Fresh off a 9-man draw against Torino, the Viola get an entirely different sort of test when Inter Milan come to town for the second time in less than a month; the Nerazzurri dumped them out of the Coppa Italia with a heartbreaking late goal last month. That pushed the Viola record against them to W49 D57 L74, including W2 D4 L4 over their last 10 league meetings, although it seems like the good guys always make the bad guys work very hard in this fixture; indeed, they’ve scored first in 3 of the last 4 clashes.
The match will be played on Friday, 5 February 2021, at 7:45 PM GMT/2:45 PM EST, at the Stadio Artemio Franchi in beautiful Florence. The forecast looks about as nice as it could, predicting as it does a break in the winter clouds, relatively mild temperatures, and no real chance of precipitation.
The Viola have been quite unsteady this year but have generally shown progress despite gathering just 7 points from their past 5 matches, including a 6-0 beatdown at the hands of Napoli. That outlier result aside, though, the Tuscans have mostly beaten the teams they should beat and bravely competed against the ones they shouldn’t have, giving the supporters a bit more confidence in the long-term prospects than you’d expect for a club that’s sitting 11th with 22 points.
Manager Cesare Prandelli will have to work without the suspended duo of CB Nikola Milenković and CM Gaetano Castrovilli. Lucas Martínez Quarta should replace the former; filling out the midfield is the real question, as Erick Pulgar and Borja Valero offer very different qualities. The Chilean should get the nod, as his defensive nous should help protect the defense in what will likely be a very counterattacking gameplan.
A lot of Prandelli’s attacking plan will probably ride on who’s starting for Inter in this one. If Aleksandr Kolarov gets the nod in defense, expect to see a lot of crosses to the back post, where Giacomo Bonaventura and Martín Cáceres can attack him. If Christian Eriksen plays in the holding role, Jack and Franck Ribery could have a lot more space to link up between the lines. No matter what, though, San Cesare will probably set out a fairly deep defense and play to his team’s strengths on the counter, just as you’d expect from a mid-table team facing a big one.
Having cut the gap behind AC Milan to just 2 points, you’d best believe that the Nerazzurri will want to keep winning and knock their rivals off the top spot, and with a league-leading 49 goals so far, they’ll feel they can do just that, especially after a hard-fought win in a Coppa Italia Milan Derby. They’ve only picked up 8 points from their last 5 Serie A matches and have a midweek Coppa date with Juventus (and need to make up a 1-2 defeat in the first leg), so there’s a chance that they’ll rotate the side quite a bit in this one.
Manager Antonio Conte should have his full roster to choose from, which means we’ll likely see Romelu Lukaku and Achraf Hakimi from the start. Conte’s always liked to shift his players in and out of the XI, though, so trying to figure out the midfield and defense could get tricky. No matter who’s out there, though, you know how this side will play: quick, one-touch passing through the middle and down the right to find the forwards alternately dropping deep and running in behind. It’s Inter. It’s Conte. We’ve seen this movie.
Lukaku will probably try to exploit his size against LMQ in the air, so expect Inter to test the Argentine early and often. They’ll also target Cristiano Biraghi, who’s struggled to contain Hakimi in both their meetings this year. The real trick will be keeping the defensive line at the right height: too deep and Lukaku’s aerial ability nearly guarantees a goal, but too high and the Nerazzuri pace in behind will sink things. Amrabat did well as a wrecking ball in the Coppa match, disrupting everything, so a more disciplined holding job from Pulgar to deny any space between the lines could help solidify the center and push the visitors wide.
How to watch
TV: Maybe try BeIn, but you’re probably using a computer to watch this one. Check the full international television listings here.
Online: Here is your source of safe, legal, and reliable streams. If you live in the US, ESPN+ has it. Sign up through this link and VN will get a little cash. Full disclosure: Vox Media has affiliate partnerships, but those partnerships don’t affect editorial content.
Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
Since the past two games against Inter have seen Fiorentina take the lead only to lose it right at the end, it’d be a little too easy to expect the same script in this one. I think the Viola will fight to a 1-1 draw that brings howls of fury from the Nerazzurri supporters (always fun), with Lukaku on board for the visitors because he always scores in Florence and Vlahović on target for the good guys in a surprisingly open, fun game. And I fully apologize for jinxing this one through the center of the earth. My bad, yall.