Keeping track of pazza Inter requires more bandwidth than I (or most people) can spare. That’s why we once again turned to Will Beckman of our sister site Serpents of the Madonnina to give us an idea of what to expect against the Nerazzurri on Sunday, and he delivered the goods.
Viola Nation: Given the tenuous hold on third as Milan comes charging in a few weeks ahead of the derby, combined with the demands of the Europa League, how focused is this team on little old Fiorentina? Heck, given the Mauro Icardi-pocalypse, how focused is the team on anything?
Will Beckman: I’d like to think this team will be very focused on Sunday’s match against Fiorentina, and I do think there’s reason to believe Inter will put in a strong performance.
The curious thing about the Icardi-pocalypse – or Keeping Up with the Icardashians, as a friend of mine recently christened it – is that it seems to have galvanised the team rather than disrupting it, sharpening its focus as opposed to weakening it.
Nobody knew what kind of reaction this decision from Inter would produce and I think we’ve all been fairly pleasantly surprised at how positive the response has been. We’ve played three games since Icardi was stripped of the captaincy and we’ve won all three with an aggregate score of 7-1.
Milan Skriniar made a very pointed comment after the Europa League victory over Rapid Vienna in midweek, telling reporters Inter are ‘more united’ now than they were a few weeks ago. This all but confirms the rumours that Icardi had fallen out with his teammates and was starting to become a problem for some players. Now he’s been ‘dethroned’, as it were, several players appear to have stepped up their game again.
With that in mind, I’m strangely optimistic for Sunday’s match. I certainly don’t think Inter will underestimate Fiorentina, because they’re coached by a man who has always had a soft spot for the Viola and knows full well what kind of problems they can pose. The result could go either way, but I’m confident Inter will put in the right kind of performance.
VN: With the tolls of fighting on two fronts starting to look like they could tell soon, is Luciano Spalletti going to rotate the squad? Seems like he may want to save Lautaro Martínez especially with the current dearth of other strikers.
WB: As much as I’m sure Spalletti would like to rotate his squad over the next few weeks, he doesn’t have much scope to do it. Inter’s squad isn’t the deepest [ed. note: lol for viola fans] and it could lead to them running out of steam further along the line, because a lot of players are going to be playing three times a week from now until whenever we’re eliminated from the Europa League.
Lautaro Martinez is the perfect example of this: with Icardi currently out of the frame and Keita Balde still yet to return from injury he’s Inter’s only available forward, which means Spalletti has no option but to pick him on Sunday. We’re just lucky he didn’t pick up a booking against Sampdoria last week, because then he’d have been suspended for this match and we really would have been in a spot of bother.
I would expect three changes from the side that beat Rapid Vienna in midweek, with Danilo D’Ambrosio, Stefan De Vrij and Matteo Politano coming into the side. Dalbert could potentially replace Kwadwo Asamoah at left-back too, but that aside I think it’ll be the same team.
VN: After a rocky few weeks, Inter have stabilized nicely, winning their past 4 matches and extending their lead on the third spot in Serie A to 4 points over AC Milan. What’s changed over the course of those 4 wins from what was happening in the 4 winless matches prior to the streak?
WB: The first reason behind Inter’s upturn in form, as alluded to previously, is the Icardi saga, which appears to have focused the team’s mind and ‘liberated’ a few players. Whether or not this is because the players despised Icardi and are happy he’s out of the way, or because they’ve realised they’ll all need to contribute that little bit more with their top-scorer no longer in the side, we don’t really know at the moment. But it’s undeniable it’s had a positive effect – at least in the short term.
The second reason is that Ivan Perisic and Radja Nainggolan are finally coming into form, having stunk the place out from August to January. Perisic has decided to start acting like a professional footballer again after failing to force through a move to Arsenal during the January transfer window, putting in Man of the Match displays against Sampdoria and Rapid Vienna last week; while Nainggolan has finally shaken off the physical gremlins which plagued him throughout the first half of the season, as well as cutting down his nightlife a tad to concentrate on his football.
If Inter want to have a successful end to the season those two are indispensable, because they don’t have many other attacking weapons to call upon. When they’re both in form Spalletti’s side become a far more dynamic and multifaceted proposition.
I would also suggest a third reason: two of those four matches we’ve won have been against Rapid Vienna. Who aren’t very good.
VN: Which members of the Inter Milan squad are playing really well? Anyone who might surprise the casual viewer? In contrast, are there any players who are underperforming badly?
WB: The strongest part of Inter’s team at the moment, as indeed it has been all season, is the centre-back partnership of Stefan De Vrij and Milan Skriniar. If Inter are third in the league with 14 games left they have those two to thank for that, because no matter what everyone else in the side is doing they always perform for you come hell or high water.
On the flip-side, Kwadwo Asamoah and Matias Vecino are probably the two players underperforming the most at present. Asamoah had a fantastic start to the season after joining from Juventus but his form has nosedived dramatically since October-November and nobody can really work out why. Vecino is a similar story in midfield, although he does at least have the slight excuse of having had a few fitness issues.
One man who might surprise a few people, if he plays, is Dalbert, because he’s finally started to look like a proper footballer of late. Spalletti has defended him to the hilt ever since he joined from Nice in 2017 and slowly but surely he’s beginning to relax into his not-so-new surroundings. (He’ll have a nightmare up against Federico Chiesa now I’ve said this.)
VN: Are there any Fiorentina players who you’re nervous about facing? Any matchups or areas of the pitch bear watching on Sunday?
WB: Federico Chiesa would make anybody nervous at this moment in time. He’s the kind of player you can’t do a huge amount to stop when he’s on his game, so I’ll be hoping he has one eye on the Coppa Italia this weekend. The other player I’m uneasy about is Luis Muriel, because he’s had a much bigger impact than I’d anticipated since arriving from Sevilla.
Chiesa vs Asamoah/Dalbert is the matchup I’m most curious to examine, though. Inter are going to have to be careful they don’t leave their left-back isolated against Chiesa at any stage, although Perisic is usually very diligent with his defensive work so I’m hopeful it should work out OK.
Having said that, people who understand tactics far better than I do keep telling me football matches are almost always won in central midfield, so I suppose Brozovic vs Veretout might be more important.
VN: Okay, so this isn’t really about the match, but still. How likely is Spalletti to stick around with yall for next year? We’ve been hearing a lot of rumors about the Nerazzurri brain trust looking elsewhere (Jose Mourinho?) and are just asking for a friend. No reason.
WB: If you’re hinting at what I think you’re hinting at [ed. note: didn’t think I was subtle enough to hint, so thank you], I think you might be onto a winner. Spalletti has never hidden his affection for Fiorentina, after all…
At the moment it seems unlikely he will still be in charge of Inter at the start of next season. A lot can change between February and May but it’s been widely reported for a while now that Spalletti will leave in the summer; partly because this season hasn’t been a resounding success, and partly because he doesn’t seem to be on exceptional terms with new CEO Beppe Marotta.
VN: Alright, let’s do the prediction thing. What’s the final score, who gets the goals, and what’s the overall pattern of the match?
WB: I stated on a podcast earlier this week that Inter would win 2-1, with Brozovic, Nainggolan and Chiesa on the score-sheet. So I’ll have to stick with that in order to avoid contradicting myself.
I expect it to be a very open match with a lot of end-to-end action, because these sides are both very good at turning attack into defence quickly. Fiorentina will probably come out of the traps quicker before Inter slowly take control, at least in terms of possession and territory. It’ll be a tight one and the game will go to whichever side can capitalise on their periods on top.
As ever, thanks for the help, Will. See you on Sunday.