So I have a tiny confession to make: I don’t hate international breaks. That’s not to say I love them, but I don’t despise them with quite the same passion as 99% of football fans do.
Contrary to most people, I quite like the harum-scarum nature of the club season to be broken up once in a while, given the insane pace with which the world of football these days. The sheer number of matches that are played in the modern era makes it nigh-on impossible to keep up with everything that’s going on, which can be fairly frustrating when you have a keen interest in four or five different leagues and competitions.
I find that sometimes it’s actually quite nice to get the chance to sit back, take a deep breath and reflect on where we are for a moment or two.
But that doesn’t change the fact that international breaks can be an enormous pain in the backside, for one reason in particular: injuries.
During the first international break of the season, Inter lost Joao Cancelo to a knee injury that the Portuguese full-back sustained while training with the Seleção. Cancelo has finally recovered from the problem and will, barring any late surprises, be included in Luciano Spalletti’s squad for Sunday’s Milan derby, but he’s lost just over a month of game-time and is unlikely to be 100% fit for a little while yet.
This time around, we’ve lost Marcelo Brozovic to the same international injury curse - and while this injury would appear to slightly shorter-term than Cancelo’s, its timing is rather more inconvenient, as it arrives with perhaps the two toughest fixtures of our season so far just round the corner.
Brozovic picked up the injury in Croatia’s crucial FIFA World Cup qualifying match at home to Finland, a match he started along with fellow Interista Ivan Perisic.
After 54 minutes, he was taken off by coach Ante Cacic in what looked like a purely tactical substitution, but during his post-game press conference Cacic confirmed that he had been withdrawn due to a muscular problem.
The fact that Brozovic was immediately declared unavailable for Croatia’s decisive match away in Ukraine pointed to it being more than just a niggle, and sure enough that was confirmed by Inter themselves on Monday afternoon.
“Early in the afternoon, the Inter midfielder Marcelo Brozovic had medical tests at the Istituto Clinico Humanitas in Rozzano after being injured during Croatia vs. Finland last Friday”, read a statement released on the club’s website. “The tests revealed damage to his left soleus muscle and the player's condition will continue to be evaluated in the coming days.”
To be perfectly honest the soleus muscle was not a muscle I had ever heard of until this afternoon, but for the record it’s a calf muscle that’s located in the back part of your leg. Although that’s by the by.
Like with Cancelo’s injury a month ago, Inter’s statement did not specify how long Brozo will be out for, but according to Gazzetta dello Sport he will be out for approximately 2-3 weeks.
What we know for sure is that Brozovic will miss the derby on Sunday, while it’s almost as certain that he’ll be out for Inter’s trip to Napoli too, which takes place the following week. After that we play Sampdoria on 24 October in the second midweek round of the season, and it’s unlikely he’ll be back by then either, but if everything goes to plan Marcelo should return for our game against Hellas Verona on 30 October.
While you’d be hard-pressed to find an Inter supporter who has Marcelo top of their list of All-Time Favourite Inter Players, Brozovic’s absence for the big match on Sunday evening is not terribly good news.
The majority of fans (myself included) were desperate to see the Croatian sold during the summer after all the sordid antics he got up to last season - both on and off the pitch - but if you ask me he is currently the player most suited to playing behind Mauro Icardi in Spalletti’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation.
Brozovic’s match-winning display at the Stadio Ciro Vigorito - analysed in greater detail here, in last week’s Five Takeaways - suggested that Inter might finally have found the answer to their ongoing trequartista dilemma, after Joao Mario and Borja Valero had both disappointed in that role during previous matches this season.
As Fulvio Santucci - an extremely knowledgeable Inter supporter whom all Italian speakers should follow on Twitter - said last Sunday, Brozovic showed us what it meant to have an incisive player in that area of the pitch, scoring both goals in Inter’s 2-1 win while also creating a handful of goal-scoring opportunities for his team-mates.
With him out, Joao Mario will almost certainly be promoted to the starting XI against Milan and Napoli, as there has been no indication over the past few days that Spalletti intends to try something radically different for these two matches. The system will almost certainly remain unchanged and so it’ll be up to the Portuguese midfielder to prove those who think he’s unsuited to the no. 10 role wrong (unless Borja is played in a higher position, like he did against Roma).
Having finally shown his worth again after months of awful displays, it would have been interesting to see if Brozovic is now capable of putting together a run of consistently good performances, but that particular litmus test will have to wait.
Hopefully Joao can step up over the next fortnight and make sure we don’t miss the Croatian’s attacking threat in these two head-to-head encounters. Personally however I doubt it...