“What’s going on with Inter Milan?” is a common question, given Pazza Inter’s habits, but not always one we can answer. You know who can answer it, though? Serpents of the Madonnina’s David McFarland. Give him a follow on Twitter if you’re into the Nerazzurri or Atlanta United (yes, the double take when you see a red-and-black striped jersey in an Inter fan’s profile picture is natural, but it’s the Five Stripes).
Viola Nation: What’s happened to Inter since the restart? That’s probably too big of a question, but why are they struggling so much against smaller teams? Is it a mentality thing, have opponents figured out Antonio Conte’s system, are the players just making basic mistakes, or is it something else entirely?
David McFarland: Well, Inter’s been dropping points against weaker sides pretty much the whole season (see Lecce, Cagliari, Parma, and Fiorentina). But, yeah, it’s been especially pronounced in recent weeks, and Pazza Inter is loudly reintroducing itself (I’m currently failing in my attempt to forget the Bologna game). There have been a lot of individual mistakes: Gagliardini’s open goal miss against Sassuolo (Did I let loose a scream of anguish? Possibly.), quite a few goalkeeping mistakes, and some boneheaded defensive plays are the notable incidents. So in conclusion, failing to put away games when given the chance, and mistakes in the defensive third continue to be Inter’s downfall.
A transfer window improving the squad would only diminish those issues, or so I hope...
VN: With the Scudetto pretty much out of reach but the Champions League pretty well secured, does Inter have anything to play for? You always assume that Conte can yell any group of professionals into running their lungs out, but given the recent disappointments and the general futility of playing out the string, nobody would blame these guys for taking their foot off the pedal a bit.
DM: I think we’ve learned all that we’re going about the strengths and weaknesses of the current roster, so the only things left are to avoid injuries, and prepare for a physical, high pressing Getafe in the Europa League Round of 16. Well, actually one another thing. Avoid 4th place, because if Napoli wins the UCL and Roma the Europa League, 4th in the league would not go to the UCL next season. And would I really be surprised if that happens to Inter? Not at all.
VN: These teams have met twice already this year, with Dušan Vlahović snatching a last gasp point in the reverse fixture in Florence and Inter winning courtesy of a defensive error and a Nicolò Barella stunner in the Coppa Italia. Despite how close these looked on paper, though, there’s no doubt that the Nerazzurri were the stronger side in both. Any reason to expect something different?
DM: Nope. I expect Inter to dominate the stats, as they usually do, but Fiorentina aren’t half bad and won’t get blown away if they even do lose. It should be a close Wednesday night fixture.
DM: Circling back around, who’s been particularly impressive since the restart for il Biscione? Who’s underwhelmed? And which category does Cristiano Biraghi fall into?
DM: Alexis Sánchez has been fantastic, with 2 goals and 7 assists since the restart. The Chilean has been the standout so far, which is doubly important as Lautaro Martínez has put forth a bit less than what we would expect from a player of his talent. I’m not sure whether the Barcelona transfer rumours are getting to him (and if they are, they’re a bit more serious than just mere rumours), but something has clearly been effecting the Argentine’s game. He has just two goals in his last 11, has had a very poor penalty saved, and all too often goes invisible from games. Maybe the lack of pressure on Inter for these last four games will take a weight off of Lautaro’s shoulders, and let him play freely ahead and regain his confidence of the Europa League. Christian Eriksen, too, has failed to leave much of a mark, even as Conte has adjusted the formation to better suit him. I would be quite alright if he is sold this fall, especially considering how little we paid Tottenham for him ($20-ish million for a $70 million valued player). As for Biraghi, the loanee was on fire against SPAL with a goal and an assist, but other than that has been in the shadow of Ashley Young, who’s the clear starter. He is solid depth, though, so I would be happy to see him stay in Milan next season.
VN: Are there any Fiorentina players you’re particularly worried about facing, if any? Any tactical weaknesses that, were you a middle-aged Italian man in a baseball cap, you’d look to exploit? No, not asking for any real reason or anything. Just uh curious. Yeah.
DM: I think Chiesa as a wingback is going to cause the most issues, especially if Fiorentina sits back and allows Inter the ball. Ashley Young, the presumed starting LWB, isn’t that fast and likes to push up the flank, so there’s certainly going to be space in behind. So I would definitely look to release Chiesa quickly if I won the ball. Inter is going to have to eliminate careless losses of possession in midfield, which of course is not going to happen. I’m not looking forward to all of the nerve wracking Fiorentina counter attacks I’m going to be sitting through, but that’s what I signed up for, I suppose. Patrick Cutrone, too, is a worry thanks to his excellent form. When a player is playing that well, it’s very difficult to slow them down. And lastly, Frank Ribery, who I expect to see as a late sub at most, will be loving his chances against a tired Inter defense that even in the best of times isn’t great against technically skilled players.
VN: Switching gears for a moment, do you believe the rumors that Conte could leave Inter and may even return to Juventus? If so, any managers you’re interested in targeting?
DM: No way. I get that the media has to talk about something, but this rumor really makes zilch sense to me. Nada. None. Inter’s been miles better than last year, and with another transfer window under Conte’s direction, we could really challenge Juve for the Scudetto within a year or so. I’ll admit Conte has had some problems, such as waiting too long to substitute and blowing leads late on, but he’s an excellent coach that we’re lucky enough to have. But if we were to sack him, some managers I’d like to see on the San Siro touchline are Massimiliano Allegri or Mauricio Pochettino. Both have lots of experience on the big stage, but rebooting the roster again would seriously hamper either’s chances of immediate success, which would have to be the expectation if Conte gets sent packing so soon.
VN: Prediction time: What’s the final score, who gets the goals, and what’s the general shape of the game?
DM: Ooh. This is fun. Neither side has much left to play for this season, so we could be in for a wackier game than usual. I’ll actually go with a surprise 2-1 win for Fiorentina. I think Inter’s going to open the scoring with Young in the 1st half, but a 60 minute equalizer from Cutrone will lead to an end to end final thirty minutes with chances at both ends. Ribery, though, will prove the difference maker on a counter attack around the 75th minute.
If you want to read my (incredibly long-winded) responses to some questions from the other side of the aisle, they’re right here. Again, huge thanks to David, whom we hope to see again soon.