The only good thing about Fiorentina going to the San Siro to take on Inter Milan—a fixture the Viola haven’t won since 2015, behind a Nikola Kalinić hat trick—is getting to chat with Serpents of Madonnina editor, Beto evangelist, and all-around excellent human David McFarland.
Viola Nation: Despite sitting 3rd in the league (just 2 points off AC Milan in 2nd) and making runs in the Champions League and the Coppa Italia, Inter seem to be floundering of late, dropping points to bottom-half sides and scuffling against top-half ones. Is it Simone Inzaghi? The instability around Suning? The sudden availability of Antonio Conte?
David McFarland: All of the above (except Conte, hopefully. If he left because of a lack of investment I can only imagine the scenes when he sees Inter’s current-day finances). Suning’s lack of investment in the transfer market has led Inter on a downward spiral on the field, with expensive transfers out being replaced by cheaper arrivals. That might work in the short term but over time the effects are inevitable.
Inzaghi also shoulders a fair amount of the blame for Inter’s struggles and constant inconsistency. He doesn’t seem able to reinvigorate or get the best out of Inter’s squad, and much like Conte, lacks any sort of a plan B. Inter’s squad, however, is also very lacking.
Previously key players Milan Skriniar and Marcelo Brozovic have dropped off significantly and no one seems to have taken any sort of step forward this season. As for the much-talked-about Romelu Lukaku, it’s a combination of Inzaghi’s inability to play him to his strengths and the Belgian’s own physical decline. In short, this is a club that needs a major makeover this summer, starting with ownership.
VN: Inter and Fiorentina are in the top 3 in Serie A for pretty much every possession stat. Will the Nerazzurri try to compete, or will they drop off and play on the break, as they always seem to do so well against Fiorentina?
DM: I expect Inter to be more focused on not picking up their 10th loss of the season (and 3rd straight in Serie A) than claiming all three points, so a cautious approach from Inzaghi might be on the cards. Plus, that fits into what’s worked for Inter against Fiorentina in recent meetings, and with a Coppa Italia semifinal looming for both teams midweek, conserving a bit of energy wouldn’t be a bad idea.
VN: Do Inter even have enough players to field an XI for this one? Is Inzaghi going to be forced into some changes, or is it full speed ahead with the usual set-up?
DM: Inter’s injury situation is a bit of a revolving door at the moment. Alessandro Bastoni, Federico Dimarco, and Robin Gosens are all back in training after a spell on the sidelines, but Hakan Calhanoglu (Inter’s best midfielder this season) picked up an injury over the break and Milan Skriniar remains sidelined with a mysterious back pain after signing a pre-contract with PSG in January. With that said, tactically it’s always the same: a 3-5-2. The only potential surprises in the XI come Saturday are starts for Brozovic and Lukaku. Once that would have been a major advantage for Inter, but this time not so much.
VN: Even if the team’s struggling a bit, there’s still a lot of quality up and down the roster. Anyone playing particularly well? Conversely, anyone looking particularly ropy?
DM: Hahahahahahahaha. The short and painful answer to that first question is a blunt no. As for the next one, find a comfortable seat because this is going to be a long list. Starting with the strikers, Lautaro is in the off mode of his on-off form and Lukaku has more goals for Belgium in the last week than Inter all season. Former stalwart Brozovic has lost his place in the starting XI to Hakan Calhanoglu, and the once impenetrable back three of Bastoni, de Vrij, and Skriniar have all struggled for a variety of reasons. Age in de Vrij’s case, a PSG check in Skriniar’s. This is also one of the oldest rosters in the league, so hopes of everyone bouncing back to form are wishful thinking more than anything else.
VN: Let’s do the prediction game. What’s the final score, who (if anyone) gets the goals, and what’s the overall tone of the match?
DM: I’ll go with 2-1 Inter, with goals from Lautaro and Lukaku canceling out a Nico Gonzalez strike. The game itself will be a bit of a slog, with Inter more focused on not losing than winning.
Thanks, David! Looking forward to getting roasted by you on Twitter this Saturday (by the way, follow the man if you’re a Twitter person because he’s very good on there). The other half of our conversation is on Serpents of Inter.