Serie A Week 5 – Sunday 3 September 2022 – San Siro | Preview by Enrico Passarella
After four rounds, playing time is over in Serie A, as the top matches start trickling in, with the Derby della Madonnina opening the dances.
Two clues aren’t enough to constitute proof, but, for the second game in a row, Milan didn’t look the part on the road. It’s surprising since their away record has been superb since Stefano Pioli took over. They had gotten off to a solid start and came close to getting the lead a few times against Sassuolo, but then they completely lost the plot after the penalty kick.
It was weird since it wasn’t converted thanks to a great save by Mike Maignan, but it still dented their confidence and emboldened the Neroverdi. In addition, the opponents were vulnerable since Domenico Berardi went down early with an injury. But they didn’t pounce as, for instance, they did in the opener versus Udinese, where they navigated difficulties in tremendous fashion.
While the troubles were more understandable against Atalanta, who are a tough nut to crack, the recent fixture was easier on paper. The rotation was there but not so abundant to hinder them too heavily. It’s too early to sound the alarms, but they come into the Derby with fewer certainties than imagined, and the Scudetto honeymoon is bound to end with another slip-up.
Ante Rebic and Divock Origi being sidelined forced Pioli’s hand, but they went to Charles De Ketelaere as a false-nine much sooner than anticipated. The results weren’t rosy, as they needed a presence in the box in that stretch of the game. It’s already clear that he’s at his best when he can roam. Such a role doesn’t allow much freedom, while he will have it as a no.10. In all likelihood, the transition is not destined to happen anytime soon.
The problem lies elsewhere, in onboarding a forward that is quite injury-prone when you have one on the shelf for multiple months, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and who knows in what shape he will be when he comes back, and another veteran who can’t feature in all matches, especially this season. Just because somebody joined on a free, it doesn’t automatically make it a good deal, as Juventus fans know all too well.
The Rossoneri have gone with youth as their final additions. That makes more sense in the back, where Simon Kjaer was fine in his return, and Pierre Kalulu and Fikayo Tomori are certainties. Malick Thiaw is raw, but he has high upside, and they can be patient with him. Instead, there are more question marks on Aster Vranckx, who didn’t break through in the Bundesliga and joins a more challenging situation. They were pretty capable in quickly snatching an okay option in Sergino Dest, who already has the top-club experience, to replace Alessandro Florenzi. He’s not a veteran as the ex-Roma man, but they have fairly similar traits, and he’ll be useful on either flank.
The reservations are also related to his skill-set, as he’s touted to be a technical and finesse player, similarly to Yacine Adli, while they could have really used a colossus, or at least a grittier guy, to have more variety. They chased after some but ultimately made this choice. They deserve the benefit of the doubt since their track record with prospects is almost spotless, but it’s a big risk.
As for the lineup, Divock Origi will be available for this one, while Ante Rebic is still in doubt and wouldn’t have started anyway. It will be the strongest possible after some starters got partly the day off in Emilia.
Expected XI (4-2-3-1): Maignan; Calabria, Kalulu, Tomori, Hernandez; Bennacer, Tonali; Messias, De Ketelaere, Leao; Giroud.
An easy win, and other top teams not sprinting helps a lot get past the harsh consecutive blows of the Romelu Lukaku injury and the poor showing against Lazio. But Inter will have to amend for that in an equally demanding bout, not versus Cremonese. They won three out of four matches, but the schedule was creampuff, and they weren’t convincing in the opener versus Lecce either. However, the Salentini have proven to be more competitive than expected.
In general, they have felt like that a team that has a lot to work on even though they didn’t overhaul their roster, but they have enough certainties to lean on against lesser sides. Lautaro Martinez, Hakan Calhanoglu, Denzel Dumfries, Nicolò Barella, and Marcelo Brozovic are sufficient to best minnows even if the others bring little to the table.
On the other hand, the defense has been surprisingly shaky, which is odd because Milan Skriniar obviously stayed. He and Alessandro Bastoni haven’t been top-notch, and Stefan De Vrij is a couple of seasons removed from being an elite center-back. The flaws of Samir Handanovic are well-documented at this point, but André Onana doesn’t come in with a spotless record either.
Defenders not being their best selves is a recurring theme across the league, and it’s probably just a matter of lack of conditioning given their physical traits. But they will need to be on point in this one, and the upcoming more challenging fixtures, because Lazio already took it to them, and they are poised to face other unforgiving frontlines.
They lose some brute force sans Lukaku, but they don’t have to reinvent the wheel to replace him, as they didn’t have him last year. Edin Dzeko is a fine backup with similar characteristics, although clearly much less dominant. The up-and-down Joaquin Correa is in one of his positive stretches, which is highly beneficial since the Belgian star will sit out multiple games. Martinez has gone up a level in terms of sheer goal-scoring and ability in the box last season, so they can seamlessly depend on him as their main threat, and his arsenal has visibly grown over the years.
There has been a lot of drama during the window, and perhaps their well-connected directors stoked it themselves either to mask their lack of moves after an early flurry or underline the feat that was complying with the financial requests of the owner without a major sale. It’s indeed commendable, although they might regret the Andrea Pinamonti and Cesare Casadei deals down the line. But there was no alternative.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Kristjan Asllani are pure additions since they cover roles that were vacant last season. They were both brilliant signings in their own way, as the former was a productive starter at Roma, and he’s a luxury as a backup. The youngster is a gem bound to break though, and will likely feature next to Brozovic plenty and just deputize him.
Raoul Bellanova was deserving of a switch to a big club because he showed dynamism for days and has plenty of offside. But perhaps he wasn’t the ideal addition for them. With Ivan Perisic gone, they should have probably signed a left-flank specialist as Robin Gosens has mightily struggled to recapture his Atalanta form. And the Croat wasn’t a standard wing-back but a true playmaker, and you can always use an extra one. His absence has already been noticeable, and the German isn’t a creative player even at his peak. The late addition of Francesco Acerbi will allow them to use Federico Dimarco more on the flank, which is his true role, but cutting bait on the Gosens for a solid offer, which they considered, wouldn’t have been an outlandish proposition. Alessandro Bastoni is a little under the weather, which might prevent him from starting and lead them to use the more defensive-minded Matteo Darmian instead of Gosens.
Expected XI (3-5-2): Handanovic; Skriniar, De Vrij, Dimarco; Dumfries, Barella, Brozovic, Calhanoglu, Darmian; Dzeko, Martinez.
Milan: Krunic (thigh strain), Rebic (back pain).
Inter: Lukaku (thigh strain).