A cool feature of being a part of a large blogging network is that we get to tap other sites for first-hand knowledge about their teams. As such, I was able to take the time to chat with David McFarland from Inter Milan experts Serpents of Madonnina to get the inside track on what the Serie A side is up to ahead of their clash with Liverpool in the Champions League.
TLO: Inter Milan ended Juventus’ chokehold on Serie A last season and seems poised to win back-to-back titles. However, Antonio Conte and Romelu Lukaku left in seemingly non-ideal circumstances in the summer. To someone who is uneducated, can you give me a brief rundown of what’s happening at Inter? The good, the bad, the ugly?
SoM: To say it was a sucker-punch seeing Inter go from winning its first title in ten years to losing four of the key pieces (Conte, Lukaku, Achraf Hakimi, and Christian Eriksen) to that run is one heck of an understatement. We knew the ownership had financial problems but no one expected a wholesale on that scale.
The limited reintroduction of profits from those departures back into the transfer market had most Interisti expecting top four and nothing more but Beppe Marotta, Inter’s technical director, had other ideas. He’s found quality replacements on a small budget and Simone Inzaghi has done the rest.
The ex-Lazio boss has Inter playing an attack-minded style and made up for the loss of Lukaku by spreading goals throughout the team. Along with the continuation of last season’s league-best defense, Inter deservedly sits in first. Last week’s loss to Milan means Inter has just a one-point lead over the Rossoneri and Napoli, however, so Sere A is one of the few leagues in Europe still with a functioning title race (one of the few benefits of being the poorest top five league).
In short, the good = we’ve moved on from losing a ton of key pieces with barely any hiccups. The bad = putting the derby defeat aside, while results in the preceding weeks have been solid, the performances have trended downwards since the new year. The ugly = this is one of the oldest rosters in Serie A and Juventus is on the come-up, and well, put two and two together.
TLO: I recently watched the Milan Derby. I was really intrigued by two things. Inter seem much better than their nearest rivals, a team that Liverpool beat twice in the group stage, however it does seem like Inter can also throw away games to teams they’re better than. Is that a fair assessment? What’re some other strengths and weaknesses?
SoM: Please don’t remind me! Yeah, that game showed the best and worst of Inter. From playing Milan off the pitch and tallying up clear chance after clear to chance to blowing the result in a five-minute span, we sure didn’t fail to entertain. That’s been a common theme this season and another major example came in Inter’s home group stage clash with Real Madrid (in which Los Blancos won on a late Rodrygo strike).
Despite its Jekyll and Hyde tendencies, Inter can be one of the very best teams in Europe. The midfield trio of Calhanoglu-Brozovic-Barella is the Nerazzurri’s biggest strength, with each of the three bringing perfectly complementary qualities to the table. Unluckily for us, Barella is suspended for both legs after a rash kick-out in the group stage. That means one of Arturo Vidal or Matias Vecino will start, effectively negating any midfield edge Inter may have had.
Another strong suit is the back three of Bastoni-de Vrij-Skriniar. Inter has had one of the best defenses in Serie A for the last couple of years in large part thanks to that trio. Bastoni brings superb on-the-ball skills and Skriniar is a more old-school defender capable of stopping any attacker, while de Vrij’s experience means he’s the ideal anchor in the middle. However, they’ve yet to face anyone of Salah’s quality and Liverpool’s wingers could wreak havoc in between Inter’s attacking-minded wingbacks and central defenders. Also, Bastoni is doubtful due to injury and his shaky back-up, Federico Dimarco, must have Salah licking his chops.
As for Inter’s attack, the strike pair of Edin Dzeko and Lautaro Martinez has been hot and cold this season, with the latter in a lengthy goal drought (in fact, Lautaro failed to score in any of Inter’s group stage games). Dzeko is the main dangerman and will likely bag a goal or two in this tie but at 35, his legs aren’t quite what they used to be. A key facet of Inter’s final third play comes from the wingbacks instead. Ivan Perisic and Denzel Dumfries have become a fearsome duo and will have to be dominant forces Wednesday if Inter has any chance of winning.
As far as major weaknesses go, 36-year-old Samir Handanovic in goal has been steadily declining in recent seasons. He’s prone to the occasional blunder and rarely makes above-average saves anymore. Peppering him with shots, even low-quality ones, is bound to result in a goal before long.
TLO: I obviously live in a world with Red tinted glasses. I expect Liverpool to win every time they step on the field. What’re the vibes like for Inter right now? How are the fans and team feeling about this tie with Liverpool?
SoM: Seeing Inter’s Round of 16 opponents go from Ajax to Liverpool thanks to an incredible level of lunacy on UEFA’s part was not a pleasant sight for Inter fans. No disrespect to a very good Ajax intended, but Liverpool is just that good. Still, we’re mainly just happy to be at this stage at all. After winning the treble in 2010, Inter’s European advantages are been full of nightmares one year after another. The Nerazzurri made it back to the Champions League in 2018 but failed to make it out of the group stage three consecutive seasons on the final matchday (and as if that wasn’t enough, there was a Europa League final defeat to Sevilla in between).
So as I pick up everything I’ve thrown around the room while typing that, Inter’s just glad to be in the Round of 16 whatsoever. No one in the fanbase really expects Inter to knock out Liverpool and that’s ok. I for one will just be happy to see Inter playing one of the very best teams in the world in a meaningful match.
SoM: I have a feeling we’re in for a fun one. I’ll go with a 3-2 win for Inter just because. Salah will notch a brace, but goals from Dzeko, Calhanoglu, and Perisic will give Inter a first-leg advantage.