It’s been a pretty wild year for Fiorentina this year (and every year, but we can talk about that later). Playing twice a week has clearly taken a toll on the squad, much less your humble correspondents at VN who cover these shambles; I haven’t had nearly as much time to watch the other teams in Serie A this year as I scramble to keep up the coverage here.
Fortunately, that’s where Serpents of Madonnina’s David McFarland comes in. Besides being the world’s foremost Beto hypeman, he’s a fountain of knowledge about all things Inter Milan and was kind enough to take some time for a chat about the upcoming festivities at the Franchi. You can read the other half of our conversation at SoM.
Viola Nation: We’ve been lost a little bit in our own doom and gloom this year, but Fiorentina hardly have a monopoly on sadness. Inter have dropped 5 places in the early going. Are there any structural problems here, or has it mostly been weird outlier results as the xG numbers would imply?
David McFarland: Simply put, Inter has been one stale team dating back to January 2022 and even more so this season. The losses of Romelu Lukaku, Achraf Hakimi, and Christian Eriksen became more and more apparent as the 21/22 season went on, and a general lack of investment in the market meant the squad never fixed its holes with anything other than budget signings. Inzaghi was able to mostly paper over that last season and kept Inter functioning at a high level but his juice seemed to start running out in the spring. While Lukaku’s return was supposed to be the boost Inter needed, he’s played all of three games this campaign and the loss of Ivan Perisic has hurt more than expected.
In other words, this is almost exactly the same squad that ran out of energy in the Scudetto chase, albeit slightly older and still without any sort of Plan B system. A sharp increase in individual mistakes, especially in the usually rock-solid defense, has only compounded issues and sunk Inter down to 7th. However, the recent revival (a win and draw over Barcelona) shows that the August and September woes might have been a mere blip.
VN: It was a pretty big mercato for the Nerazzurri this year. Romelu Lukaku, André Onana, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and Franceso Acerbi bring a wealth of experience, and it doesn’t seem like the squad lost any key pieces. How have the new faces fit in?
DM: It’s been a mixed bag so far. Lukaku scored minutes into his second debut against Lecce but then went scoreless vs Spezia and Lazio before picking up a dreaded “knock” that was initially meant to keep him out a few weeks. That happened in late August. It’s now mid-October and 11 games later, but he’s still sidelined and making underwear ads for Calvin and Klein.
Onana, on the other hand, has been the biggest success by far and finally took over the starting spot from Handanovic for good thanks to his stellar showings against Barca. Why Inzaghi waited so long and lost so many points in the process is slightly infuriating, but the good news is that the Cameroonian is here to stay.
Mkhitaryan’s signing has been a solid 6/10, no more no less. Injuries have caused him problems as well but when he’s gotten on the pitch he’s always been reliable. Acerbi is perhaps the biggest surprise. Most Inter fans dreaded his arrival and saw him as another cheap solution to Inter’s depth problems but instead, he’s been one of the Nerazzurri’s best defenders (which says something about the way 2022/23 has gone in Milano).
VN: It felt like the consensus last year was that Inzaghi as just keeping Antonio Conte’s approach from the previous season without really stamping his own philosophy on the team. Is that still the case this year, or is he starting to replace some of those Conte automatisms with fresh ideas? Anything that is or isn’t working particularly well, from a tactical level?
DM: There have definitely been changes under Inzaghi, and perhaps a few too many ones for the worse. His most egregious would be a constant tendency to sub off players on yellows - 30 minutes into a game against Udinese he took off Bastoni and Mkhitaryan for Dimarco and Gagliardini for no other apparent reason than that they had been booked. Under Conte Barella and Brozovic went four months without picking up a yellow that would have got them suspended for accumulation. If the coach shows that little confidence in his own players to avoid a second yellow, how much confidence can the players have in the coach?
He also changes his starting lineup perhaps a bit too much compared to Conte’s complete lack of rotation, making it hard for some players to get into a rhythm. On the flip side, Inzaghi is far better suited to Champions League football and a win against Viktoria Plzen Wednesday would secure a spot in the Round of 16 for a second straight season (after two years of failure with Conte). Plus, it’s worth remembering that Inzaghi is still a young manager at 46 years of age and in his first job at a club with the pressure and chaos of Inter.
VN: Put yourself in Fiorentina’s shoes for a moment (and I apologize profusely for making you do this): Which Inter players are you particularly afraid of right now? Which ones have been playing well? Conversely, is there anyone you’d particularly want to attack? Anyone who’s been off the pace?
DM: Lautaro has hit form at perfect time with two strikes in his last two and partners Nicolo Barella as the stars of Inter’s recent resurgence. One of the two of them is almost certain to get a goal or two considering how well they’ve played of late. Hakan Calhanoglu has also been a bit of a revelation of late - starting as the regista for the previously irreplaceable Marcelo Brozovic he’s taken over the midfield and even given the Croatian some competition for a spot once he returns from injury. Andre Onana in goal is a welcome upgrade on Samir Handanovic as well and gives the Nerazzurri a sense of all-around security.
As for weaknesses, Denzel Dumfries on the right flank hasn’t been up to speed this season (his end product is particularly lacking) and the back-three is still prone to an odd mistake here and there.
VN: Let’s play the prediction game. What’s the final score, who (if anyone) gets the goal(s), and what’s the overall tenor of the match?
DM: I’ll go with a 1-1 draw. Fiorentina is always tough to play at the Franchi and I think La Viola will rise to the occasion under the bright Saturday night lights to play out a back-and-forth draw. Goals from Lautaro and
Well, I was going to say, “Thanks, David, for the really good insight,” but now that you’ve brought K*****n back into my life, I’m feeling some very different feelings.