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Lampredotto with the frenemy: David McFarland fills us in on Inter

Get the inside scoop on what to expect from tomorrow’s festivities.

ACF Fiorentina v FC Internazionale - Serie A
Who’s leading and who’s following?
Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

With quick turnaround between games, it could’ve been very easy to miss the preparation for Fiorentina’s clash against Inter Milan. Fortunately, Serpents of Madonnina writer, perceptive Tweeter, and general friend of the site David McFarland (give him a follow) is here to let us know what to expect.

Viola Nation: Inter are in the middle of quite the 2-week stretch. They drew 2-2 at Sampdoria, lost a heartbreaker against Real Madrid in the Champions League, and thumped Bologna 6-1. Now they get Fiorentina on 2 days’ rest, host Atalanta, and then travel to Ukraine for Shakhtar Donetsk. Can the squad maintain its intensity through such a gauntlet or is there going to be a letdown?

David McFarland: It would be unfair to ask Inter perform at its peak game in, game out, over the next few weeks but the Nerazzurri should continue to pick up results more often than not. Playing two times a week is going to take its toll but Inter has a massive roster. Even though we lost a lot of top-end talent this summer, the overall squad depth improved. Whereas Romelu Lukaku, Lautaro Martinez, and an oft-injured Alexis Sanchez were our only striker options last season, now we have Edin Dzeko, Joaquin Correa, and the very young Martin Satriano to go with Lautaro and Sanchez. Federico Dimarco can fill in at either left center back or wingback after returning from a Hellas Verona loan spell while the combination of Denzel Dumfries and Matteo Darmian man the starboard flank. Fatigue is still going to be a factor and the veterans will need to be carefully managed, but Inzaghi has all of the tools to stay competitive.

VN: There was some concern that the Scudetto-winning level the team found under Antonio Conte last year was going to drop off under Simone Inzaghi. Instead, he’s led his new team to 10 points from a possible 12, averaging a league-best 3.75 goals per game. Has he added anything new to the squad (besides much better hair) or is it just a matter of telling an experienced and talented group to carry on?

DM: The hair is Inzaghi’s foremost attribute but he looks like a pretty dang good manager too. He and Conte share an affinity for the 3-5-2 formation but their respective styles differ substantially. Conte loved grinding out results and making it as hard as possible for the opponent to score. Inzaghi is more willing to attack and is willing to experiment.

That’s had the effect of making Inter less stable defensively, but it has come with some high-scoring wins and delightful passing sequences in the final third. It doesn’t always work out (with Lukaku gone, Inter doesn’t have a go-to finisher) but Inzaghi Ball™ has the potential to be a hit at the San Siro.

Still, Conte’s impact is going to be around for a while. He did an excellent job taking already very good players to the next level (Bastoni, Skriniar, Barella, Lautaro, and so on) and thanks to last season’s Scudetto, this group has a winning mentality. And as Conte says, winning is addictive. So while Conte’s always a short-term manager, the positives someone at his caliber brings to a club won’t go away anytime soon. Now it’s Inzaghi’s turn to bring his own style to Inter and (hopefully) keep Inter at the top of Italian football.

VN: Losing Conte was a change, but losing Romelu Lukaku and Achraf Hakimi seemed like it might’ve been the death knell. Edin Džeko has looked like a decent replacement for the former, but Matteo Darmian, with respect, is a pretty significant downgrade. Is that decrease in talent going to catch up soon or is this the real Inter right now?

DM: There’s no doubt that the sales of Lukaku and Hakimi are going to cost Inter points in the table. They single-handedly won the Nerazzurri a not-insignificant number of games last season and as good as the current roster still is, it just doesn’t have the same difference makers.

The onus is on Inzaghi to get the entire eleven to contribute and fill the Lukaku and Hakimi sized holes. So far, so good. Inter’s taken care of its business in the league against mid to lower table opponents and even outplayed Real Madrid in the Champions League before an unlucky late winner for Los Blancos. The Spanish side has been Inter’s only real test so far, however, so the upcoming clashes with Fiorentina and Atalanta are going to say a lot about just how far along the Inzaghi era is.:

VN: We’re likely to see some significant squad rotation from both sides ahead of this one. Are you expecting any surprises in the team sheet? Which players do you think have a chance to really shine? Where are the weak links?

DM: With Inter entering into this one coming off a multi-game week and heading into Atalanta on the weekend and a UCL game the following Tuesday, squad rotation will certainly play a part in Inzaghi’s team selection. Joaquin Correa and Arturo Vidal (questionable) are out with injury and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to rest some of the normal starters, especially in defense.

Hakan Calhanoglu should be 100% after he was rested last time out while the forward roles are a toss-up between Lautaro, Dzeko, or Sanchez. The big question is on the flanks. Both Dimarco and Dumfries impressed against Bologna and put in a case to be the first-choice starters. Neither Perisic nor Darmian have looked up to speed so far as well. If Inzaghi sticks with the hot hand, Fiorentina’s fullbacks will have a busy evening.

A potential area of weakness for Inter is the back-three if any of the starters are rested with Atalanta on the horizon. Dusan Vlahovic would love to go up against Andrea Ranocchia or Aleksandar Kolarov instead of Stefan de Vrij and Milan Skriniar.

VN: A pessimistic Inter fan might argue that the team looks like a flat track bully so far, having beaten up on some sides expected to finish mid-table or lower. How do you think they’ll fare against a Fiorentina side that wants to keep the ball, control the tempo, and press high up the pitch? They haven’t really played anyone who wants to take the game to them that way, so do you think the new challenge will keep them off balance?

DM: Fiorentina is definitely going to provide Inter a different type of test than it has faced so far. The Nerazzurri have already had some problems with high presses, especially as it looks to favor building out of the back. None of Inter’s opponents have been as possession-focused as the Viola either, so the battle for the ball in the center of the park will have a big say in the final outcome. Inter’s midfielders don’t fare particularly well against high presses and if Fiorentina win the midfield battle, the Nerazzurri will struggle across the pitch.

VN: Prediction time: What’s the final score, who gets the goals, and what’s the overall pattern of the game?

DM: I’ll go with a 2-2 draw. Goals from Lautaro Martinez and Hakan Calhanoglu for Inter, with Fiorentina’s strikes coming via Dusan Vlahovic (who else?) and Riccardo Sottil. As for how the game pans out, I think we’re in for a back-forth affair. Both teams like to attack and squad rotation could throw another variable into the mix as well.

Thanks, David! Always a pleasure doing business with you. If you’re interested, the other half of our chat should be up on SoM pretty soon.