After Tuesday’s travails against Pordenone in the Coppa Italia Inter return to Serie A action this weekend, where in front of them they will find another Friulian outfit looking to make life as difficult as possible for Luciano Spalletti and co.
Saturday’s clash with Udinese is the first of three league matches that will round off a 2017 of two halves for the Nerazzurri, followed by games with Sassuolo and Lazio (as well as the derby with Milan in the cup), and which will determine whether or not they can become ‘winter champions’ - the symbolic title awarded to whoever’s top of the league at the halfway stage of the season - for the first time since the year of the Triplete.
On paper Massimo Oddo’s side would appear to be significantly less demanding opposition than the teams Inter will come up against in quick succession over the Christmas and New Year period - Milan, Lazio, Fiorentina and then Roma (after the two-week break in mid-January) - but like all matches that seem straightforward on paper, this is a game that hides several traps of its own.
The Bianconeri have been handed a new lease of life since Oddo replaced Luigi Delneri as head coach in late November, and will arrive at San Siro off the back of three consecutive victories in all competitions (two in Serie A plus the rip-snorting 8-3 win over Perugia in the cup).
They have found a degree of defensive solidity since switching to a back three and possess three excellent central midfielders who know how to hurt teams in front of goal, with Czech Republic international Jakub Jankto - a player Inter are reportedly monitoring themselves for the future, and who scored against the Nerazzurri when the two sides met in January - worth particular attention.
Luciano Spalletti is one man who is unlikely ever to underestimate the potential of a team like Udinese, however, as they are the club he made his name at as a coach back in the early 2000s. Spalletti spent three seasons coaching the Zebrette before moving on to join Roma in 2005, and in all three seasons he managed to qualify them for European competition, delivering them the club’s first ever participation in the UEFA Champions League (formerly the European Cup).
Among the players Spalletti was coaching in that 2004-05 season was a very young Samir Handanovic, experiencing his first campaign in Italian football as back-up to Morgan De Sanctis.
After a series of loan spells in Serie B Handanovic would then go to have five successful years of his own in Udine, with which he earned his move to Inter in the summer of 2012, and is one of two ‘exes’ expected to feature in Inter’s starting XI on Saturday afternoon. The other is Antonio Candreva, who played three times for the Friulani and made his Serie A debut as a 20 year-old for them in a match against Inter, of all teams, back in January 2008.
Should Inter approach this match with the level of concentration and determination that many felt was lacking against Pordenone in midweek, there is no reason they cannot dispatch of Oddo’s men comfortably and guarantee themselves another seven days at the top of the Serie A tree.
If they don’t do that however then things could become messy, as Udinese are not the rudderless team they were a month ago and will fancy their chances of continuing their good run of form.
Only time will tell if Tuesday’s mistakes have been learned from.
Date & Time: Saturday, December 16th, 2017; 3:00 PM CEST (09:00 AM on the U.S. East Coast)
Location: Stadio Giuseppe Meazza; Milan, Italy
TV/Streaming: In the US the game will be shown on beIN Sports USA and Rai Italia, with streaming available through beIN Sports Connect and fuboTV. Click here to find out where you can watch the match everywhere else in the world.
Note that Inter-Udinese will not be broadcast live in the UK, due to the Saturday afternoon blackout which prevents live football of any kind from being broadcast between 14:30-17:15.
Inter’s Matchday Squad
Goalkeepers: Handanovic, Padelli, Berni
Defenders: Joao Cancelo, Ranocchia, Santon, Miranda, Dalbert, D’Ambrosio, Skriniar, Nagatomo
Midfielders: Gagliardini, Vecino, Borja Valero, Brozovic
Forwards: Icardi, Karamoh, Eder, Perisic, Candreva, Pinamonti
Unavailable: Joao Mario (tonsilitis), Vanheusden (ACL)
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