As I’m sure you are aware of, Inter’s 2017-18 Serie A fixture list was revealed in Milan on Wednesday afternoon. You can view our calendar in its entirety below, in case you missed it.
The countdown begins to the start of #SerieATIM 2017/18. Here's the full fixture list https://t.co/nfhsOaXgnD #InterIsComing #FCIM pic.twitter.com/gFuYsihgle— F.C. Internazionale (@Inter_en) July 26, 2017
So now that we’ve got over the initial excitement of 380 brand new fixtures being scheduled (or is that just me?), let’s take a closer look at what awaits Inter when over the next nine months, while also casting an eye over what our rivals will be getting up to simultaneously.
There can be no denying that Inter have been handed a tricky start to the new season. Given how slowly the club are moving in the transfer market this summer, and given how much business still needs to be done (in both directions) before the window shuts, most of us were probably hoping for a ‘soft’ impact on the league that would provide Luciano Spalletti with a bit of time to sort out his squad and put in his footballing ideas.
But we have not been afforded that luxury, so we’ll just have to suck it up and get on with it. On Sunday 20th August (with a confirmed kick-off time of 20:45 CET - mark your diaries) Spalletti will make his long-awaited official debut on the Nerazzurri bench with a home match against Fiorentina, who finished just two points below us in the Serie A table last year.
This is a certainly a peculiar match for us to begin with, as it will contain two highly conspicuous exes (and a third less eye-catching one). The first is Stefano Pioli, who will be making an immediate return to San Siro after a mixed stint in charge of Inter last year, in which he oversaw a mid-season renaissance followed by a spectacular end-of-season capitulation. (Weirdly enough, this is the second year in a row that a coach will make an immediate return to San Siro on the opening weekend of the season, as last season Sinisa Mihajlovic travelled there with Torino to play Milan).
The second, of course, is Borja Valero, who will be up against the team that up until a year ago he could never have imagined himself playing against. After the Spaniard’s long and drawn out transfer saga last month his Inter career will begin with a bang, on what is guaranteed to be an emotional night for the man Fiorentina fans used to call ‘The Mayor’.
On top of Pioli and Borja Valero, this will also be a curious match-up for Matias Vecino, whose move from Fiorentina to Inter will be completed as soon as the Nerazzurri return from their preseason tour of Asia. The Uruguayan made 85 appearances and scored 6 goals during his time in Firenze.
All things considered, then, a strange twist of fate that Inter-Fiorentina should be this season’s curtain raiser, but I don’t think it should scare us as a match. The Viola have endured a torrid summer in which pretty much all of their key players have left the club, and there’s no chance they’ll have sorted the team out properly by the opening weekend of the season. If we’re behind schedule in this summer’s mercato, they are even more so; we should have enough to beat them.
The rest of the matchday 1 fixtures are displayed below. Elsewhere, Juventus, Milan, Napoli and Lazio would all appear to have straightforward starts to their campaigns, but Roma have the toughest test of all the big teams as they face Atalanta at the Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia.
And it doesn’t get any easier for Eusebio Di Francesco’s men the week after, as on Saturday 26 August (again, with a confirmed 20:45 CET kick-off) the Giallorossi will host Inter at the Stadio Olimpico.
Roma-Inter is without doubt the standout game of matchday 2 - although Napoli-Atalanta could also be a tasty encounter at the Stadio San Paolo - and not just because it will see Luciano Spalletti make an instant return to the club he spent the best part of six seasons managing (across two different stints in charge).
While Fiorentina at home on opening night doesn’t overly concern me, Roma away on week 2 does. It’s never ideal to play such an important game in the course of your season so quickly, but it could be especially problematic for us given that we are leaving it so late to get the bulk of our transfer business done.
In his appearance on Sky Sport’s calciomercato program a couple of weeks ago, Piero Ausilio encouraged Inter supporters to stay calm about the club’s relative inactivity as the window doesn’t shut until 31 August. If he and Sabatini were planning to wait until that date to make any big signings they had in mind, yesterday’s calendar unveiling ought to have given them a wake-up call, because we’ll already have played one of our direct rivals by that point. Having such a big game so early on simply hammers home the fact that we need our reinforcements in place as quickly as possible: let’s see if they can heed this warning.
Not the best of starts then, I’m sure you’ll agree. But if there’s the risk of a false start then there’s also the possibility that the exact opposite happens - we could be left with 0 points after 2 games, yes, but what if we picked up 6? How would we feel heading into the September international break then? Pretty good, I should imagine.
Whatever happens in those opening two games, the good news is that they are followed by a run of winnable games after everyone returns from international duty. Newly-promoted SPAL will make their first visit to San Siro in almost 40 years on matchday 3, and after that Inter face consecutive away trips against Crotone and Bologna, the second of which will take place in the first midweek round of the season.
Inter's first five Serie A fixtures:— SerpentsofMadonnina (@SerpentsOfInter) July 26, 2017
After that, we will host Genoa on matchday 6 before travelling to the Ciro Vigorito stadium to play Serie A debutants Benevento, who have George Puscas amongst their ranks. Of all the newly-promoted sides I think Marco Baroni’s men are the ones who could cause the big teams most problems, so I don’t expect that to be a simple away day - but all the same, we’ll be favourites to win that. The October international break follows that match.
The Others: Of all the big teams it seems fairly clear that Juventus and Milan have the best starts to the campaign. Vincenzo Montella’s radically overhauled side have five eminently winnable matches in their first six, before they face Roma and Inter either side of the international break, while the Bianconeri only have a trip to Bergamo and the visit of Lazio to the Allianz Stadium (who usually roll over at the mere sight of Juve) to worry about before Milan-Juventus on matchday 11. Napoli’s start isn’t too bad either, although they do play Atalanta (at home) and Lazio (away) in their first five.
Out of all the big teams (and I include Atalanta in that category for now because they finished fourth last season), Roma and Atalanta are the pair that have had it worst along with Inter. Roma play Atalanta and Inter in their first two games, while Atalanta play Roma and Napoli.
Conclusion: I reckon our start to the season isn’t quite as bad as it first seemed. Roma are the only team we’ll play before the second international fortnight that we won’t be expected to beat, so I’m cautiously optimistic of a decent early points tally. Although football is never played on paper...
The Big Games
When Inter return to action after the second ‘sosta’ of the season, the stakes become sky high again. On what promises to be a spectacular weekend of football, matchday 8 will see Inter play Milan in the first Derby della Madonnina of the season, scheduled at the moment for Sunday 15 October. Inter will be the designated ‘home’ team for this match, with the return game taking place at the start of March.
The timing of this derby isn’t ideal. Throughout the fortnight that precedes it we will all be biting our nails like crazy, hoping none of our players pick up injuries on international duty, and the fact it comes after a two-week break guarantees us two full weeks of hyperbolic, asphyxiating build-up in the Italian media. Always a pleasure. As for the return match, that falls on the weekend straight after the second legs of the Coppa Italia semifinals - and given the way the draw for that competition fell, it’s almost guaranteed that one of the Milanesi will be involved in those.
While it’s always nerve-wracking to see your players head off on international duty in the middle of the season, we’re going to be doubly worried about the prospect of people picking up injuries in October, as straight after the derby comes another extremely tough match for us.
On matchday 9 we will play Napoli at the Stadio San Paolo, where (as I’m sure you don’t need reminding by now) Inter have not won in the league since 1997, and that will be our third huge Champions League head-to-head in the opening two months of the season. By the end of that match we’ll know a great deal more about our top four credentials than we do now. Three days after that is the second midweek round of the campaign, which will see us back in action at San Siro against Sampdoria.
Big Matches— SerpentsofMadonnina (@SerpentsOfInter) July 26, 2017
JUVENTUS: 10 Dec (A), 29 Apr (H)
MILAN: 15 Oct (H), 4 Mar (A)
ROMA: 27 Aug (A), 21 Jan (H)
NAPOLI: 22 Oct (A), 11 Mar (H)
The dates of our eight biggest matches of the season are shown in the tweet above. While we’ve already discussed the tough start against Fiorentina and Roma, it’s worth mentioning that our return match against the Giallorossi will come just after the new two-week winter break that the Lega have organised for the middle of January this season. If matchday 2 isn’t the perfect time to play Roma, matchday 21 might not be favorable either. (Or it might be good to have two weeks of preparation time - who knows.)
While Roma, Milan and Napoli all arrive pretty soon in the schedule for Inter, we will have to wait until matchday 16 (10 December) for the first Derby d’Italia of the season. Juventus’ newly-named Allianz Stadium will host that game, which will take place on the weekend after the Bianconeri’s final Champions League group game - that may or may not be important, depending on whether they’ve already qualified for the knockout stage by then.
The return match, meanwhile, will take place at San Siro on matchday 35 (29 April), and that really could prove to be a decisive match - for both teams. Juve will presumably be chasing points to seal the Scudetto at that stage of the campaign, while we will (hopefully) be doing everything to secure Champions League qualification - it could be an unbelievably tense night.
As far as the other two teams competing in European competition this season are concerned, we will meet Atalanta at San Siro straight after the November international break on matchday 13 (19 November), with the return game in Bergamo midway through April, and Lazio... well, you know when we’re playing Lazio don’t you. Everyone knows when Inter play Lazio by now. It’s become a tradition.
That’s right: for the FOURTH season in a row, Inter-Lazio will be the Nerazzurri’s final match of the calendar year, which also means that for the TENTH season in a row this match has been scheduled within the final five rounds of the Serie A calendar. You really couldn’t make it up. This time it will be the very last match of the girone d’andata (first half of the season), with Simone Inzaghi’s men visiting San Siro on 30 December.
The Others: Looking at how the other big teams have their key games spread out in comparison to Inter, you realise that everyone has more or less the same issues. Roma have a tough start and their matches with Napoli and Lazio come directly after international breaks; Napoli have the same problem as us with the October international break; Milan have a tough spell between matchdays 7-13; and Juventus play Napoli, Inter AND Roma in December alone. Perhaps Lazio have their big matches spaced out the nicest of all, but this is little more than conjecture. You can go round and round with topics like this and not reach any meaningful conclusion.
Conclusion: Overall the scheduling of our big games isn’t the kindest. The Milan-Napoli double-header is somewhat nasty - and that’s before you factor in the international break just before it - and it would have been better to meet Roma a little later on in the campaign, as we won’t be at full strength in August.
On top of that, not many of these matches fall on the weekends after Champions League and Europa League action. Napoli-Inter and Juventus-Inter both come directly after Champions League group stage match-days, but our other opponents after European weeks are Crotone, Benevento, Verona and Cagliari, and (as far as I can work out this much in advance) it will be a similar story come February and March.
But these are minor issues in the grander scheme of things, and everyone has them to a greater or lesser extent. We can’t blame the fixture schedule if we’re fifth or lower come May: we are Inter and we
should hopefully be able to CAN overcome any logistical problems they present.
Talking of Inter-Lazio, that brings us nicely onto our run-in at the end of the season. Often it’s interesting to look ahead at what matches will be awaiting us when we’re desperate for points come May, and our very last match of the season will be at the Olimpico against the Biancoceleste. As far as I can recall we don’t have any history of must-win matches against Lazio on the final day of the season, so there’s every reason to be confident that we can beat them should our position in the league table necessitate it.
Taking a wider perspective, our final five games of the 2017-18 season look like this:
Inter's last five Serie A fixtures:— SerpentsofMadonnina (@SerpentsOfInter) July 26, 2017
As I alluded to above, playing Juventus when they’re chasing the league title is not exactly great - but they could just as easily say the same about playing us when we need points. The second Derby d’Italia of the season is sandwiched by ostensibly favourable away days with Chievo and Udinese, before we face Cristian Bucchi’s Sassuolo in our final home match of the campaign. Then it’s Lazio on
5 20 May.
The Others: Without doubt it’s Juventus who have the hardest run-in. Their final two away matches of the season are against Inter and Roma, and the home clash with Napoli comes just a week before the Derby d’Italia; not easy when you consider that they’ll probably be at the thick end of the Champions League during that period. Napoli and Lazio’s final five matches, meanwhile, are slightly dodgy, whereas Roma and Milan’s home stretches are more straightforward.
Conclusion: It’s not a perfect run-in, and two of our Champions League rivals (Milan and Roma) have it easier. But then in that case it’s up to us to pick up the points beforehand - there’s no match we have to play that they don’t. It’s rather curious how Udinese, Sassuolo and Lazio are our final three opponents of the season for the second year running, but who really cares. Let’s just try and make sure they’re games that mean something this time around.
The Christmas period
After looking at the beginning and the end I suppose we should take a look at the middle as well, in the interests of completeness.
For the first time in goodness knows how long there will be Serie A football to enjoy over the Christmas period this season, with matchdays 18 and 19 scheduled for 23 and 30 December. But there’s also the small matter of the Coppa Italia to consider - the quarterfinals are scheduled to take place on 26/27 December and 2/3 January, just before a two-week winter break that follows matchday 20.
Inter in this period will travel to Reggio Emilia to play Sassuolo (23 Dec), before rounding out 2017 at home to Lazio (30 Dec) and starting 2018 away to Fiorentina (6 January), but at some point in that we could well play Milan in the Coppa, as we discussed last week. So we could well have Lazio, Milan and Fiorentina in the space of a week before our winter break, which wouldn’t be the simplest of runs.
The Others: Juventus-Roma, Milan-Atalanta and Fiorentina-Milan are also scheduled for the aforementioned Christmas period, so it’s not just Inter who would have a problem with fixture congestion.
Conclusion: Don’t eat too much turkey on Christmas Day, because you could be left with some football-induced indigestion in the week that follows it.
(I’ll keep this brief considering how long I’ve gone on for.)
Ultimately, our calendar isn’t great, but at the end of the day it remains just that: a calendar. The thing you hang on a wall or leave on your desk. Football isn’t played on my wall or yours, and nor is it played on desks (unless you have a very creative office layout in your workplace), so it’s not worth spending hours and hours pouring over what comes when for Inter.
If we’re aiming to become a team that can hold its own in the Champions League, we can’t complain about our fixture schedule, because that’s a small-club mentality. Inter are not a small club and hopefully we will prove this season that we are not a small team either. It certainly won’t be a random computer generator that stands in our way of doing that.