The final international break of the 2021-22 season is just about over. Before we know it, Juventus will be taking to the Allianz Stadium field, and when they do it will be for one heck of an important matchup against arguably their most-hated rival.
This Sunday night, Allianz Stadium will be sold out in full for a matchup between third-place Inter Milan and fourth-place Juventus. There is all of one point that separates the two sides as they prepare to begin the stretch run of the Serie A season. (Although, as we know, Inter still very much has a game in hand and that surely will play a crucial role in the final standings.) But both teams come in with their own issues, their own list of current struggles and, even with being one half of the top four in Serie A, some very noticeable shortcomings even though they’re considered two of the best the league has to offer.
So what’s in store for this Sunday night in Turin?
Well, we won’t know that for sure until the players actually take the field.
But for now, we can only ask other questions to better get an idea of where both teams stand heading into this big-time fixture that will cap the first weekend back after an extremely disappointing international break.
With this being the last Derby d’Italia of the season — unless, of course, there’s another meeting next month in the Coppa Italia final, but that’s still to be determined — we decided to check in on the other Italian club that Antonio Conte has led to a Serie A title. With the help of Serpents of Madonnina writer David McFarland, we got some insight into Inter other than the usual frauds take that surrounds a lot of our Inter-related thoughts here. (Not that there’s anything wrong with those. They are welcome here.)
So, no more stalling. Here are my questions and David’s answers.
BWRAO: Greetings, David. Thanks for coming over to the black and white side of SBN Italia. The first question I have for you is something that I’m sure a lot of folks have been wondering about lately: What the heck has happened to Inter over the last couple of months?
SoM: A lot, and most of it bad!
With the exception of two strong performances in the Champions League Round of 16 against Liverpool (and even that saw Inter eliminated), it’s been a pretty dreary 2022 in the blue side of the San Siro. It probably looks worse than it really is because of how good Inter was in the first half of the season, but I think we also over-performed a good bit then. Almost the entire team was in good form at the same time and, obviously, that’s not sustainable — Hakan Calhanoglu, Lautaro Martinez, and Edin Dzeko are the most glaring suspects.
Without anyone like Romelu Lukaku, Inter doesn’t have a game-winner that can create something out of nothing. That significantly lowers Inter’s margin of error and living on the edge has finally cost the Nerazzurri. No one has stepped up to stardom in the way we hoped, either, Lautaro and Nicolo Barella in particular. The former doesn’t fit with Dzeko and is more inconsistent than ever, while the latter looks a shell of his former self and hasn’t found a home in Inzaghi’s system. Inter’s summer signings haven’t been reliable enough either — Joaquín Correa is worth barely half of the €30 million Inter paid and is incredibly injury-prone, Calhanoglu can go from world-class to invisible in a week, Dzeko’s age is starting to show, and Denzel Dumfries has had his moments but looks exactly like a €55 million cheaper version of Achraf Hakimi.
In short, in the same way everything went right in the first half of the season, everything is going wrong now.
BWRAO: Everybody was buzzing about the job that Simone Inzaghi was doing a few months ago. What’s the vibe around him now that Inter has drawn or lost seven of its 10 games in 2022?
SoM: Inzaghi’s lack of any sort of Plan B — does he know formations other than the 3-5-2 exist? — and haphazard substitutions have cost Inter, but I don’t think the blame for this collapse is on him. The roster is simply not Scudetto caliber — the striker corps and depth in particular — and asking Inzaghi to be Antonio Conte is both impossible and unfair to him.
He could definitely be doing better and sticking with the exact same setup game after game doesn’t bode well for his long-term future here. Even a manager as stubborn as Conte would change up the tactics when Inter was chasing a goal. Inzaghi’s habit of making way too many subs way too early or too few/the wrong subs way too late has also left a handful of points on the table. He’s also had a winter collapse in almost every season, so uh, that’s not great.
I think he’ll stick around for next season unless things go completely off the rails before May, in part because the other options look even more questionable, but I’m losing confidence that Inzaghi is a Scudetto-winning coach.
BWRAO: With how much Inter has struggled over the last few months, do you think their Scudetto chances are gone? How worried are you that Juve could overtake them for third place this weekend?
SoM: It would be Pazza Inter at its best if Inter went from one win in seven to beating Juve in Turin, but that’s more of a fantasy than anything grounded in reality. Inter has been heading steadily downhill while Juve is in superb form, so it only seems like a matter of time before they pass each other. A loss Sunday is probably the end of Inter’s title hopes and it wouldn’t surprise me to see Juventus finish ahead of Inter come May. Obviously, that’s not ideal, but Inter’s problems and lack of a Scudetto will be the same whether it’s second, third, or fourth — all places Inter never expected to be in when it was crowned winter champions.
BWRAO: Overall, has this season been a good one or a step backward after everything Antonio Conte did last season?
SoM: Definitely a step back, but also a bit of a transition year. Few Inter fans expected a title back in August and most would have been happy with advancing to the UCL Round of 16, a deep Coppa Italia run, and a top-four finish. And guess what, that’s exactly what Inter’s on track towards.
The stellar first half of the season raised expectations and it sure looked like Inter would be champions in December. But as they say, it’s the hope that kills you. What makes this sting the most is that this season is quite possibly Inter’s last chance to win a title for the next several years. Suning’s financial problems haven’t gone away, the roster is already one of the oldest in the league, and both Milan and Juve seem to be on the rise. This summer will be especially crucial for Inter. Suning will need to actually spend the majority of that Lukaku money and reinvigorate the squad with some young talent and replace aging veterans. I’m trying not to think about a 2022-23 season with the same roster, but let’s just say if Beppe Marotta isn’t given a boatload of cash to work with we might be in trouble.
BWRAO: Prediction — go!
SoM: I’ll go with a 1-1 draw. Inter will do enough to avoid a disastrous defeat but the recent theme of draws will continue in Turin. Goals will come from Dzeko and Dybala.