Serie A Week 8 – Sunday 2 October 2022 – Stadio San Siro | Preview by Enrico Passarella
Serie A resumes with a drama-filled encounter between two sides that have a lot to prove after pretty underwhelming starts to the season.
There’s no middle ground for how an international break can go, either really well or very poorly. Unfortunately for Inter, they fall in the second category, as they lost Marcelo Brozovic, arguably their most indispensable player, and Romelu Lukaku hasn’t recovered yet, which is surprising. And obviously the loss to Udinese right before it didn’t help.
Somebody called for Simone Inzaghi’s head, but a coaching change for the Nerazzurri would be even more stunning than at Juventus. Giuseppe Marotta has never done it in his career, plus they committed to the gaffer with an extension not too long ago, although his contract isn’t as long and burdensome as Massimiliano Allegri’s one.
The management shot down the buzz and tried to rally around the boss two weeks ago, but then the adverse developments piled up, and they will have multiple acid tests while in less-than-ideal shape. But things would have to go abysmally bad for them to even consider it, also because the managers without a team that could be regarded as upgrades would cost a pretty penny, and they are famously cash-strapped.
So the gaffer will stay on, at least until the November break, but probably for the entire season. It’s easy to blame who’s at the helm in these circumstances, as the issues affecting them have been quite mysterious. Perhaps a major shake-up would have indeed solved them. Lukaku missing time is hurtful, but they didn’t have him last season, and they came within a hair’s breadth from winning the title. The annoying transfer market sagas can’t be justifications for the subpar showings of some of their linchpins.
The malaise hindering them might be what they call Super Bowl hangover in American football, which impacts both that side that prevailed, as they aren’t as hungry and determined at the start of the following season, but more the one that lost, which suffer from the lingering disappointment of coming so close to taking home the trophy but ultimately failing, with the harrowing realization that the road to redemption is long and windy, suppurating underneath the surface.
They have certainly had confidence issues so far, as they have rarely imposed their will in matches: they managed only against the clearly inferior Spezia, Cremonese, and Viktoria Plzen. They appear to lack the self-belief that they can win every game, which can cause a negative spiral. They have also had a glass jaw whenever things started going against them.
More tangibly, their defense has been bafflingly porous considering that it’s still the same as last season. Their top three center-backs just haven’t performed at their usual standards or displayed optimal chemistry, to the point that using Francesco Acerbi might actually be an improvement. Samir Handanovic hasn’t had blunders and occasionally puts together a great performance, but his lack of explosivity is manifest. André Onana might not be a stud, but he flies around. They better finalize the switch sooner rather than later. The alternation is such a delicate role might have negative impacts on both.
They were astute in signing a proper Brozovic backup in the summer, something they noticeably lacked in the past. However, they have barely used Kristjan Asllani so far, and so he will have to find his footing on the spot. He was undeniably brilliant at Empoli and seems to have the stuff to thrive at a big club too, but a smoother transition would have helped. Instead, he will be thrown into the fire, and he will have to either sink or swim in the first few matches. The worrying part is that the early displays will influence the whole outlook of his acquisition, and that’s unfair. Considering they will face Barcelona twice in short order, there’s really no time to ease the starlet into things. The error was made beforehand, as he could have easily featured next to Brozovic while he got adjusted to his new surroundings.
The three collapses thus far have come technically on the road, albeit one was versus Milan in the Derby, so at least they have that to lean on. They will surely approach this match-up with more questions than answers and in worse shape than their opponents.
As for the lineup, Acerbi seems in the lead over Stefan De Vrij, and Federico Dimarco likewise over the other options on the left wing, and understandably so. Edin Dzeko should be the one to replace Lukaku, although Joaquin Correa sometimes gets the nod to surprise opponents. Hakan Calhanoglu is said to be in decent enough shape to start; otherwise, Henrikh Mkhitaryan would be ready to feature against his former team.
Expected XI (3-5-2): Handanovic; Skriniar, De Vrij, Bastoni; Dumfries, Barella, Asllani, Calhanoglu, Dimarco; Dzeko, Martinez.
Roma got off to a hot start with three wins and one draw, against Juventus, in the first four rounds, but then their momentum came to a screeching halt. The rout at the hands of Udinese dented their confidence and exacerbated their flaws, which were confirmed in a slip-up in Europa League and especially against Atalanta. They sweated out a win against Empoli in between.
The collapse in Friuli was just a blip caused by a collective off-day and extemporaneous blunders. Even though it was narrow, the loss against Atalanta was paradoxically more worrying as they pulled the strings, created a lot, and didn’t allow much, but La Dea pounced while they didn’t. Paulo Dybala being a late scratch can’t be an acceptable justification.
That is perhaps their main defect. They looked swell only when they had their four offensive pillars together in the lineup. Instead, they haven’t been as effective when somebody was missing. Considering Nicolò Zaniolo and Dybala’s ever precarious health, that risks being a recurrent theme. They have to find adequate counter-measures because they can’t afford to drop points whenever one of them misses time.
Tammy Abraham’s poor form has been a massive problem too. The stats say they generate a lot of offense, one of the best clips in the League. That’s not hard to believe considering the scintillating quality of their playmakers. But they have a meager conversion rate, which already cost them dearly in tightly-contested bouts. The Englishman is not a pure goal-poacher and can’t be asked to compete for the capocannoniere chart, but not missing bunnies would suffice for them to be in a good spot. He was streaky one way or the other last season too, so it wouldn’t be too shocking if he hit the net like seven times in the next ten matches. They need him to step up, and he did in the previous crunch match against Juventus.
The break has been beneficiary from the health standpoint. Nobody got hurt while on international duties, backups Marash Kumbulla and Stephan El Shaarawy recovered from their thigh injuries, and Lorenzo Pellegrini shook off his ailments without having to sit out matches. Zaniolo, Andrea Belotti, and Leonardo Spinazzola should also be in better shape after two clean weeks of practice following challenging starts from the physical standpoint for one reason or the other.
Therefore, they approach the start of a key stretch of the season with just Rick Karsdorp on the mend, but he hasn’t been particularly great so far, while Zeki Celik has been peppy, so it shouldn’t be a major loss. Plus, they can adapt Leonardo Spinazzola and Nicola Zalewski to the right flank in a pinch. Considering the levels he had reached last season and the fact that the more established teammate hasn’t been superb so far following a major injury, the Polish starlet has been criminally underutilized so far. His prowess in the final third can add another dimension to their offense. The newcomer from Lille has been perfectly fine, but they could go with the more aggressive pair especially in matches when they have to use Nemanja Matic and Bryan Cristante together in the midfield. Such couple has been more detrimental to their attack than helpful to their defense. But they had no real alternative when Zaniolo was on the mend. They are reportedly thinking about it.
It will be another telling test for their seasonal ambitions. Other teams have indeed looked way better, Napoli in particular, but the top of the table is still fairly close, and the race wide open. In addition, other Champions League contenders, including the one they will face here, have had woeful starts. This will be a key opportunity to stake their claim for a prestigious position.
Dybala was a late scratch for the Atalanta game, spent time with Argentina anyway but didn’t feature. He trained regularly Saturday, so he’s good to go, but they will have to decide whether he can start or of it’s better to limit his minutes.
Expected XI (3-4-2-1): Patricio; Mancini, Smalling, Ibanez; Zalewski, Cristante, Pellegrini, Spinazzola; Dybala, Zaniolo; Abraham.
Inter: Lukaku, Brozovic (thigh strain).
Roma: Karsdorp (meniscus tear), Wijnaldum (fibula fracture), Darboe (ACL tear).