When: Saturday, January 28th 2:45pm ET/ 8:45pm CET
Where: Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, Milan, Italy.
"We've finally raised our head up and we intend to keep it up for as long as possible." That was how Stefano Pioli described the period Inter are currently experiencing in his press conference on Thursday afternoon, with a phrase that brings together the two truths each of his players should carry into this weekend's match at home to Pescara. One is a word of encouragement, while the other is a stern warning.
Firstly, this is the best shape we have been in all season and by a very long margin, so there is no reason not to approach the three games that await us in the next eight days with anything less than the utmost confidence. Pescara, Lazio and Juventus will all be tricky fixtures in their own unique ways, but if any post-treble era Inter can come through that trio of matches unscathed (or at least unbeaten) then it's definitely this Inter. Not since January 2012 and the days of Claudio Ranieri have we managed to win seven consecutive games in Serie A, but that is precisely what we will achieve again should we overcome rock-bottom Pescara at the Meazza on Saturday night, which a few months would have been absolutely unthinkable. So no fear please, lads: you can do this if you put your minds to it.
Secondly, there remains no margin for error whatsoever if we wish to turn this season from a debacle into a success. Despite the magnificent revival we've witnessed since the start of November we haven't actually recovered that much ground on the top three in the table, so the only option we have is to remain in the Champions League race is to keep travelling at breakneck speed and hope beyond hope that Roma and Napoli start slipping up. For that reason we have to be extraordinarily careful with these kinds of games, because the tiniest of mistakes could turn out to be fatal in a league where all the big teams are winning constantly and all the small teams are losing constantly.
On paper there is not the slightest hope for Massimo Oddo and co. to take anything other than a comprehensive defeat away from San Siro this weekend, having still not managed to win a single football match in the league this season after 21 rounds (apart from the one they were handed after Sassuolo fielded an ineligible player against them), but this is a stupid sport and stranger things have happened. If we get distracted and start thinking about the Coppa Italia quarter-final and Derby d'Italia on the horizon, we will never ever forgive ourselves for it. Pioli said on Thursday that he was sure his team wouldn't become complacent, but that kind of public declaration always makes me nervous as that in itself can be interpreted as a form of complacency. This has to be a serious, focused performance in which nobody takes their (admittedly terribly weak) opponent lightly, because the consequences of doing so could be rather embarrassing. You have been warned, first team.
It's slightly harder to predict what Inter's team will look like this weekend than it normally is. Pioli reiterated at least four times in his presser that he had his mind 100% focused on the Pescara game and not on the ones against Lazio and Juventus coming up immediately after it, but with Miranda and Geoffrey Kondogbia both a yellow card away from being suspended for our trip to Turin it remains to be seen how firmly he sticks to his word. There have even been some rather outlandish suggestions amongst the Italian media on Friday that he may rest players such as Mauro Icardi and Ivan Perisic, which I sincerely hope is not the case. Jeison Murillo has had the flu and therefore he might legitimately miss out if he doesn't recover in time, but apart from that I hope Pioli will maintain his promise and field his strongest team, because we simply cannot afford to not win this match if third place is still our objective and it could very easily send out the wrong message to those who do take to the field. We cannot take any risks, no matter who we've got coming up next week. (PS: Ansaldi is suspended, so he's not available.)
As for Pescara, Gianluca Caprari is suspended so he will not be lining up against his parent club (which might be a good thing given the torture he inflicted upon our defense back in September), while Rey Manaj will also not be featuring as he has just left the Delfini to join Pisa in Serie B. All the same, we could be up against two Interisti tomorrow in the form of Cristiano Biraghi (who spent eight years in our youth academy) and Francesco Zampano (who I think is an Inter supporter along with his brother Giuseppe, although I don't have absolute proof of that), while new signing Sulley Muntari is likely to start from the bench. Yes: that Sulley Muntari.
Probable Starting XIs
Inter (4-2-3-1): Handanovic; D'Ambrosio, Miranda, Medel, Santon; Brozovic, Gagliardini; Candreva, Joao Mario, Perisic; Icardi.
Pescara (3-5-1-1): Bizzarri; Coda, Stendardo, Crescenzi; Zampano, Memushaj, Bruno, Verre, Biraghi; Benali; Bahebeck.
How to Watch
TV: Sky Sport 1 HD, Sky SuperCalcio HD, Sky Calcio 1 HD & PremiumSport HD (Italy); BT Sport 1 HD (UK); beIN SPORTS USA & RAI International (USA)
Online: SKY Go Italia & Premium Play (Italy); BT Sport Live Streaming (UK); beIN SPORTS CONNECT (USA)
(For other countries' streaming and broadcasting options see here)