Inter will have the opportunity to send another loud message to the league, while Roma need to prove themselves versus a high-caliber team following a string of good results in easy games.
Serie A Week 10 – Sunday 29 October 2023 – Stadio San Siro | Preview by Enrico Passarella
Inter would have been unimpeachable and put together a 2022/2023 Napoli-style start to the season if they didn’t drop points against Bologna and Sassuolo. But they did, and that keeps tight and fun at the top of the Serie A standings. They had an off-day versus the Neroverdi, while they pulled the plug way too early against the Felsinei after getting an early two-goal lead.
It feels like they are more in control of their destiny than their rivals. If they play their A-game, they are mighty tough to beat and can dismantle any opponents, as the Derby della Madonnina proved. Instead, if they don’t bring it entirely, they are liable to slip-ups, which goes for all teams, but it’s particularly damning for those with a very high ceiling.
Napoli might be starting to roar back, but it’s apparent that the Nerazzurri have the best squad: that may be debatable for the starting XI alone but surely not factoring in the reserves. No other outfit has the luxury of having the likes of Davide Frattesi, Stefan De Vrij, Carlos Augusto, Juan Cuadrado, Marko Arnautovic, Alexis Sanchez, and Matteo Darmian on the bench when everything is peachy. It’s no coincidence that they have fared the best out of any Italian team in the Champions League, where their group is less than formidable.
Since Lautaro Martinez and Marcus Thuram are fairly young and going like gangbusters, the only blunder of their summer, not signing another top striker, hasn’t been an issue. Alexis Sanchez can work out as a super-sub and plug-in starter, while that’s uncertain for Marko Arnautovic, who fares better the more he plays, which will be tough to do in Milan. They brilliantly navigated the two being sidelined simultaneously, and the Chilean veteran is rounding into form now.
That’s easy to do when your main striker bags basically every clean ball he has in the box, and his partner in crime is sending Romelu Lukaku vibes with his blend of size, agility, and technique. He’s a lot more imposing than anticipated, and it’s silly to think he was utilized as a winger in the past. The fit between the two has been splendid and solved a little conundrum. The Argentine operates better as a pure no.9, which happened when Edin Dzeko and not Lukaku partnered with him in the past. There’s no hesitancy about who’s doing what this season and the Frenchman has been a splendid assist-man and can break open most defensives with his potent bursting runs.
Frattesi and Augusto are starting to come into their own, and Simone Inzaghi’s constant rotation and heavy use of the subs keep everybody happy and involved, which is exactly what they need if they want to compete on every front. Plus, unlike most contenders, they had continuity, both roster-wise, because, even though they bid farewell to some linchpins, their backbone from the second half of last season wasn’t altered, and in the dugout. And they have batted 1000 with their newcomers, especially the key ones, Yann Sommer and Benjamin Pavard.
They let the opportunity to gain early separation slip through their fingers, especially with Napoli, arguably the most fearsome foe, off to a slow start following the coaching change. They are at the level where they shouldn’t drop points unless something weird happens during a game, so the stumbles are tough to comprehend but also easy to correct since they just need to be focused and on point all the time and their superior quality will take care of the rest. Should they notch a couple more massive wins, and they have an opportunity to do just that in this one, then there’ll be no real enemy left, if not themselves.
Expected XI (3-5-2): Sommer; Pavard, Acerbi, Bastoni; Dumfries, Barella, Calhanoglu, Mkhitaryan, Dimarco; Martinez, Thuram.
Injury Report: Cuadrado (Achilles soreness) – Doubtful; Arnautovic (thigh strain) – OUT
Roma beat up on three minnows, Frosinone, Cagliari, and Monza, to fix their position in their standings and climb them to get near the spots that matter. It’s nothing to write home about, although topping the Brianzoli is no turkey shot, but it wasn’t a given considering how they started the season and the fact that they are incredibly depleted.
They would have been in a terrible condition if Lorenzo Pellegrini, Paulo Dybala, Chris Smalling, and another top midfielder, Renato Sanches in this case, were all sidelined at the same time last season. Instead, they have been able to weather the storm so far. It’s impossible to buy good health, while they could, and did, add more options.
Who knows whether Lukaku is long for the Giallorossi, but, in terms of fliers, he’s as good as it gets. It turns out that the cure for his malcontent, which ultimately caused him to turn his back to Inter during the summer, is just to field him all the time and give him some love, and he’ll respond with goals. He was exactly what the doctor ordered after they lost Tammy Abraham, also to reduce their dependency on the oft-injured Dybala. The Belgian will face a very hostile crowd in this one, and it’ll be compelling to see whether he’ll turtle or rise to the occasion, which is what champions generally do.
Houssem Aoaur and Leandro Paredes haven’t been superb, but at least they have been dependable and surely bolstered their midfield relative to the past campaign. It’s one less thing they have to worry about, especially in light of the absences; plus, it freed up Bryan Cristante, who’s not a pure ball-handler, from having to serve as the deep-lying playmaker. They couldn’t fully exploit that lately because they had to field him in the back due to an emergency, but he’s clearly more dynamic than that. In addition, they can go back to a scheme with three pure attackers very easily with him and the Argentine together, as they are more than enough to protect the rearguard.
It took a while to adjust to Smalling being out, but they tightened the screws there after a terrible start defensively, considering José Mourinho’s history and standards. Diego Llorente returned to the XI midweek, so at least they have three pure center-backs now. Evan N’Dicka isn’t completely sturdy yet, but the situation forced them to use him constantly, which is the only way for somebody to get acclimated and improve his conditioning. Even though he hasn’t been spotless, at least he hasn’t had Roger Ibanez-like blunders.
They are in a tough spot with Smalling, as his injury is tricky and set to linger. He tried to play through it early on and wasn’t good. There’s no alternative to rest and rehab for it to improve. It’s a bit discouraging that he’s not out of the woods after over a month on the shelf. Not signing another quality center-back, as they started the season with four-and-a-half, was one of the few mistakes of their summer, and it quickly came back to haunt them. They’ll have to address it in January.
Since a few competitors have stumbled out of the gate too, Roma aren’t far from a Champions League spot despite their subpar results in the first few rounds. Even though at least four teams are superior on paper, they’ll be in the running if they keep making hay on easier fixtures. They are bound to improve naturally once major contributors come back from injury, even though it’s a mirage to think there won’t be further issues given their checkered history.
Without Dybala and Pellegrini, most lies on Lukaku’s shoulder, and his chemistry with Andrea Belotti, Stephan El Shaarawy, and Houssem Aouar, their other key offensive weapons currently, has improved rapidly. The call between a pacey attacker and a more physical one to partner with him won’t be easy, as there are fair arguments on each side, and work rate isn’t an issue in either case.
They’ll likely have a conservative game plan, but there’s not really a correct way to handle Inter, as they have feasted against sides that faced them head-on, and they have been patient and eventually successful against those who sat back. The ideal strategy could be to lure them into a sense of false security and strike them once their attention lapses because they believe the game to be in hand.
Expected XI (3-5-2): Patricio; Mancini, Llorente, N’Dicka; Karsdorp, Cristante, Paredes, Aouar, Zalewski; Lukaku, Belotti.
Doubts: Llorente/Bove, Karsdorp/Kristensen, Belotti/El Shaarawy.
Injury Report: Dybala (knee sprain), Pellegri, Renato Sanches (thigh injury), Abraham, Kumbulla (ACL tears) – OUT; Spinazzola (muscle fatigue) – Questionable.
Inter Win – Over 2.5 Goals