Only a few days after the most painful match of Inter’s season, despite it not being a defeat, the team will be back on the pitch at the San Siro this evening hosting the northeastern bianconeri: Udinese. As much as it is a cliché to say so, this match could really be more important than it seems and a critical test of Inter’s progress in recent months.
In fact, the dense run of difficult and decisive matches that started with the defeat to Tottenham at the end of November resulted in two draws and two losses, as well as with a burning elimination from the Champions League. These may look like the beginnings of a classic Inter winter crisis, but the true confirmation of such a condition can come from matches against lesser competition. All Inter fans know that disappointing results against serie a minnows are the hallmark of the team’s holiday-time collapses. Besides, there were moments of good performance even in this rough patch of form, with the high caliber of out adversaries certainly playing a part in the negative results.
That won’t be an excuse today, though, meaning the match against Udinese could help tell us whether our recent matches were just close contests that didn’t go our way or symptoms of a greater problem. Quite interestingly, last season’s home match against Udinese was also in December and was Inter’s first defeat of the 2017-18 campaign, after which we didn’t win again until February. So, even though we aren’t defending an undefeated streak this year, there is also a symbolic significance to this game. Like last year, Udinese comes from a recent managerial change, but Nicola’s early tenure hasn’t been as explosive as Oddo’s before him, mostly due to last week’s heavy home loss to Atalanta.
More generally, every match against a smaller side is important, particularly in this part of the season, as winning consistently against this kind of opposition and without months-long slumps is fundamental for the achievement of a more comfortable CL spot this year and possibly bigger objectives in the future.
So how is Spalletti thinking of setting up the team for this important clash? In defence, Dalbert’s injury could force Asamoah to start again despite the many minutes played in recent weeks (and the costly mistake against PSV). There is a chance that the Ghanian will get to rest, though, if D’Ambrosio will replace him on the left with Vrsaljko taking up the right flank. In the centre of the pitch De Vrij and Miranda compete for a starting spot beside Skriniar.
The availability of Joao Mario and Gagliardini, who were excluded from the CL list, largely solves the midfield crisis and should lead to both starting on the sides of Brozovic in the three-man midfield, as Vecino is still out with injury and Nainggolan is likely not fit to start.
In attack, possibly to the dismay of many fans, the underperforming Ivan Perisic should keep his starting stop along with captain Mauro Icardi, while Politano and Keita fight for a spot on the opposite flank.
Sources: Sky Sports, Gazzetta dello Sport