In 1916, American poet Robert Frost wrote: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
In each of the past few seasons, when Inter have faced a fork in the road, they’ve unfortunately taken the wrong path, faltering in cup competitions and ultimately disappointing in the league table. Wednesday night’s Coppa Italia quarterfinal tie against rivals AC Milan at the San Siro represents a major fork in the road for Luciano Spalletti’s Inter, who have now gone four matches in all competitions without a win.
The Nerazzurri can either defeat their city rivals and advance to the next round of the Coppa Italia, or lose their third consecutive match and crash out of the competition that represents Inter’s best chance of ending a seven-year trophy drought this season. The former would see Inter rebound from their two losses and regain a bit of momentum as the club face a difficult stretch of league games in January. The later could represent a crushing blow to the psyche of the Nerazzurri’s players and fans, right before difficult matches against Lazio, Fiorentina, and AS Roma.
It would be a massive understatement to say to Wednesday’s match against AC Milan is important. It’s a fork in the road, and Inter need to take the path less traveled. Unlike the Inter of recent seasons, they need to find a way to win and recover the form that saw the club start the season on a 16-match unbeaten run. Losing to AC Milan could escalate a run of poor results and risk spurring a downward spiral, which would threaten to negate almost all the progress Inter have made under Spalletti since August. It would simply be a disaster.
The good news for Inter is that their opponents AC Milan are on an equally troubling run of results. In their six matches under new manager Gennaro Gattuso, the Rossoneri have been very inconsistent, and enter Wednesday’s derby Coppa game on the heels of back-to-back humiliating defeats. Milan most recently lost 3-0 to Hellas Verona and 2-0 at home to Atalanta. The two losses saw Milan fall further in the league table, to 11th place, 16 points behind Inter.
With an uncertain financial future, the pressure is on AC Milan to somehow salvage their season. Ahead of Wednesday’s match, Gattuso said: “It's like playing the World Cup final for us. Tomorrow's game can change our season.”
Despite Inter’s struggles over the past few weeks, Spalletti seemed optimistic in his squad’s ability to rise to the occasions in his pre-match comments to Inter TV, saying: “In the derby, it’s normal that the best team wins. You need to find yourself in the right situations and make the most of them. I’m expecting to see a sign because of how I know the guys, I know that they will take on the responsibility that I ask of them.“
With both clubs desperate to recover from their recent defeats, Wednesday’s match is shaping up to be a tense knockout derby. Inter’s 3-2 victory over Milan in October was decided by tight margins, and with so much at stake for both sides, it’s reasonable to expect Wednesday’s clash to be equally nerve-wracking.
There may be four and a half months left in the 2017/18 campaign, but this could be the defining match of Inter’s season. Looking back, Wednesday could be the moment that the Nerazzurri faced and overcame adversity to truly turn a corner under Spalletti, or it could be the latest example of where it all went wrong for Inter.
Here’s hoping it’s the former and Inter can return to their winning ways. The alternative, while unfortunately so familiar to Inter fans at this point, would be extremely disappointing. It’s time to get the job done. Forza Inter!
Date and Time: Wednesday, December 27, 2017; 8:45 p.m. CEST (2:45 p.m. on the U.S. East Coast)
Location: Stadio Giuseppe Meazza; Milan, Italy
TV/Streaming: In the United States, the game is available on Gol TV, with streaming through fuboTV. In the UK, the match will be shown on Sky Sports Football behind the red button, with steaming through Sky Go. Click here to find out where you can watch the match everywhere else in the world.
Inter Milan Squad
This means that both Miranda and Danilo D'Ambrosio will miss Wednesday’s match.
Likely Starting XI:
(4-3-2-1): Handanovic; Cancelo, Skriniar, Ranocchia, Santon; Gagliardini, Vecino; Candreva, Brozovic, Perisic; Icardi
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P.S. From all of us at SoM, we hope you and your families are enjoying a wonderful holiday season!