter the three points, denying Fabio Quagliarella repeatedly.
Mattia Destro was also left frustrated by a 95th-minute save in a 1-0 away victory at Bologna a month earlier, while a late show at Carpi spared Nerazzurri blushes in September.
More recently, yet another in a long line of splendid saves saw Handanovic repel Massimo Maccarone’s stunning free-kick at Empoli on January 6 with aplomb.
And, having stepped down from national team duty following Slovenia’s Euro 2016 qualification play-off loss to Ukraine, he can now fully focus his energies on leading Mancini’s men to championship glory.
Inter employ a rather unadventurous style of play reminiscent of Italian sides of old; attempting to nick a solitary goal and sit on their lead, as opposed to adding to their advantage.
That puts onus on the back-line to hold their discipline and shape in order to grab those narrow triumphs, which also relies heavily upon Handanovic himself.
Roberto Mancini’s choice of tactics shows that he fully trusts the nimble goalkeeper to dig his Inter team-mates out of trouble when called upon, while the Slovenian himself continues to deliver in line with those expectations.
Furthermore, Handanovic's decision to stay at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza appears to suggest that a reciprocated level of belief in Mancini's methods also exists.
Is Handanovic the best goalkeeper in Serie A? Have your say in the comment box below!